The phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” applies in many ways, including in music. At least that’s the philosophy of Nappy Roots. When watching one of the group’s videos, you won’t hear any bragging, and you won’t see any flashy possessions or half-naked women — just lyrical responsiveness and a good Southern time.
Labeled as “Grown Man Music,” Nappy Roots remains true to form in their new single, “How I Feel,” featuring Elevator Jay. The video shows the group frying fish while fishing and playing cards, the nappy way. The latest from the group is nod to their earlier hit “Awnaw,” which was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award in 2002, and their Grammy nominated hit, “Po’ Folks” in 2003. Understanding their standing in their fan base, Nappy Roots knows the importance of delivering the music that brought them to prominence.
Zenger had the honor of speaking with Nappy Roots members Fish Scales and Skinny DeVille to discuss their career, new music, Atlantucky brewery and much more.
Percy Crawford interviewed Fish Scales and Skinny DeVille for Zenger.
Zenger: How are you doing, Scales?
Fish Scales: It’s great, man. Just getting back to Atlanta from a road trip. We had a few shows this weekend that went pretty good. I’m happy to be back home.
Zenger: I’m sure you are happy to be back on the road performing as well.
Fish Scales: It was crazy last year because Nappy Roots is a touring group. There’s been years when we did 200 to 250 shows in a year. We kind of scaled it back recently, but the whole pandemic was a shock to us, being that we tour so much. We couldn’t get out and do shows and promote the new music, but it feels good to get back out.
Skinny DeVille: It’s kind of bittersweet for me. I enjoyed the time I had at home with my family. I was always on the road. I got three kids, and they have grown up with me being on the road. I missed a lot of birthdays and a lot in their lives by being on the road. When you’re doing that many shows a year, it’s the coming and going. We had a show yesterday, but half of this day was spent coming back home.
Now that we got this brewery that we’re opening up, I feel like my time is even more valuable than it used to be when I’m not on the road. Now I’m building the Atlantucky brewery up to where it needs to be, so that it’s a well-oiled machine when it’s time for us to open. I like it. I like being back on the road. I like performing the music. That’s always a good workout. I love meeting new people and seeing old friends, but I also like being at home now.
So I will take the blessings as they come. It’s good to get on the road and make money, so you don’t have to worry about where your next meal is coming from, but we have been blessed to be independent to where we made decisions many years ago that’s been fruitful to us to this day. God is good, and I’ll keep taking the blessings as they come.
Zenger: Tell us about Atlantucky.
Skinny DeVille: The idea of it is, it’s a place between Atlanta and Kentucky that we have always traveled. We got 6,022 feet of awesomeness here. We throw events throughout the week and weekends. We’re able to help other people get their start. We have vendors come in to prepare food throughout the week as well. The vibe is solid here. Everybody that uses the place love it, and the opportunities that we are creating here for other people is a good look.
As far as the beer is concerned, we’re in the process of getting our building permit so we can get our actual license to actually make alcohol. Once that happens, we will be able to talk about what we can do a little bit more, but right now we’re still getting the engine, the seats and the propellers into the plane, but we already have the tickets sold for the seats. Just building the plane as we go.
Zenger: Let’s get back to your music. The “How I Feel” single is classic. You guys have always provided blue collar music for the common folk, and you stayed true to that. Is it important for you to stick to the formula that you come into the game with?
Skinny DeVille: I think it’s very important. People our age, we’re coming from a different generation. You had to be original in a sense to come out. You couldn’t sound like anybody else. Even though we got compared to Outkast and Goodie Mob, you still had to have your thing about you. Because we’re older, I feel like if we would have changed it up just to make a hit like someone else is making a hit now, we would have lost all our credibility and our fan base. They have been supporting us for being who we are.
We came out of Kentucky as original country boys. “All My Life Been Po” came out right in the height of the “Bling Bling” era. When everybody was talking about excesses, we were talking about what we were thankful to have, our parents and health. Fans will come and go, but those ideas are timeless.
Fish Scales: I agree with, Skinny. At the age we are, we’re grown rappers, and that tends to come out in our music. We like to talk about what we’re actually going through in life, social issues, and we came out as humble rappers. I’m proud of us for never changing that. Even though we continue to try and create a new sound and continue to compete in the music industry with the sound changing so much, we still keep our nappy values — the stuff that we have valued from the beginning. I’m happy we are able to stick to that.
