Nappy Roots Reflect On "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz" 20-Year Anniversary

Nappy Roots' major label debut, "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz" turns 20 years old today, and in celebration of the album's anniversary, HNHH landed an exclusive interview with Nappy Roots members Skinny Deville and Fish Scales.

BYJoshua Robinson
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Image provided to HNHH by Nappy Roots

Long before contemporary Kentucky-bred artists like Jack Harlow, EST Gee, and Rubi Rose ever started making noise, a ragtag group of friends known around Bowling Green, Kentucky as Nappy Roots became the first rappers to put their state on the national Hip-Hop radar. Sure, Playa — the ‘90s R&B trio of Smoke E. Digglera, Digital Black, and the late Static Major — rose to prominence a handful of years before them, but when strictly looking back at Hip-Hop history, Nappy Roots was the first group of rappers to come out of Kentucky and gain widespread notoriety.

Although the group now operates as a quartet, Nappy Roots originally consisted of six members: Skinny DeVille, Big V, R. Prophet, Fish Scales, B. Stille, and Ron Clutch. After gaining popularity at Western Kentucky University and its surrounding area with the release of their debut project Southern Fried Cess, the massive rap outfit earned itself a deal with Atlantic Records. Eventually, Nappy Roots would unleash its official commercial debut, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz on February 26, 2002, and before they knew it, the commercial and critical accolades started rolling in.

Image provided by Nappy Roots

Powered by singles like “Set It Out,” “Hustla,” “Awnaw,” the Anthony Hamilton-assisted “Po’ Folks,” and “Headz Up,” Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz was able to do significant numbers and debut at #31 on the Billboard 200. Less than two months after its release, Nappy Roots’ debut album was certified gold, and roughly a month after its first RIAA certification, Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz peaked at #24 on the Billboard 200. Just five months later, the album had officially reached platinum status, and the month before its one-year anniversary, its standout single “Po’ Folks” was nominated for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 45th Annual Grammy Awards in 2003. To date, Nappy Roots’ commercial debut remains its only RIAA-certified album.

In honor and celebration of the 10-year anniversary of Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz, Nappy Roots members Skinny DeVille and Fish Scales clicked up with HNHH to reflect on the album's legacy and impact, the group's intriguing origin story, their near-mythical sophomore project that preceded their Atlantic Records debut, and how their life has changed since the release of WC&G in 2002. Throughout the interview, Skinny DeVille and Fish Scales share rare insights about Nappy Roots’ pre-Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz development, and they even got candid about the struggles that the group faced following the success of their debut.

For an extremely illuminating conversation about one of the most important, yet criminally overlooked, Southern Hip-Hop acts of the 2000s, read our full interview with Nappy Roots below, edited for length and clarity.

HNHH: How y'all feeling a week before this anniversary, first off?

Skinny: Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz?


Skinny: Aw man. I haven’t really thought about it in that way. A week before the 20 year anniversary of something that changed my life for the better, you know. I would say it's a great feeling to have. It's a sense of accomplishment for people to still recognize that album 20 years later. I think it's dope. It feels great. 

Scales: I agree. I agree.

It’s wild looking at y'all’s Instagram and just seeing y'all right now. Y’all don't look like a group of guys who have a 20-year-old album. 

Scales & Skinny: [Laughs]

So were y'all like really young when y'all first came out? Or is the Black just not cracking?

Scales: No, we was in our early to mid-20s when it happened. It's just we've been keeping that cruise going. We've been doing more music in the past few years than we were then. We’re still very active as Nappy Roots. A lot of people will tell you that hip-hop keeps you young. We've really been heavy into Hip-Hop — trying to keep the same Nappy Roots brand going from 20 years ago.

Got you. Before we get into the actual album, I want you to run me through the origin story again, just because there's probably a lot of younger readers reading Hot New Hip Hop who may have skipped over the history and not have even heard of Nappy Roots. I thought it was interesting that y’all met in college, so, just run me through the story.

