May 3, 2013

Reader Review: Nappy Roots - Wooden Leather (August 26, 2003)





Welcome to the return of the Reader Reviews, also known as Max's nap time. Today we continue with the back catalog of the Nappy Roots, as Justa, who first wrote about their debut (which you can read by clicking here), returns to discuss their second album, Wooden Leather. Click through to leave your thoughts for Justa.)





Wooden Leather, the second major label release from “these country boyz” Nappy Roots, went generally unnoticed by the public. Much like Arrested Development and Digable Planets with their own respective sophomore outings, the Nappy Roots discovered that their fanbase wasn’t prepared for the sextet (made up of Skinny DeVille, Big V, R. Prophet, Ron Clutch, Fish Scales, and B. Stille) to change any part of their formula. There wasn't much in the way of promotion, either. Two singles were released, but not much was ever said about the album (even though it somehow sold five hundred thousand copies, allegedly): I actually don’t remember even hearing any of the singles on the radio (when I still listened to the radio, that is), and I only caught the occasional showing of the video for “Roun' The Globe” on MTV. I remember buying Wooden Leather, but I can’t even remember if that happened on the actual release date (that really came out of nowhere) or if it was a few weeks after it came out.

This time around, the Nappy Roots attempted to solve a major flaw that made their first album, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, suffer at times: the production. They branched out and scored some beats from some surprisingly big names, such as Mike City (of Carl Thomas “I Wish” fame), Raphael Saadiq (do I need to say more about him?), Mr DJ (Outkast), David Banner, Lil Jonn (Yeaaaaaah!!) and, um, Kanye West (yeah, I'm shocked as well), and mixed them up with a few relatively unknown producers.

Wooden Leather was at least intended to be much more solid than their debut.

1. INTRO
An introductory skit featuring some blues guitar and an annoying fake Sir Nose (from Parliament) voice, telling our hosts to “get into it”. Why?

2. GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY
Wow. This was an immediate improvement over the generic production that often plagued their first album. The title of the song serves as a perfect representation about how the group must have felt about having above-average production (here provided by Needlz). They should have ditched that intro and kicked off Wooden Leather with this instead. The track ends with a bunch of news clips from when the governor of Kentucky officially declared September 16 to be Nappy Roots Day.

3. NAPPY ROOTS DAY
Transitions straight from those excerpts into one of the best beats David Banner ever made. This one is stands up there with T.I.'s “Rubberband Man” and could easily be one of the best songs that has ever come out of the Nappy Roots. They go off on this one: these guys can rap.

4. ROUN' THE GLOBE
Despite a patriotic video and the Madden '04 product placement, this song, released as a single, just never became as popular as Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz's “Awnaw”. Maybe that's just because this song's a little bit too country, but I actually prefer “Roun' The Globe”. It's not a track that easily converts into club or radio airplay, but it sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a summer picnic: it's like a Southern take on DJ Quik’s “Jus Like Compton”, content-wise. The overall message is that, basically, the whole world is country; sitting in Europe, writing this review right now, I would have to agree. A good song.

5. LACS, DOGS, & HOGS
Troy Johnson handles production on this one: he also worked on one of my favorite cuts from their last album. Unfortunately, this track isn't anywhere close in level of quality. The song is about cars (just in case you were trying to guess), and all six group members sound good, but the weird placement of the track immediately following the previous (excellent) upbeat track kills any type of joy that could have been derived.

6. SICK & TIRED (FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON)
The Nappy Roots' claim to fame (up to this point) was their Anthony Hamilton-laced single “Po Folks” from their debut. So why not go back to what worked the first time, right? Well, as with all trips back to the well, the end result isn't the same. The subject matter on “Sick & Tired” is a bit darker: I can’t picture suburban girls rushing out to buy this song. I still think this was a great effort, but it isn't successful as the crossover attempt it appears to be. One thing is apparent, though: these guys are really good at this everyday blue collar worker-type of music.

7. TWANG
The title scared me on this one, but thankfully, it isn't awful. It's yet another example of the weird sequencing on Wooden Leather, though: you're really going to put a song about “cuttin'” right after a song where you proclaim to be “Sick & Tired”? I don't understand the overall vision the crew had with this album, as this song should have been left on the cutting room floor, if anything. Maybe they could have submitted it to a soundtrack or something. Regardless, it doesn't fit the overall tone of the album (it features another faux-Timbaland-esque beat provided by Briss). A skit at the end of the track announces that the next song will feature Raphael Saadiq, though. What was the point in doing that? What would have stopped the average listener from just skipping to the next song? I'm scratching my head right now just thinking about it.

