Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: Nappy Roots - The Pursuit of Nappyness (2010)

Release Date: June 15
Length: 61:07
Genre: Rap/Hip Hop/Various

I really wish hip hop would stop getting such a bad repertoire when being judged as a genre. Every time I glance at a Facebook page of some musically inept person, it will typically read "I like everything except rap and country", or even worse, having a list of artists that are now used to represent these two displaced genres, such as Lil Wayne, Rascal Flatts, 50 Cent, and Taylor Swift. It's not that I hold a grudge against any of these artists in general, its just that these artists stand as terrible representations of the genres at hand (country pop is a subgenre, not an acceptable replacement for country). However, hip-hop is becoming a very difficult genre to classify these days. While there is a set definition for hip hop, samples involving typically unrelated genres have been known to cause certain genres to blur the line between genre and sub-genre (A very crude example would be Lil Wayne's Rebirth). Nappy Roots has been noticing this modern trend for the last decade, and is using this knowledge to turn hip hop (and rap) on its head.

Nappy Roots is a southern rap quintet founded in 1995, and are notable for multiple charting singles, such as 2002's Po' Folks and 2008's Good Day.The Pursuit of Nappyness marks the release of their fourth full studio album, a follow-up to 2008's The Humdinger. No matter what your view on these fellows are, you can't argue that they at least carry some originality around. Listening to songs such as the aforementioned Good Day as well as several tracks of their latest album, the group decides to present a message of peace to the listener, rather than the traditional materialistic aspects far too common in music today. But there is another side to this. Being a quintet, and having such heavy collaboration in the songs, Nappy Roots tends to have a way of making two-faced albums. The happy simplistic songs tend to get mixed in among songs of a darker social merit, but the small town feel remains the same. I can't help but guess that this is their way of tackling social commentary -- it would certainly make sense.

Now, onto what you actually want to hear

Combining the some of the better writing out of this group in years with some great beats and specially crafted samples, this record is certainly well done, even if it doesn't leave any comfort zones. Most notably, the genre fusion that Nappy tends to tackle is in full force with Nappyness. In Back Home, the acoustic southern rock (with a subtle yet somehow necessary touch of electric keyboard) makes this song a great track to relax in the summer with, also featuring lyrics styled in the same warm and welcoming feel as Good Day, except this song is about home, and the unity of a family. Since one of us is going to say something about the simplicity about the lyrics, it might as well be me. Yes, the happy songs have very simplistic lyrics typically (easily noticeable upon first listens). And yes, without the illusion of literary dress-up, you might also argue that it could be a sign of poor writing. Just remember something, though. Ultimately, music is intended to invoke emotion, and if it's intended to make you relax with a smile, it's probably doing its job. Be Alright (Feat. Je'kob Washington) takes the role of the second (arguably the) best song on the album. While initially sounding like a filler pop song, B. Stille pulls an inspiring verse out of left field:

"I'm filled with mirth, and I'm smilin'
Find me in the church on Mount Zion
I used to think I was cursed like 'The Shining'
A lot of folks is worse off than I am
I'm truly blessed no denyin'
They say do your best, and I'm tryin'
But sometimes your best just ain't good enough
You get yourself in a mess, but things lookin' up
So before they break us
We're gonna make it like forty acres
People do anything for this paper
Get a shape up with a sporty taper
Just so you can look fresher than your next door neighbor
Make yourself seem major, impress those strangers
Found Christ, now I got a new lease on life
You can hate all you like, I'ma be alright"

While mostly carrying warm feelings, a lot of the songs tend to differ in heavy ways. Welcome to the Show is a self parody (as well as of their fans), All 4 U is a wonderful thank you note to the fans (and acts as the strongest and most fitting close to an album I've heard this year), The People acts as a heartfelt piano-based message to hold those dear to you closely, and Ride is the featured single on this album. Besides being one of the catchier songs on the album, it actually stands as one of the weaker tracks on the album, never making its lyrical intentions clear.

After listening to this album half a dozen times in order to write this review as accurately as possible, I'm having a difficult time finding a counter-argument to all of my praise for it, besides minor things such as a few cringe-worthy lyrics in songs such as The People and Back Home as well as a bit of a flow issue that comes in at the transition between the first and second halves of the album. That said, the album is far from perfect. Nappyness just didn't go out of the groups comfort zone in the way it easily could have (Instead of country "influence", how about some full on country rock sampling coupled with a tad of organ?), and it seems that this is what kept this album from greatness, rather than almost-greatness.

Grade: B
Notable Tracks: Back Home, The People, Be Alright, All 4 U, Welcome to the Show

1 comment:

  1. I think mainstream hip-hop gets a bad rep because I love rappers like KiD CuDi, Kanye West, Drake and some others but I agree with you but there is WAY more and people should try and search more.