Skinny: Yeah, man. So pretty much we hooked up in college between the years of '96 and '98 and formed this rap supergroup with different students from different years. We all hooked up at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where a Big V was actually from. He didn't go to college, but he was just lived in the neighborhood that we were living off-campus at. We just built it up over the years of camaraderie to putting out music via our record store— ET’s Music which we started with some other college students. It was the first black-owned record store started by college students in Bowling Green. It had you know, everything from Master P to Cash Money, No Limit, everything that you would get on a wall at a mom-and-pop record shop. Right before Best Buy came into play. Best Buy kind of changed how you bought everything in a sense. We was that era of just coming up in the Hip-Hop world and just forming this group Nappy Roots. So in '98, we put out our album Country Fried Cess, and that got the recognition of Atlantic Records. Mike Caren came down and we signed our record deal with them. Album came out in May, we had a record deal that October. So that’s 1998. We had a record deal, didn't come out for four years, just honing in on our talent and our skill and just the universe doing what it's supposed to do with us. Came out with Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz in 2002 that February. Ended up going gold shortly after that in a few weeks and then ending up going platinum. And that was during the time where you know, it was post-Napster where CDs weren't really selling. It was very hard to even get out and sell anything. And then these country boys from Kentucky and Georgia come out with this fresh idea of just being cool with yourself and just taking a different humble perspective, but actually still rapping. It just changed the game.

We put out the follow-up, Wooden Leather, in 2003. After that album, we kind of decided that the major label game really wasn't for us. And we didn't think that it was going to really work for us as a six-man collective. Just based off what we had to go through to get out, what we had to go through to win people over. It’s so many floors of people that don't know what the hell they're talking about. They just went about the barcode and where the CD ships. They don't know nothing about how you're trying to be authentic and true to yourself and form a group. They're trying to pick us apart and find solo artists out of it. We were like it's best that we just kind of go back to what we were doing because we could be more successful for a much longer period of time. So we decided to go independent. We took two or three years off from putting out music just to kind of do that, so Atlantic Records would kind of, you know, lose interest in us. They let us go in 2005. We got a new deal with Ingrooves Fantana in 2008 and came out with The Humdinger. The Humdinger was our first independent release on our own. We’ve just been dropping albums after that ever since.

Skinny DeVille performs at The Tabernacle in Atlanta on Dec. 4, 2021 - Bryan Owens/RAW Media, Image provided by Nappy Roots

You gave me the whole history, but there are a lot of sentiments that I want to pinpoint and touch more on. First of all, you were talking about authenticity. I feel like it's a quality of Southern rap. Southern rap is just different in that way, whether it be from like, OutKast or even guys from Memphis. I don't know, it's hard to explain. What do y'all think is the best quality about Southern rap?

Scales: Southern rap. Well, I think a big part of it is where Southern rap came from, you know? It was kind of in the middle between East Coast and West Coast. We had to find our spot. Pioneers like UGK, 8-Ball, MJG, OutKast, Geto Boys. It kind of stood out because it wasn't the two. It wasn't the East Coast and West Coast. But it also got overlooked by so many people because of that same reason. The ones that started breaking through and hitting the scene nationally– we always was like, “Man, we've been trying to tell y'all about these guys. We’ve been trying to tell y’all that the South got something to say.” When it started coming out, I think it added so much to Hip-Hop, to have a whole new vibe come in that wasn't anything like California was nothing like New York. It was new. Maybe the charm is the fact that everybody can somewhat relate to Southern living. That's where so many black families started and migrated to other places, so everybody got that one family member down South. No other music, besides blues and Hip-Hop, really gave you the story of the South. That alone just makes it unique because we're telling the original story that that many black families started with, and maybe even forgot about, you know. You got that uncle that lives in Mississippi. Your grandma stays somewhere down in Tennessee. You kind of know the stories, but it wasn’t until Southern Hip-Hop came that it put it on the national front, like this is how we living.

