Monday, March 11, 2002

Nappy Roots melds urban and country sounds

By Lori Burling
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A hip-hop group from western Kentucky? The six band members of Nappy Roots are finding success combining urban hip-hop and Southern country style.

        The group's new Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz is its first album produced by a major recording studio. Its first single, “Awnaw,” has been playing on hip-hop stations for the past six months.

        “This isn't just a rap album, it's coming from all over the place,” says band member Skinny DeVille. “We're showing how to rap without putting the violence in it. We're not disrespecting women and we're not killing anybody.”

        Erik Parker, senior editor of The Source magazine, describes Nappy Roots' style this way: “They have these rich, thick country accents, but still have an artistic merit. More importantly, they're bringing their individualism into the hip-hop movement.”

        Mr. DeVille — whose real name is William Hughes — formed Nappy Roots in 1996 with friends B. Stille (Brian Scott), Ron Clutch (Ronald Wilson), Big V (Vito Tisdale), R. Prophet (Ryan Anthony) and Scales (Melvin Adams), while they were all students at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

        They recorded two independent albums — Chicken Fried Cess and No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm — while taking classes and also running a hip-hop music store, ET's Music, which they started with two business students.

        “We put everything on the line,” says Mr. DeVille, 26, from Louisville.

        Scales, for instance, originally from Milledgeville, Ga., had been studying at Western Kentucky from 1995 to 1997 on a basketball scholarship.

        “I stopped playing my last year to give the music a full-time shot,” he says. “I took a big leap of faith.”

        Mr. DeVille says band members started a recording studio in part of the music store. “That's where we recorded our albums and then we sold them to students. That's really the only marketing we did.”

        It worked. Producers with Atlantic Records heard the album through the grapevine, Mr. DeVille says.

        “The students took our album to their hometowns for summer break, their friends listened to it and eventually it got to Atlantic,” he says.

        The label called the group in 1998.

        “I thought it was a prank, I hung up on them,” Mr. DeVille says.

        Nappy Roots signed with Atlantic later in 1998, and recorded an initial album which was shelved.

        “It was good, but it was more Atlantic Records than Nappy Roots,” Mr. DeVille says.

        By contrast, the new album is “all Nappy Roots,” group members say.

        “Making the album was like therapy for all of us,” Clutch said. “We just love seeing people bobbing their heads to our music, and this album will do it.”

        Nappy Roots, all in their 20s, are not the first rappers to celebrate their Southern heritage. Atlanta's Ludacris has back-to-back platinum discs with a decidedly country image. There's New Orleans-based Master P and Juvenile; Miami's Trick Daddy; and recent Grammy winners OutKast, the Atlanta duo whose eclectic funk rap has met critical and commercial success.

        Still, Mr. Parker compares Nappy Roots' smaller-town origin to the Beastie Boys, one of the first white groups to have a rap hit, in the 1980s.

        “This was a rap group out of the suburbs, something that had never happened before,” Mr. Parker says. “There's not a whole lot of hip-hop out of the South either, but Nappy Roots is making it happen.”

        If their album does well, the band members say, they hope to give back to the community where they started, offering scholarship money, perhaps, or building a community center.

        “What's important is that we're enjoying what we're doing and we're not forgetting where our roots are,” Scales says.


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