Zenger: Was it difficult to not conform to bragging and showing off material possessions?
Fish Scales: I think it starts with family. We all come from good families. There are certain things that I don’t want to say in front of my mother. We have respectful families that are involved in our lives. We check each other. I’ve made songs that strayed away from what Nappy should be doing, and my brothers will come and say, “You know what, I don’t think that fits our brand.” We always check each other. That’s one of the beauties of having a four-man group. There are checks and balances within the studio. We keep each other grounded, humble and focused on our original goal, which is Nappy Roots.
Skinny DeVille: We did lose two members who didn’t want to do what we were doing as Nappy Roots. They wanted to make songs that maybe got more spins on the radio. The two, R. Prophet and Big V, were trying to make songs that were like everyone else out there doing music. I don’t think those songs stood out. They fell as a pebble in a sea of rocks. Sometimes that trail is a path that’s less traveled and you have to bushwhack your own way, which I think we’ve done. That’s Nappy Roots, that’s their sound, that’s the guys that you can count on to make music like “How I Feel.”
We make music that makes you feel good about yourself, and not feel like s..t because you’re not driving a Bentley. It’s cool to be a married man with kids and raise your kids respectfully. It’s cool to have aspirations, and it’s cool to work hard. A lot of people now want microwave success without putting in the legwork to create the recipe for that. They want to take the recipe that someone else has made and try to microwave it. We are going to stay true to who we are because we’re grown men. We probably could’ve been easily influenced when we were younger because that’s what peer pressure does to youth, but we’re not for that.
Zenger: Nappy Roots got a shout out on the “Drink Champs” podcast. What did that feel like?
Fish Scales: That was great. We watch the show, and he actually said, “We drinking Jay-Z and Nappy Roots.” That’s good company. Just for the guys to be sitting there naturally drinking something that we created is cool. They offered DJ EFN a shot, and he said, “Nah, I’m good. I’m drinking Nappy Roots beer.” We’re grateful that those guys considered it, and we will be sending them some more. I showed my mother. She don’t really know the show, but to hear our name being brought up on a podcast of that level was amazing to her.
Skinny DeVille: It was a good look. It wasn’t by chance, though. We have a publicist that was like, “Give me some of your beers and I’ll send them there.” I’m glad that it worked. It’s one of those things where, you put in the effort, that’s what you get out of it. Trust the people you’re hiring and working with; it will work for you. I’m happy, I liked the exposure. I think the goal now is to get more beer to them and keep the pressure on.
Skinny DeVille: More of the same. We’re still going to be social, political and Southern-conscious hip hop. We’re going to make banging production tracks. Everything is going to sound like it should from Nappy Roots. We have a record label now called Not Regular, where we’re developing a vibe of up-and-coming nappy-minded artist. These are artists that have lyrical integrity, that are dope and talented, not just rappers but singers as well. We have producers that we have access to, and we are going to give them the same look that we gave Nappy to represent the culture. Just try to remain positive and be a good steward of the earth as we maneuver and get older.
We are just going to get old with this stuff. Hip hop has this thing where you can’t get old and rap. That’s killing a lot of the talent that should have opportunities. If I’m 45 and still making good music; why can’t I be a rapper? Now, I do think trying to be a rapper at 45 can be a little ill-fated. But I’m at the age I’m at, and I’m making good music.
Jay-Z is still doing it, as is Kanye West… . We’re in the same age group. But everybody is in their 40s going into their 50s, and hip hop is not too much older than that. We gotta be able to grow in the industry so we can continue to survive like the country artists, rock and the pop artists. You gotta be able to think like them. But we don’t, we get our money and buy jewelry, and ride around with a gun smoking weed, and our lives are cut short because our freedom is cut short.
A country singer will marry another country singer and they put their money together — Jay-Z and Beyonce all day. And you’re seeing it with Cardi B and Offset. More music needs to be made by older artists so we can show you how to live as an older person versus living like a young person. A lot of young artists talk about what they are doing right now and what they have, and that’s fine, but as an older person, I can’t grow from that.
I also want my music to tell me something I don’t know. Jay-Z and Nas are talking about stocks and Bitcoin investing. As an older emcee, there is a place and time when I think you should be a little more appreciated, and I would like to see more of that as we all grow in this ever-changing industry called music.
Fish Scales: I’m 100 percent with that. We are going to continue to grow, our music will grow with us and we will be Nappy for life.
Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Judith Isacoff