"Everybody can somewhat relate to Southern living. That's where so many black families started and migrated to other places, so everybody got that one family member down South. No other music, besides blues and Hip-Hop, really gave you the story of the South. That alone just makes it unique because we're telling the original story that that many black families started with, and maybe even forgot about"

- Scales

Skinny: I think that's key. Coming from the South, you heard “keep it real” so much coming up. “Keep it real, keep it real” as a rapper. When other rappers say keep it real, you say keep it real. So, what’s keeping it real? Keeping it real is talking about what you actually have, where you’re from, and what you’re going through. It was better for us, as Nappy Roots, coming from Kentucky, to keep it like that than try to emulate something that we didn't have no clue of what it was actually about and come off disingenuous and come off just putting words together. That's just not what the intention of the actual idea was. It was for us to come in and have something that we can relate to, but also show this is who we are and where we're from, and let that be a representation. Because we were tired of also being overlooked in that conversation. Atlanta, Memphis you mentioned, and Texas and Florida — they all had identities coming out of the South. The South is big. As well as Kentucky, we felt we could have something. We're kind of Midwest, but we kinda identify with the South, especially Bowling Green being so close to Nashville and the Tennessee State Line. The southern part of Kentucky is definitely on the southern vibes, where moreso Louisville, where I’m from, might be taking more of a Midwestern type of thought process and way of living. But it's cool. It's two different time zones and we was able to represent that on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz with a lot of painstaking detail and time, and effort. It took us a while to make that album, but I feel like that was what was needed for us to really make a splash. It had to be just as good as OutKast shit. It had to be just as dope as Goodie Mob. It had to be just as entertaining as Wu-Tang Clan. It had to have the same vibes and feel of Cash Money and No Limit. We had to be saying something just like all the artists. It had to ride like the West Coast. It had to have all those things to make it what it was for us to be considered a player in the game at the time and to be respected now. If we came off as a gimmick, it probably would have never worked man. We wouldn't be having this conversation at all.

"It took us a while to make that album, but I feel like that was what was needed for us to really make a splash. It had to be just as good as OutKast shit. It had to be just as dope as Goodie Mob. It had to be just as entertaining as Wu-Tang Clan. It had to have the same vibes and feel of Cash Money and No Limit."

- Skinny

Yeah, it's interesting what you're saying about the time period. 2002 was like right after many of those people that you just mentioned had already been established, especially OutKast. It's just interesting that y'all put in that much thought to make sure that it doesn't sound too much like this or too much like that. Y’all really focused on identity. 

Moving on — as someone who was born in the late 90s, I just wanted to make sure I'm not tripping. Who was coming out of Kentucky before y’all?

Skinny: There wasn't anybody known. The group Playa came out of Kentucky. They came out with a great album, Cheers 2 U. I think they came up with Timberland camp and Missy and Aaliyah. I actually went to high school with Black from the group Playa. We were in the same class together, but that was probably it. It wasn't really a lot. There was a couple local artists that might have had a shot that were kind of going around locally, but nothing that was really surfaced and broke through the seal. At the time, it was very hard, but now, shit you got Bryson Tiller, and you have Jack Harlow representing Louisville. 

And EST Gee. It's a much broader landscape right now.

Skinny: I like to think that we had something to help with that, to show that this is what you can do and how far you can go with it. Because before that, all you could do would [be] just go around your neighborhood and go around your city just doing these little small little local shows that compete with other local artists for who's the best in the city. There really was no “who had it” for Kentucky at the time. That's why I think it kind of helped us out because we didn't really have to go through the– we did it in Louisville, but because we started in Bowling Green, we weren't really considered local in Louisville, even though three of us were from there. Actually four, but we never really were considered local in Louisville, because we started in Bowling Green. There were some guys that weren't from Louisville in the group, so we were able to start somewhere else, and then come back to our city. But we repped the state, and that's what I think helped us the most. We repped the state of Kentucky and gave the state an identity, versus just us focusing on where we're actually really from. But there’s talent there, man. There's talent there.

