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Roots Rap 

Country boys rise from Southern origins to national fame

When Nappy Roots hit peak popularity in 2002, gas cost $1.67 a gallon. George W. Bush was in his second year of office. That same year, he had a choking incident with a pretzel. Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, P!nk and Ja Rule topped Billboard's pop charts and Nappy Roots, a Southern-fried hip-hop crew following in the footsteps of Outkast and LA-based Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie), was the best selling rap group of the year withits major label debut Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. A hook-driven, lyrical rap crossover success, the album had more to do with living life in the South than cash and cars, an anomaly amongst the gangster-rap of LA or street-smart New York rap. Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz helped bring Southern rap to the contemporary charts in a time saturated with early 2000s pop-trash.

Now, Southern rap is a staple strain. As I write this article, half of the top 10 "Hot Rap Tracks" (Billboard's top 10) are a product of (or are collaborations with) Southern hip-hop artists. Names like Pitbull from Miami, FL, Mike Will Made It, from Atlanta, GA, 2 Chainz from College Park, GA, Juicy J from Memphis, TN, and B.o.B. from Decatur, GA, are not only sharing, but are dominating the charts amongst traditionally coast-based sounds from Los Angeles and New York. Nappy Roots may not have the name recognition as some of their Southern hip-hop contemporaries like Outkast, (who just announced a reunion tour of 40 festivals this summer, including a headlining spot at the über-popular Coachella Festival that sold out in under three hours), Three 6 Mafia, or Ludacris, but they were undoubtedly among the pioneers for Southern-style rap's major market success. That, and the group's philanthropic and educational work led Kentucky to declare Sept. 16 "Nappy Roots Day," an official statewide holiday.

The group's most recent contribution, 2011's Nappy Dot Org is a modern retelling of the crew's classic Southern sound. There's still a clear gospel influence, low bass, and snappy breaks. But the cover of the album is embossed with a QR code and verses discuss Facebook posts and their children. While Nappy Roots has clearly changed with the technological times and grown up some, they maintain the young country charm of Bowling Green, KY, from where they emerged almost 20-years ago.

And still, the first church organ chords of "Awnaw," from Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, define the group. The same goes for the fluttering classical guitar duo at the opening of "Po' Folks," with a hooky R&B chorus featuring Anthony Hamilton that snagged Nappy Roots a Grammy nominations for "Best Rap/Sung Collaboration" in 2003.

Nappy Roots

9 pm. Friday, Jan. 24

Pakit Liquidators, 903 SE Armour Rd.

$15.

Govinda, Those Guys, Cymatics and Laid Nightly open.

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