The five constituents of the Nappy Roots have never stopped repping where they come from. It’s right there in the name. “[It] signifies our unwillingness to conform with fads,” group member Skinny Deville once told an interviewer. “Once the fads die out, you always come back to the roots.” And those roots? They stress comfort, security, and country: back roads living, dirt road driving, sweet potato pie eating, bourbon drinking … You get the picture.
So, one listen to “Do It Big,” the second track on the Nappy Roots’ fourth official release, The Pursuit of Nappyness, and it’d be understandable to question the group’s new direction. Over blasting horns, the rappers – all of whom are from Kentucky or Georgia, though they met at Western Kentucky University – take turns boasting about fame, masculinity, cars, and the like. This wouldn’t be the first time a regional act attempted to extend its reach to the masses, and it wouldn’t the first time a regional act compromised its material to do so.
Fortunately, beyond track two, that’s not much of a problem here. This album, the guys’ fourth (and second since abandoning Atlantic Records, where they sold over 1.5 million records), relies on the same routine these country boys have used for years; the production is generally packed with dusty acoustic guitars and warm piano loops, and while the emcees aren’t the wordplay experts some of their peers and inspirations may be, they write simple yet effective imagery of the parties, people, and places generally encountered in only the most rural of settings.
The Nappy Roots still like to have fun, but now they’re doing what comes natural, whether it be making girls both laugh and think on “Fish Bowl,” or loading up the truck with a tank full of gas, coolers of beer and paper-bagged bottles of bourbon on “Infield.” And, like “Good Day” on 2008’s The Humdinger, the inspiring, keep-pushing-forward anthems are still abound; on the feel-good “Be Alright,” B. Still raps “I used to think I was cursed like The Shining / A lot of folks is worse off than I am,” while “Ride” is an exceptional and laid back ode to the highway and whatever future a journey on it may bring.
There are a few missteps, such as the cringe-worthy, electro-inspired party jam “Right Place, Right Time,” but for the most part, Pursuit succeeds right where it’s supposed to. The album’s best moments come when Skinny, B. Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V and Fish Scales turn their backs on everything outside of their roots and focus on what they know best: the countryside and the rustic small towns that made the former college buddies who they are. The subject matter may seem slightly redundant, but these themes never get old. “Back Home” pays respect to the dependability of their hometowns, “The People” declares family and friends more important than riches, and ending the album with a thank you to the fans – “All For You” – sums up the humility the guys have maintained over the years.
With gold and platinum albums in the group’s rear-view, the Nappy Roots prove that they need no major label system to make the same quality music they always have. The group’s production risks of Pursuit make challenge its comfort zone, while the lyrics remain where they’ve always been. After a decade, one thing’s for sure: None of the accolades have had much of an effect on the group’s output. Because you can take the boys out of the country, but… well, you know.