Not many hip-hop collectives last more than a few albums, but Kentucky's Nappy Roots isn't your average rags-to-riches-to-rags story.
The fivesome, which debuted back in 2002 as a sextet with its platinum-certified 'Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz,' has seen career heights, like the hits 'Awnaw' featuring Jazze Pha and 'Po' Folks' featuring Anthony Hamilton, as well as a handful of lows -- parting ways with Atlantic Records and sixth member R Prophet. The path to success was easy, but maintaining that stasis proved to be much more of a challenge.
But the Bowling Green natives aren't letting it get the best of them. With Fontana Records serving as a distribution home for the newly minted imprint Nappy Roots Entertainment Group, the quintet released its fourth studio album, 'Pursuit of Nappyness,' this week. The group -- Skinny DeVille, Fish Scales, Big V, B. Stille and Ron Clutch -- has managed to outlast the competition by adapting to the evolving music industry and maintaining their friendships with one another – the key to their success.
"Labels don't build up an artist as much as they used to, and a lot of times guys are put together and there really was no bond or relationship hadn't had time to grow', Big V explained in an interview with The BoomBox. "So when you work with someone 15 years of your life, the bond is strong. Nappy Roots, we understand, know and respect each other. Celebrating birthdays on the road together, seeing children born -- we realize that the common denominator is that we love music and respect the past. It's not really like a record business for us, it's more like a family business."
'Pursuit of Nappyness', inspired by the hardships that Will Smith's character endured in the 2006 drama 'Pursuit of Happyness', is a representation of that bond, one that was sustained in spite of the fact that much of the album was recorded through a digital medium. The group members were stationed in different areas of the country, leading them to e-mail verses back and forth to one another. But when they linked up with Atlanta-based production duo Phivestarr Productions, Nappy Roots realized that some magic couldn't be created over the internet.
"Working with Phivestarr just fit right. We just kept revisiting the chemistry and it just got crazy and before you know it, you've got 67 records," says Big V of working with the duo. "And in the midst of doing the album, we were all working on different projects and everybody stopped what they were doing and came to Atlanta to see these guys and the chemistry was incredible. We had to go back. They did a great, great job."
And while the group tested the waters in using what they call "space age technology," they also found that their newfound label situation allowed them to build their business acumen. "This is being released independent and it was really a growing process to learn our way around the ropes," stated Big V. "To learn the marketing tools and how to do this independent thing."
Now that the album's in stores and label entanglements are a thing of the past, Nappy Roots plans to branch out and release a handful of solo albums over the course of the next year. But no worries – Nappy Roots isn't going the way of the dodo anytime soon. "Another couple of albums this fall, come back in the Spring with a few more, we're going to work with DJ Smallz for another mixtape," said Skinny. "Whatever is in front of us that we think is going to be a good match for us, we're going to entertain it to the fullest. As a company, as a group and as a movement."