8. LEAVE THIS MORNING (FEAT. RAPHAEL SAADIQ)
I am an unabashed Raphael Saddiq fan, so naturally I am going to gravitate toward this track. “Leave This Morning” would have worked even better had the previous track been completely removed from the album; this may have made more sense sequenced right after “Sick & Tired”. This sounds like something off of Saadiq's solo debut, Instant Vintage. The self-proclaimed country boyz are also on point, as usual.

9. WORK IN PROGRESS (FEAT. RAPHAEL SAADIQ)
Another Saddiq feature!?! What a treat: back when I picked this up, I wasn't expecting another contribution from one of the most talented artists working today. That being said, this is a standout track: honestly, you have to hear this one. It has more of a hip hop sound than “Leave This Morning”, as though DJ Quik might have lent a drum kit for the beat, and I would have loved to hear Jay-Z hop onto this beat with the Nappy click, since this is the kind of instrumental that he would have felt right at home on.

10. PUSH ON (FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON)
I saw the featured artist worried that the Nappy Roots were returning to that well far too many times, but it turns out my concerns were unfounded, as “Push On” is another great track. I can see why I didn’t really bump Wooden Leather all that much in college: the content seems to be a lot more mature, and for someone who was mainly focused on partying and chasing girls at the time, this album wasn't really something I could relate to. But for listeners making steps toward adulthood, this speaks loudly.

11. NO GOOD
Just when things were going well, one of the producers from Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz shows up with another one of these generic Timbaland-esque productions (beatmakers tend to copy Timbo a lot, for some reason). I don’t understand why these guys chose to leave this track on the album: for the first time, it seems that the Nappy Roots are just going through the motions. Next!

12. THESE WALLS
Wake up, Mr. West!” I had completely forgotten that Kanye lent a beat to Wooden Leather. Overall, I like this one. Remember when Kanye used to record soulful instrumentals for his collaborators to just go in on? Features some of the best lyrical performances from the group that I have ever heard.

13. WAR/PEACE
David Banner comes through again with some alright production that is elevated by the crew from being just another sad rap/rock hybrid. I've been really impressed by what the guys are doing lyrically up to this point.

14. ROLL AGAIN
Really soulful. And again, the lyrics are stellar: I found myself looking them up more and more as I wrote out this review. Once again, the production is great, and I love the hook on this.

15. WHAT CHA GONNA DO (THE ANTHEM)
I was never a huge fan of Lil Jon, so this had to be the song that I was least interested in hearing on Wooden Leather, especially since it's subtitled “The Anthem”, since most songs that refer to themselves as such never develop into anything close to resembling an anthem. There's nothing objectionable about this song, but it also isn't exactly required listening, either. Whose bright idea was this collaboration? I strongly doubt that Lil Jon's fans were dying to hear him work with the Nappy Roots, and vice versa. My guess is that some suit at the label thought this sounded good on paper. Anyway, you should skip this one.

16. LIGHT & DARK (FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON)
The third time is anything but a charm for the Nappy Roots, who must have been one of Anthony Hamilton's primary sources of income back in 2003. However, this is due to the weak production more than the actual performances. Skinny and Big V’s verses are especially great, but they're not worth sitting through the song to actually hear.

17. OUTRO
The fake Sir Nose voice returns. But why?

18. ROUN' THE GLOBE (COLLIPARK REMIX) (FEAT. YING YANG TWINS)
A remix for the clubs featuring the Ying Yang Twins. Hooray. Can’t say I was excited to hear this, and after a few seconds I shut it off completely, my gut feelings confirmed. This remix had to have been another suit idea, for sure.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Why wasn’t Wooden Leather more popular? This was a vast improvement from the Nappy Roots' first album, and if you got rid of the club tracks and the skits, they could have had a bonafide classic on their hands. My younger self didn’t bump this album all that much, but I now understand why: with such mature subject matter, there was no way I would have appreciated Wooden Leather back in the day, and if I was left feeling this way, I'm sure than many other Nappy Roots fans were confused, as well. You just don’t expect to hear songs discussing the concept of existentialism from a group that calls themselves Nappy Roots, but on Wooden Leather, that’s exactly what the bulk of the album deals with. I applaud the country boyz for switching it up and taking a chance, though (which many artists are afraid to do, unfortunately): had this been a bit shorter and tighter, it could have been great.