I know you just mentioned Playa and I know Static Major was a huge part of that, but that was like more R&B. So, what was it like breaking out as a rap act, especially with so many people? What were the challenges? I know, you talked about you got the deal with Atlantic after Country Fried Cess, so was it like even getting Atlantic to see the vision? Because even now it sounds like a wild pitch.

Skinny: I mean, that was all Mike Caren, he had to do that. We just had to show up and be us. For us, it was just fun. We were just having fun. I think that the record label saw that it was just a bunch of young guys who clearly had love for each other. We're clearly there for the actual purpose of making music together. We were just really good at it, but just rough around the edges. We just had to grow into what that looked like as artists. That comes with some growing pains, but we would all show up together and do interviews together. We would always hang out, so no one's ever really alone. We was always joking and laughing. Every time we had a break, we would go smoke weed somewhere they said we couldn't and do it anyway, because it was so many of us. It was just a fun time. You think the early 2000s, mid-20s. Everyone's able to drink, everyone has a little money. Everybody has no kids or one kid is not a whole family yet. No one's really married. You’re taking college life and touring the world. The world is a big place, man, and it's scary. I can only imagine being a solo artist and having to do all those things we had to do back then to get on and get recognized city to city to city to city. And you’ve got to deal with everybody in that city thinking you're coming to take their shine and their place when they're fighting like hell to get out of. You’re showing up to these small little spots in the trap trying to let everybody know who you are, but you’re with your brothers. So, it's not really a problem. Then we're all cool, so it makes everyone else feel cool. Now, everyone's laughing in a place and that's how we just did it. We did that for nine months. Took a break for Christmas and went back out for another six months before “Awnaw” caught on.

Then once they caught on it feels better that your efforts are being recognized, and now they want to do “Po’ Folks.” Now they want to do “Po’ Folks” in Taylorsville, Kentucky, where family’s at. So during that whole time, we're just around family and around our friends. Again, you’ve got six people who have friends. It's not just 6, it's like 30 people. Everybody knows somebody in a different city because we all went to college together, so people are graduating and going different places. We're running up and seeing old college buddies when we hit a town. It was a great time. A great time. That happened quick, though. That was only like two or three years. Then it's back to figuring out what you're gonna do with yourself.

Okay, well, before we hop into the album, I had two questions. Earlier, did you mention that y’all are a mix of Atlanta and Kentucky? 

Skinny: Georgia and Kentucky.

Got you — Georgia and Kentucky. Where exactly everyone is from?

Skinny: There's Skinny, Clutch, Stille, and Prophet. We’re from Louisville. Prophet was originally from Oakland. He moved to Louisville when he was a kid, almost a teenager. So he still had a lot of Oakland in him. Us four are from Louisville, pretty much. He lived around the corner from my grandparents. We didn't know each other, but we all kind of knew people that knew each other. Big V was from Bowling Green, Kentucky where we went to school at. And then Scales was from Milledgeville, Georgia. Middle of Georgia. He came up on a basketball scholarship to West Kentucky.

Cool, I was just curious about that. Also, do y'all consider Country Fried Cess to be your real debut? Or do you give that title to Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz?

Skinny: It's almost like Country Fried Cess is the seed that started at all. I would say it's our first album, but it will confuse people. But if you knew us from college, then you know. Some people had that. We put out maybe a couple thousand copies of that just throughout the state of Kentucky. It was CDR burnt CDs. It was very archaic in its time, but it's the first time you could actually burn your music to a CD– the Roland VS 880. It was very archaic. I don't really want to call it that because we put out another album in between that, called No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm…. That’s kind of how we got good at learning how to make records with Atlantic Records. We made our own album on our own to get better so we can make Watermelon, Chicken & Grits. So, there's actually two albums before Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz that we did.

