Music » Livewire

Nappy Roots

Tuesday, May 4, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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Every American knows about the prejudice against white-bread country music -- it's happy-hayseed drivel, devoid of the sly beats and sturdy backbone demanded by modern pop lovers. That prejudice pervades African American country music traditions as well, but it coexists with a contradictory notion that's all but buried in the white-bread conception. As Nappy Roots member Scales puts it in the hip-hop crew's bio, black country music is also "wild and untamed."

He was actually speaking about connotations of the word "nappy," but he could have been talking about Delta blues, Muscle Shoals soul, or urban rap styles that are combined in the young Kentucky sextet's major-label debut, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. The title itself, of course, is a play on happy-hayseed stereotypes, a twist that bubbles most infectiously on the smooth-grooving carnal comedy "Ho Down" (get it?).

Even so, "Ho Down" is one of the few numbers on the CD that offers relief from the doomy, minor-key sound favored by the nastiest urban rap. Though it doesn't go all the way to the plantation, the album does show the link between the contemporary urban and old rural South more directly than anything by Outkast, Nelly, or Mystikal. Granted, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz is not as original as Aquemini or Country Grammar. But from its gospel-choir choruses and Booker T. organ fills to its celebration of sex in shopping malls and analysis of capitalism's distribution of wealth, this wild and untamed country shuffle is still about as sophisticated as modern pop gets.

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