BUY OR BURN? You definitely should cop this album. It is worth it. As impressive as the production was (aside from a few tracks), the lyrical content is even better. Fans of the group should give this album a second look as I did: you'll be pleasantly surprised.

BEST TRACKS: “Nappy Roots Day”; “Roun' The Globe”; “Work In Progress”; “Push On”; “These Walls”

-Justa

(Questions? Comments? You hungry? You seem hungry. You want something to eat? You want a snack? You sure? Hit up the comments below.)

27 comments:

  1. Derek ClaptonMay 03, 2013

    I never hated the beats on the first album, but hearing Nappy over some bigger names sounds tempting. I should actually check out their other stuff.

    ReplyDelete
  2. AnonymousMay 03, 2013

    Does that mean your posting other reader reviews Max? Because I am pretty sure I sent you one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure if I received your Reader Review submission: I'd remember one from someone named Anonymous.

      Delete
    2. haha classsic

      Delete
  3. AnonymousMay 04, 2013

    If you gonna do the 'finish what i started' thing then you still have to finish with kool g raps body of work- so review 4,5,6, would like to know your opinion on that album thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I still have at least one album with DJ Polo to go before I get to 4,5,6, so there will be a wait.

      Delete
  4. AnonymousMay 05, 2013

    People talk shit about 4,5,6 but I feel it is one of G's best. Short and sweet, packed full of gritty, grimy, gutter lyrics, backed up by simple yet effective east coast beats.

    ReplyDelete
  5. homosensationalMay 06, 2013

    review big bear doin thangs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Big_Bear_%27Doin_Thangs%27_Album_Cover.jpg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amazing cover art notwithstanding, I don't have any plans on fitting that in anytime soon.

      Delete
  6. AnonymousMay 06, 2013

    4,5,6 is a amazing album i checked it out soley because it got such shitty reviews and was pleasantly surprised

    ReplyDelete
  7. AnonymousMay 07, 2013

    I think Max should do a series of reviews based upon albums that have received shitty reviews and do not receive the respect they deserve. He could look at 4,5,6 by Kool G Rap and other albums which i can't really think of at the moment. Wait, maybe this wasn't a good idea.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Good review. The album was bad production-wise and the group definitely stepped up their lyrics.

    I like how David Banner sampled The BeeGees for the "Nappy Roots Day" joint. Is it me or the "No Good" track has the same sample Timbaland used for Nelly Furtado "Wait for You"?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never listened to Timberland after he went more that pop direction.

      Delete
  9. AnonymousMay 07, 2013

    Max, for your reader review submissions, are we still allowed to do reviews on albums you have already reviewed or can it only be ones people are requesting?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't accept reviews for albums that have already been written about, but you're otherwise not limited to just what has been requested. Basically, e-mail me any ideas you may have before actually submitting them, and we'll see what's available.

      Delete
  10. On the subject of continuing artists discographies, how about DMX's 'The Great Depression'?

    Great blog, been following for years - keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It'll happen, just not sure when yet.

      Delete
  11. AnonymousMay 09, 2013

    Would you accept a review of 4,5,6, by Kool G, or because you already reviewed him, is that an artists catalogue you want to finish yourself?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This conversation would be better suited to e-mail, which, before anyone asks, is in the sidebar on the right hand side of the screen.

      Delete
  12. The call for a 4, 5, 6 review has been ongoing for what seems like a millennia. Is it really all that good?
    My knowledge of the Nappy Roots is limited to one song that was used in the remake for The Ladykillers. It was alright, if memory serves.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fast Life with Nas is that good. I dont remember the rest of the album too well

      Delete
    2. That was a dope track on that soundtrack. You should definitely check out this album though if you felt this track.

      Delete
    3. The album is very consistent, but it runs a very fine line of blending in with the other beats and dopeness.

      Delete
  13. Blood, sweat, and tears went into writing this and 80% of the response is about some Kool G Rap album which is mediocre at best??? What part of the game is this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, I liked your review anyway

      Delete
    2. I liked your review, but at least you got comments unlike Max's Kenna posts lol.

      Delete
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    ReplyDelete