(Today's Reader Review finds Justin listening to the debut album from the Kentucky-based crew Nappy Roots, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. Leave your notes for him below.)
2002 was the year that saw these “country boyz” by the name of Nappy Roots bubble up into the mainstream. The sextet, consisting of members Fish Scales, Skinny Deville, B.Stille, Ron Clutch, Big V, and Ron Prophet, garnered both critical and commercial acclaim during what I consider to be the beginning of the end of the music video era. My own curiosity with the group was sparked when multiple music magazines (remember, this was before the era of hip hop blogs) began referring to the group as the “Wu-Tang of the South” (which is a rather unfair categorization; I really get irked when a music journalist says that artist so-and-so sounds like artist such-and-such). Since I had recently become enamored with the Wu-Tang Clan, I wanted to hear exactly what that combination would sound like, and I was always up for some good Southern hip hop anyway.
After being beat over the head with their first single, “Awnaw”, for a few months straight, their debut album, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, was finally released in early 2002. At around this time, major big-box retail stores, such as Best Buy, Target, and Circuit City (remember them?), who sold music decided that releases from newer artists would be a great way to lure more customers in through the doors, and as a result, lowered their prices fairly significantly. As such, I picked up this album for only $6.99 (which is much cheaper than anything on iTunes, where you don't even get any physical disc or liner notes). For a kid in college with an addiction to rap music, this was pure gold.
I remember bumping this album around friends, and their reactions were mixed. They either liked it and ran out to purchase their own copy; claimed that they liked it but then asked to burn a copy of it for themselves; flat-out didn't like it (usually because of their voices); or none of the above. Personally, I liked it at first, before I became witness to what I like to call “The Score effect”*. Basically, I saw some suburban girls (we can't just say “white” at this point?) at a music store singing “Po’ Folks”, asking the clerk for something called “Nappy Roots”. This was unsettling for me: even though hip hop has been mainstream for quite some time now, it still seems out of place when certain aspects of the culture cross over. So I put Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz on the shelf and never bumped it from beginning to end again.
That is, until I heard their newest single, “Congratulations”. It was leaked to the Internet to help promote the upcoming collaborative project between the Nappy Roots and production legends Organized Noize. That single has inspired me to go back and review their entire catalog, starting with Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, their major label debut. (Depending on how the comment section looks, the rest of Justin's reviews may run sooner rather than later. You know what to do.)
So without further ado, let’s get into the review.
*”The Score Effect”- When The Fugees dropped their breakthrough album The Score I was very interested in checking it out. That is, until I heard some suburban white girls a little bit older than me ask the record store staff in the most Valley Girl voice ever, “I want “Fugee-la”. After which I didn’t purchase, nor listen to that album for another 8 years.
Well, I just wasted twenty-five seconds of life.
Okay, after that worthless intro we finally get to hear the group actually rhyme. The beat is okay enough: it sounds like something a lot of today's mixtape “rappers” would get from an unknown local producer who claims that he can do any type of style. The voices of the group are very distinct from each other, though, and in that respect I can understand why their public relations people sent that Wu-Tang comparison out in the press kit.
3. SET IT OUT
I kind of like this one. It has that Southern house party-type of flair (though I have yet to really party in the Dirty South, I've seen enough movies set there with songs such as this one playing during a party scene). The simple hook demands that the listener, “Smoke sumthin', cut sumthin', drank sumthin', what?” I almost want to repeat it out loud myself; it's kind of catchy.
4. COUNTRY BOYZ
Features the first instrumental that I'm actually excited about. In today's version of hip hop, “Country Boyz” would have been selected as the street single. The combination of the mafioso-like strings and the 808 drum kit is crazy. This is the first track I would show off to alleged hip hop fans who perpetually hate on the South for no real reason aside from personal bias, because there is no way that a Jadakiss, a Jay-Z, or even a Ghostface Killah could ever hop on a beat like this and come correct with their respective style. Definitely proves how unique the style of the Nappy Roots can be.
5. BALLIN' ON A BUDGET
When I first bought Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, I liked this track, but today, not so much. The beat sounds like some filler that the post-death 2Pac would use, which means that The Outlawz should immediately call producer James “Groove” Chambers (who produced the majority of this project) and try to purchase something similar. The concept was cool enough, but it's hard to listen to a song such as this when the musical backdrop is so boring.
6. AWNAW (FEAT. JAZZE PHA)
When I was deejaying at a New Year's Eve party two years ago, I wanted to play this song a few minutes after the ball dropped, as I hadn't heard to it in a while. I like this song more today than I did when it first made its debut, and when I say “made its debut” I mean when it was force-fed onto the masses (this was all over television, radio airwaves, and even in one of the Madden games). The Nappy Roots are somehow able to embed more soul in their hip hop than most artists; it's almost like listening to some Sam Cooke or Al Green when our hosts approach this level of entertainment. This would be my song of the week anytime.
7. HEADZ UP
Another Southern club song, but one not as good as “Set It Out”. It sounds really dated today, and the hook is by far the worst I've heard on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz so far. Rapping-wise, the guys sound pretty good, though. Let's move on.
