Wooden Leather (Atlantic)
On their platinum-selling debut Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, Kentucky rappers Nappy Roots extolled dirt roads, drawled “y’all”s and cooking with fatback, among other virtues of rural Southern living. On “Roun’ the Globe,” the first single off their new album Wooden Leather, the sextet might seem, on first blush, to be taking their down-home shtick too far. “The whole damn world’s country,” they declareyet not out of provincialism, but rather as a nod to globalization. Nappy Roots use the term “country” metaphorically, as an expression of solidarity with common people the world over.
“Been all around the globe from Monday to Sunday / Y’all the same folk we see in Kentucky,” chant the group’s MCs in unison on the song’s chorus. Not that they had to spell things out for us: The music’s Latin and Asian accents, as well as the plucked notes of what sounds at times like a banjo, at others like a mbira (an African thumb piano), imbue the record with a sufficiently international cast. Another track, “These Walls,” is built upon a Jamaican dancehall rhythm; “No Good” employs a bhangra-style arrangement not unlike those heard on recent hits by Timbaland and Jay-Z.
Allusions to terrorist attacks, the war in Iraq and other recent global crises are interspersed throughout Wooden Leather; Nappy Roots, however, are most incisive when engaging the struggles of working or “po’ ” folks, as they do on “Sick and Tired,” a bumping, gospel-steeped lament troubled by weary harmonica. “Sick and tired of being pushed aside / I’m sick and tired of callin’ folks for a ride / Sick and tired of this skinny life / I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” goes the litany of one refrain. “Can’t even pay my landlady / How the fuck I’m supposed to save for my unplanned baby?” spits another of the MCs over nagging rimshots and wah-wah guitar on “Push On.”
Just as telling as these rhymes are the group’s spongy Southern beats and deep-seated blues sense, as well as their genial sangfroid, all of which testify not just to Nappy resilience, but to that of hard-pressed people everywhere. Indeed, much of Wooden Leather espouses an ethic akin to that of liberation theologians, who believe that God sides with the poor and marginalized. “What cha gonna do when we pull up in your city / How you gonna act when Nappy Roots in your city?,” importunes one of the group’s MCs to the inexorable crunk of “What Cha Gonna Do (The Anthem).” The answer comes in “Work in Progress,” when another urges, “Smoke something with your country people / Drink something with your country people”in other words, identify and unite with Nappy folk all over the world. The admonition comes, tellingly enough, just seconds after Nappy Roots remind us that the Bible promises that the meekthat is, humble or “country” folkshall inherit the earth.
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