Grammy-nominated alt-rappers Nappy Roots take southern sound to the 'Lounge with KRS-One

Kentucky alt-rappers Nappy Roots chose respect over riches. Candor over cash. Principles over payroll. After breaking big with Atlantic Records in the early 2000s with massive worldwide hits like "Aw Naw," "Sick and Tired," "Roun' the Globe," "Po Folks" and "Good Day," the Grammy-nominated southern-style stars felt that they needed to fight for their independence after releasing two LPs for the majors.

"Getting off Atlantic Records was no easy feat, especially when you are making them plenty of money," said William "Skinny DeVille" Hughes, one-fourth of the group from Bowling Green. "We basically had to play dead for three years and devalue our brand to make them lose interest. Once that happened we had to look interesting to every other label to get picked back up. That took a lot of faith and patience. We ended up losing a member in that period (R. Prophet left to pursue a solo career in 2006) and deciding to maintain our independence by signing a distribution deal with Fontana-Universal."

Almost four years passed between the release of 2003's Atlantic LP "Wooden Leather" and their first indie album, 2008's "The Humdinger."

"Everything happens for a reason and some reasons we will never know," Hughes said. "We run into a few of the people we worked closely with at Atlantic and it's no bad blood. I speak with Mike Caren -- the A&R who signed us -- occasionally and we chat about hip-hop and how the industry is going. I try to live with no regrets and seldom look back on the shoulda-woulda-coulda moments. I know that this was the best decision for us and our fans because the major label machine will put anything out to make money and we would rather have control of our own destiny than to sell out for money and fame. You can make money without selling your soul to the devil for fame. It's a road less traveled but the end is much more gratifying. In my opinion, respect trumps fame by a long shot."

Nappy Roots are easy to differentiate from the typical mainstream rap artists out there these days. After meeting at Western Kentucky University, they strove to put out music that stood out as a rap alternative with integrity.

"We don't try to emulate what the current artists or fad is out right now," Hughes said. "We are definitely fans of good music, but in our minds we don't care what MC-such-and-such has or is doing. We are comfortable doing us all the time because our fans wouldn't have it any other way."

People notice and respect their approach on all levels. While the group's members were celebrating the success of their 2002 LP "Watermelon, Chicken & Grits," former Kentucky Governor Paul E. Patton declared Sep. 16 as "Nappy Roots Day" in their home state.

"We kicked it off in Louisville, Ky. this year, but unfortunately it fell on a Sunday so we rapped our asses off on Saturday and hit a few schools on Friday speaking to the kids about education and following their dreams," Hughes said.

Nappy Roots was also recently included in Jason Howard's book, "A Few Honest Words: the Kentucky Roots of Popular Music."

Since the release of their 1998 debut "Country Fried Cess" caught Atlantic's attention, they've put out a plethora of feature-filled mixtapes in addition to their five official studio LPs, the latest being the Organized Noize-produced "Nappy Dot Org." They're currently touring in support of a new mixtape, "Sh!t's Beautiful," available as a free download at nappyroots.com.

The songs "Black Friday" and "Bigga Thomas" from the latest mixtape seem to be getting great responses live, according to Hughes.

In addition to their time spent touring, Nappy Roots members Hughes and Fish Scales are currently working on a collaboration album titled "The 40 Akerz Project" with a production team called SMKA, and B. Stille is working on a new solo effort. The band did lose a member this year when Big V left.

Nappy Roots -- Hughes, B. Stille, Ron Clutch and Fish Scales -- will be performing with hip-hop legend KRS-One on Thursday night when he returns to the Arcata Theatre Lounge. Gobi will also perform with "special guests." Advance passes for the 21-and-over event are available at Couple Cups, NHS, People's Records, DTA and online at bonusman.info.

While they've been to Mendocino County on a few occasions, this will be Nappy Roots' first show in Humboldt County.

"We've performed in Caspar, Calif. a few times and hung out in Mendocino on a trim session once," Hughes said. "I must say I love NorCal and can't wait to get back on that side of reality to say the least. My momma might read this, so I don't want her to think her son is solely there to do drugs medicinally. Hint hint. Smoke one for the po' ones and we will bring the wraps -- keep it Nappy!"

(R&B singer) Anthony Hamilton has been your comfort feature almost. I love it and can almost always expect an Anthony-feature on your records. How did your friendship with him begin and why do you think it has lasted this long? Will you be featuring him on anything soon?

William "Skinny DeVille" Hughes: A-Ham is definitely our country cousin and we love it when we come together and make hits. We actually first met on the set of "Po Folks" in the early 2000s. He was on Atlantic at the time and our A&R Mike Caren took the personal liberty of putting him on our song without our permission. Needless to say, it was probably one of the best decisions in our career because it captured the attention of the world and spawned a new R&B artist who is still able to benefit from that decision as well. He was on the song "Down N Out" from The Humdinger and I'm sure you will be seeing us collaborate again in the near future.

If you go

What: Nappy Roots, KRS-One

When:10 p.m. Thursday

Where: Arcata Theatre Lounge, 1036 G St.

Admission: $25 in advance, 21+

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