The beat's cool on this one, but the chorus was kind of annoying: it features a vocal sample that sounds like someone having an asthma attack, which isn't pleasant to the ears. Big V provides a rather inspired verse, one where you can feel the hunger in his voice, helping this song sound slightly above average overall.
9. PO' FOLKS (FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON)
You two remember this one, right? R&B crooner Anthony Hamilton was on the hook. I liked this song initially, and still like it today; if it wasn't for the above-mentioned incident, we would probably still be very close friends. Skinny Deville makes his return on the track, which is a plus for me, as he has one of my favorite voices in the crew. (I should probably look up if he's released any solo material after I'm done writing up this catalog.) “Po' Folks” is another one of those soulful songs that the Nappy Roots just sound great over. You'll either love this song or hate it; there isn't really any middle ground. Obviously, I lean more toward the “love” side of that scale.
10. START IT OVER
Wow, a Drunken Master “50 N----z Deep” (off of the FUBU compilation The Good Life) reference to start off the track? I hated that shit, so I don't know how I feel about this. The beat is less South-ish this time: this sounds more like an Erick Sermon production than anything. Our hosts come off as pretty good over it, though. My only problem with Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz so far is that I am now halfway through the project and the subject matter has rarely strayed from smokin', drankin', cuttin', and being “po'”. This may prove to be fatal for this review, but let's see where this goes.
11. BLOWIN' TREES
It makes sense that the Nappy Roots would throw me a curveball right when I was starting to get scared that their subject matter would never change. “Blowin' Trees” is about accepting the fact that you are “country”. Yeah, I was scared that it was going to be another weed song, too. This turned out to be another soulful track, and an entertaining one at that. There is a pointless skit at the very end, though.
This track was wack as fuck. This sounds like something a retarded Timbaland would come up with. Skip.
13. LIFE'S A BITCH
The first twenty-five seconds of this track consists of a dialogue discussing what happens when you leave this Earth. I would hope that you would find better beats than this in the next life: this is another one of those 2Pac posthumous release-type instrumentals that sounds too generic for you to give that question any serious consideration. What makes things worse is that this beat was provided by Carlos “Six July” Broady, one of Puff Daddy's original Hitmen (who is also known for his work for Royce da 5'9” and La The Darkman); he seems to have gone from working with The Notorious B.I.G. To being notorious for submitting terrible beats to artists. My, how the mighty have fallen. The yelling on the hook by Big V was a bit much, as well. Next!
14. MY RIDE
The production values on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz have gone downhill dramatically, which is a huge problem for me. This James “Groove” Chambers fellow is the definition of “hit and miss”.
15. ONE FORTY
Leaning mostly towards “miss” now. Shit, this is one of the worst beats on the entire album. My God, this sounds like it crawled out from an early 2000’s Bad Boy beat submission tape that Puffy tossed in the garbage.
16. DIME, QUARTER, NICKEL, PENNY
Okay, maybe we're back on track again, as this is actually a good song. This is a fun track about money, one that would have been perfect for a cameo from the Field Mob. (That's not a dis, either: I'm actually a big fan.)
17. KENTUCKY MUD
And now the poor production returns. This wasn't as bad as some of the other tracks on this album, but it still manages to sound too dated for something coming from 2002.
(Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz ends with a series of songs labeled as bonus tracks.)
18. THE LOUNGE
19. HO DOWN (FEAT. THE BARKAYS)
A smoothed-out Southern-type track about hos (surprise, surprise). Not a bad track, just not a great one, either.
20. HEADZ UP (REFRIED)
A remix of a okay-at-best album cut that was featured earlier in the album. Plays exactly as it reads.
21. AWNAW (ROCK REMIX) (FEAT. MARCOS OF P.O.D.)
Not bad. I remember 2002 as being the time when there were a lot more rap/rock collaborations (Limp Bizkit, anyone?). This is one of the few instances where the concept panned out fairly well (although nobody remembers who P.O.D. Is anymore).
FINAL THOUGHTS: Plain and simple, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz has too many tracks. Had the Nappy Roots made this a thirteen-track debut, they would have had something that would have stood the test of time much more successfully, without a doubt. Instead, by adopting the No Limit Records business strategy (quantity over quality), the project seriously suffers. Nevertheless, these guys still manage to show off their talent, and they all work well as a group; when they are complemented with above-average production, they are able to shine. Which brings me to the second major flaw of Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz: the production. For being Da Dirty South’s answer to the Wu-Tang Clan, the Nappy Roots are desperately lacking a RZA. James “Groove” Chambers provides the occasional high point, but leaving the bulk of the musical responsibilities in his hands wasn’t the best idea. Still, this was a decent debut for a group on a major label (Atlantic), who, from what I understand from reading Wikipedia, had to fight with their corporate bosses in order to keep the music sounding the way that they wanted (although I'm sure some compromises were still made). (Probably the rock remix.)
BUY OR BURN? Overall, I wouldn't recommend buying this album (unless you get a deal like I did,: I know that Amazon sometimes has some pretty sweet sales). You should listen to the tracks listed below instead, so that you can hear some of the best work from the Nappy Roots.
BEST TRACKS: “Po' Folks”; “Awnaw”; “Dime, Quarter, Nickel, Penny”; “Country Boyz”
(Questions? Comments? Whatever? Leave your thoughts below.)