Over two decades, the game plan for Nappy Roots has been to be in tune with the times.
The Bowling Green-born hip-hop troupe may be known for hits from years past (“Po’ Folks,” “Good Day”) that developed a sound as homegrown as it was optimistic, but in 2019 the focus is on looking outward.
That could come through activities that keep its members active on two home fronts – Louisville (where members Ron Clutch and B. Stille reside) and Atlanta (base of operations for Skinny DeVille and Fish Scales). It could be adventures like the group’s current Great American Beer Run tour, which underscores a project that takes Nappy Roots outside of hip-hop, and outside of music, altogether.
It’s that tour than brings the quartet, augmented on the road by producer/DJ 808 South, back to Kentucky this weekend for a performance at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center.
“What brought us together was a love for creating hip-hop, a love for listening to hip-hop,” said Clutch. “But one of the more important things about hip-hop is staying hip. That means staying current, staying relevant, staying up with what is trending. Even if you’re not participating in whatever that trendy thing is, you still need to be aware of it and possibly be able to do your own version of it. So we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to reinvent ourselves every so often to catch the new wave.
“We attribute a lot of that relevancy to 808 Blake, a young producer out of Atlanta who has got his finger on the pulse of hip-hop. He’s got a real fresh sound, a real current sound. Coming out of Atlanta, with Atlanta being the center of hip-hop, it just made sense working with him.”
What is now current began with a country-fried sound the original six-man lineup of Nappy Roots generated as students at Western Kentucky University in the late ‘90s. That triggered a national following with the release of the 2002 single ‘Po’ Folks.” Aided by a music video that showcased a devotion to its rural Kentucky roots and set to an organic musical stride that helped catapult to stardom a young Anthony Hamilton (who collaborated on the song), Nappy Roots was unlike anything inhabiting the hip-hop world at the time. The group knew it, too.
“We were doing the music that came naturally to us,” Clutch said. “At the same time, we knew we had something that was special. Around that time, hip-hop was in a different state. It was more about the jewelry you were wearing, how much money you had in your pocket, what kind of fancy car you were driving. We had none of that. We were in college, trying to have enough money just so we could stay in school and stay in Bowling Green, because that’s where our studio was. So we were just being true to ourselves.
“At the same time, though, we knew we had something special. We knew we were different from everybody else. When we dropped that first underground album, ‘Country Fried Cess’ (in 1998), the response confirmed that we were onto something good. We knew as long as we stayed on this path, it would take us far. That’s what’s gotten us to this point right now.”
That path has taken a curious turn of late with Nappy Roots collaborating alongside assorted breweries for a series of craft beers. Interest in the libations has even led to the development of a reality show slated to premiere in late 2019 or early 2020 called “40 Akerz and a Brew.” For Clutch, such pursuits are extensions of Nappy Roots’ status as a proven, hard-working independent enterprise.
“Man, it’s been a great experience. You don’t have the financial, big budget backing of a major label. But we’ve already experienced that (the group’s “Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz” and “Wooden Leather” albums were released on Atlantic Records). So we took that experience and applied it to this independent grind.
“We’re still figuring it out, to be honest. We’re still learning. The beer project, that’s part of this whole independent mind state. That’s the path we want to take. That decision is solely on us. We answer to nobody else and we don’t have to get anyone else’s approval except for the approval within our circle.
“Working that way has its ups and downs. There is a lot more risk but with a lot more rewards. At the end of the day, you’re going to bed knowing you’ve done it your way.”
Nappy Roots/Joslyn and the Sweet Compression
When: 7:30 p.m. June 21
Where: Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third
Tickets: $30, $35