Five years removed from an album release, The Nappy Roots [click to read] weren’t expected to be an outfit that would fill a void in Hip Hop upon their return. Arguably, in the fast-moving climate of today’s “popcorn era” of rap, their return was hardly expected at all. However, The Humdinger, the quintet’s first independent release lives up to its name with a handful of filler amidst some of the most evocative music, melody and common man rhymes at just the right time.
“Kalifornia Dreamin'” exemplifies the Roots’ absence to music. Here, the Kentucky group interpolates the Mamas & The Papas ’60s classic with a record defined by escapism, without crutching samples or corny choruses. Although looking to runaway there, “Small Town” is a celebration of staying put. The electronic-based composition recognizes Charleston, West Virginia and Cape Cod, Massachusetts for their unique qualities. As a group criticized years ago for being too local-minded, The Nappy Roots seem to have taken their message and made it tangible to millions more. Strong messages, powerful imagery and natural choruses make The Humdinger sit comfortably in the lineage of Devin The Dude‘s [click to read] Just Tryin’ Ta Live and Cee-Lo‘s [click to read] Imperfections album. “Pole Position” and “Who Got It???” break the theme of the album, pandering for strip club spins, but a forgivable offense when surrounded by quality music.
Although “Awnaw” producer, and longtime backer James “Groove” Chambers handles a bulk of the work on The Humdinger, it is Sol Messiah, a new ear, that delivers the greatest goods. Responsible for the nostalgic “No Static” Greg Nice-assisted track, the soulful “On My Way Back to GA,” and the aforementioned “Kalifornia Dreamin’.” Messiah seems to be the best thing that’s happened to the group, allowing each member to use specific deliveries in cohesive subject matters on succinct tracks. Anthony Hamilton and Kevin “Big Block” Freeman also chime in for “Down ‘n Out,” a slow-cooked uplifting anthem for sufferers.
Next to no guests, no high-profile production, and The Humdinger still manages to stand next to Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz as a remarkable six-year update. The approach has not changed, but the subject matter of small town, Cadillac-drivin’, barbequing Kentucky boys remains resonant in the face of every self-proclaimed neighborhood trap star. If anything, The Nappy Roots seem to have deepened their connection to Hip Hop, making their return sweeter than jelly jar iced tea. A few misplaced tracks to the side, this may be one of the best sneak attacks of 2008.