Nappy Roots: The DGB Interview

Most of the Nappy Roots members came from Louisville and met while attending WKU in the early 90s (core members graduated High School in 1993). By 2000 they were officially on their way. Then an eight-member group, they had two self-released albums under their belts and a track on the South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut movie soundtrack and had just been signed by Atlantic who had scheduled their first major release.

In the early 2000’s the group could be found hanging at the Tree House above ET’s Music in Bowling Green. B Scott credits their unique sound as resulting from their central location that provided influences from the midwest, east, west and deep south. Fish Scales said “Nappy Roots music is about the way we live — our way of life.” Another former bandmate added “The members, who write all the songs, are people “dealing with life every day — not gangstas, not high priests, just people who get it on.”

During their early years, the band put on many shows, developing a huge regional collection of fans. By 2002 the group had gone gold ( &soon to be platinum,) with their Billboard-charting Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz release. The “Awnaw” video was omnipresent on both MTV and BET.

In 2003 they would be nominated for two Grammy Awards: Best Rap/Sung Collaboration for “Po Folks,” which they recorded with singer Anthony Hamilton, and Best Long Form Video (given for video album packages that have more than one song and track) for The World According to Nappy.

After the release of their Wooden Leather the group left Atlantic to start their own label, N.R.E.G. (Nappy Roots Entertainment Group).

Since then they’ve been successful with a number of well regarded releases, their own craft beer line, a burgeoning podcast, and the ability to tour for life.

When DGB caught up with them, not only did we discuss these matters, I learned how their presence in the industry opened the door for Kanye West.

Me: Did you ever view it as condescending about how much emphasis the national media put on the group attending college?

Buffalo Stille: I don’t think we ever found that condescending. I think that that was something new in hip-hop and Nappy Roots was proud to represent that. We always say that if it wasn’t for college we wouldn’t have met. Nappy Roots would never have existed if we hadn’t of gone to Bowling Green University. So we owe it to higher education and to let young kids know that you can change your life by going to school. Not necessarily by getting your degree, but by meeting people and networking.

Me: Do you feel like Nappy Roots opened the door for frat rap?

B Stille: I never heard that term before, until just now. Frat rap?

Me: That’s what they called Mac Miller, Asher Roth…..

B. Stille: I don’t think so, but I do think, and this is my opinion, but I thought we opened the door for Kanye. The way he felt, the way he came out with College Dropout. I think that probably opened the door for frat rap.

Me: I can tell you that “Aw Naw” ended an Eminem/Dr. Dre stranglehold at a generation of caucasian parties where people don’t dance and do keg stands.

Speaking of which how hard is it to secure funding for your own brand of beer?

Skinny: It has its challenges. Starting anything from scratch is hard, but we have some good relationships in the brewing community. They’ve given us things, but we’ve given them things in return. It’s a work in progress.

To say that we were fully funded would be a lie. We’re just getting started and we’re taking the proper steps to get fully funded in the right way. We won’t go through the underbelly of America to get it.

Me: When you realized that you would get to play music for a lifelong career what did that feel like?

B. Stille: Great! I think a lot of the appreciation comes with age, I’m just now starting to soak this shit in. Being able to go to the beaches, see Mt. Rushmore, visit the redwood forests. All of this off of hip-hop. I’m soaking that in now, I took it for granted before. I enjoyed it when I was young, but now I realize what a blessing it is. Visiting all of these spots, all of them off of my music.

Me: Do you have any advice for aging gracefully?

B. Stille: Take your vitamins, drink a lot of water, wear condoms, and I think you’ll go far. Leave the hard drugs to the rock and rollers (laughing.) That’s my advice, period, to anyone who wants to live long.

Me. Buffalo Stille you’ve been known for the cowboy hats and boots. How much does a pair like that run you?

B. Stille: Twenty seven hundred, on the low end

Me: How does being a professional musician affect your family life?

Fish Scales: Being gone away from home a lot. You give yourself to so many other people. You’re literally giving them your soul. On stage, we give them everything. There’s not always a lot left, but there has to be. You have to have something left for your family. When you get home from the road, there are no excuses. The energy you give the audience, you have to go home and give your family more.

It’s tough. Tough on our wives. They have to see us taking pictures with beautiful women. Not only that, they have to be understanding about it. Artists complain about having to be patient with their family, that their family doesn’t understand. No brother. The family has to be patient with you. We might be drinking, but partying is a part of our job every night and that requires patience. We’re truly blessed to be with such strong women.

Me What’s podcasting like?

Skinny DeVille: I think podcasts are effective. It’s a way for an artist to connect with the listener, a little more in depth. It’s not as official as a radio station, but you don’t need a radio station these days to get your point across. Technology is allowing friends and fans of music to set up their own shows and have their shot at broadcasting. I think it’s good for the business.

Me: When you heard the Cam’ron & Twista verses on the “Aw Naw” remix for the first time what were your thoughts?

Group: Excited! Scales was more amped for Twista, but the group was excited about Cam. Even though he had only been in the game for a few years, he had already obtained that stature that let us know that we were in the game for real.

Skinny: I loved it, I’d bought his cd’s and now I’m working with him. Craftmanship wise, Cam is an artist. A real artist. Too have both of them kind of certified us. I wanted to record new verses though (all agree.)

Me: What was the most memorable part of that time when you had one of the biggest hits in the history of rap?

Scales: Being from a small town, Millersburg. It turned the whole city upside down. We were on BET/MTV every day. Coming from this town with around twenty thousand people, it was a big deal. They were definitely proud of me.

Me: What’s a good book recommendation? You seem like a voracious reader.

Scales. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

Me: The one with the Morlocks?

Scales: Yessir, that’s the one

Me: I find the parallels between the Morlocks and the film US to be extra poignant given the timing. Speaking of social engineering, Clutch what do you think is the likeliest conspiracy theory?

Clutch: That the United States has been targeting black people now and since before we got here. For whatever reason the powers that be want to take down African-Americans. What they fail to realize is that we come in peace.

Me: Why? Why has it been historically that those in power have tried to destroy brown skinned communities of all ethnicities? Why have th worlds rulers always been so fearful of melanin?

Skinny: That we’ll work together. Build businesses and establish infrastructures without needing them, relying on the government. They need to keep us down. Together we’re stronger than them, so in their eyes, we must be kept reliant. We must use their banks, not our own. We must eat their food sources, not our own. We can educate, protect, and govern ourselves. Just like our great societies through history. Even in America. In Oklahoma City where they blew it up

Me: Black Wall Street

Skinny: Yup, exactly. They’ve done it a few times. From the Black Panthers to Freddie Gray it’s happening now.

Me: How do you counteract that?

Skinny: Education. Financial literacy. As a black man being a better role model for the next generation. Being a husband to your wife, a father to your children. Being a helping son to his ailing mother. Demonstrating what a regular black man is, a responsible part of society. Showing that we don’t all go to jail, we don’t all get shot.

Me: Providing a counterbalance towards more traditional depictions of the Black man in American media?

Skinny: Right. We’re all not rappers. We all just don’t get shot. We’re all not thugs. We’re all not basketball players and we’re all not football players. We’re doctors, lawyers, teachers. We’re ambulance and truck drivers, and we are rappers. We’re all those things.

To make it all work we have to work together. The biggest problem the American government has is putting the boot on black and brown people. As if we’re less than a man, still considered less than a man. How we get treated by police officers, get treated at banks. How hard it is to get loans. Where Nappy Rots can play, throw our barbecue at.

Me: Insurance is higher for rap concerts.

Skinny: All that.
Clutch: Back to your question, if there’s a quote-unquote conspiracy theory it’s going to take a lot. It’s more than just those being conspired against. Or even the conspirators.

Me: Did they ever try to suppress any of your content on a major?

Clutch: In the beginning, I would say that for Atlantic Records it was hard for them to put us in a lane. At that time they would figure out your target audience and then market you. In Nappy Roots case no one had ever come along like us. One time we’re just sitting in the room with Mariah Carey, Suge Knight, Raekwon, and Jay-Z. We were a quandary. No one looked like us, no one acted like us. No one spoke like us.
Atlantic was puzzled. OK, we like these guys. we love their music. But you know it’s more than just liking music.

Me: How much input did the group have?

Clutch: Shit we had our fair share. Quite a bit at that time. Every song on that album we signed off on. A lot of acts can’t say that. Dealing with those type of companies you got to give a lot to get a little, but you got to know when to do it. You have to pick your battles.

Me: What kind of unreleased music do you have?

Group: Shit we got a new album coming out in the next 4 weeks. That’s going to be the next big focus. 

Buffalo Stille: We’re doing more features than we’ve done in the past. Bridging the gap with the new talent. You said we got that cadence and melody, so be on the lookout for that.

Clutch: As far as what your asking, we all got a ton of unreleased songs. Individually, collectively, we got songs that haven’t seen the light of day yet. Every album we released is on YouTube, even the first Country Fried Cess. has our music, our merch. It has our podcasts, our beer, etc..

Me: Do you still get support from the big radio stations, the Sway in the Mornings….

Group: Shout out to Sway who always brings us through and supports whatever ventures we have.

left to right, Buffallo Stille, Ron Clutch, Mark Waldo Ward, Fish Scales, &
Skinny DeVille

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