I didn't even know about the second one that you just mentioned.

Skinny: That one, we probably didn't make several 1000, but I know we made probably at least 1500 to 2000 copies of that.

That’s crazy. I was looking on Discogs earlier to find Country Fried Cess because it wasn't on streaming. I checked to see if anyone was reselling a physical copy of it, and nah — it's rare. That's a gem.

Skinny: Again, it was enough to get assigned to Atlantic Records. We recorded on an eight-track digital recorder. We had a pretty good mic. We had a nice little setup in our studio, which is right next to the record store. We were just going the Master P route, but I just think if you heard it now you’d be like, “Yeah, this is probably why they kept this when not on front street as much as everything else.” We were just having fun. College kids, just living life.

I gotta hear a second one now that you were talking about. 

Skinny: Now that one was good, that was a good album. We really put some shit on that one. The beats were there on that one. We bought a Tascam, a 32 track mixer. We bought four ADATs. We really stepped it up, we bought a bigger studio with Atlantic Records' money. We really honed in on how to make an album the way we made our album that didn't come out with Atlantic Records. That was the album we got shelved. We learned from that album how to make our records better. It's a very influential album for us. That was 2000.

Okay, I'm gonna put a pin in that. I'm gonna come back around to it because I don't want to run out of time geeking out over small details. Let's just jump into Watermelon, Chicken, & Gritz then. I want to break the whole thing down. So talk to me about the cover. What was the inspiration behind that? And the title?

Skinny: Shit man, I had to go back in my memory. We were all just hanging out when we came up– I think it was Groove Chambers that came up with the title Watermelon, Chicken and Grits. He's the producer that produced a major bulk of the album and helped save our career. For real. He's very instrumental in making a lot of these records with us. He's like, “Man, we should call it Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. It describes y'all. It's funky. It's a play-on. Just let people think it’s what y’all are gonna be and just played towards that.” We was like, “Man, that's a great idea.” No one really said no. No one came up with a better title for it than that. It was just one of those days we was hanging out. I don't know if we was shooting pool or what at his crib or at the studio. It was somewhere between the album being done, but we didn't know what was gonna be called going into it though.

Nappy Roots "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz" album cover

And the album cover, that was just some cool artwork from a graphic designer, I guess. We always try to do photoshoots that represented where we from, so it was a lot of barn doors, old porches, condemned houses, and things of that nature that we was trying to take pictures around. I think he pulled something from a photoshoot and kind of spun off of that and kind of ran with it. We wanted to keep it to where you didn't know who was in the group. We wanted to keep it to where it's mysterious, as we all agreed that no one's a star in the group. We're a group. There's no lead person. We didn't want our photos to kind of– even in our first album covers, we never really showed who we were. We didn't do that until The Humdinger and that might be the only time we've done and shown our faces on an actual album cover.

That’s an interesting approach. I was curious to know if it was like any of y’all’s porch, like from a childhood home or anything. 

Skinny: Nah, but we always hang out on porches, man. We love porches. Scales had a porch when he was in college. We had a porch when we had our house in college. We was always just hanging out somewhere on somebody's porch — the whole group. A porch was like a no-brainer for us to put that as our album covers it’s something we would have done. Our ET’s record store had a porch that we hung out on.

Fish Scales performs at The Tabernacle in Atlanta on Dec. 4, 2021 - Bryan Owens/RAW Media, Image provided by Nappy Roots
Okay, cool. What do y'all think are the essential tracks that people like cannot overlook with this album?

Scales: You gotta count “Awnaw” and “Po’ Folks.” They’re probably the two most impactful songs on the album. A lot of people always ask us to perform “Country Boys,” which is a song we never put out as a single. I guess the two songs that we didn't put out that we get requested the most is “Country Boys” and — damn, I’m drawing a blank. “Nappy head and all…” What’s the name of that song? “Blowin’ Trees!” “Blowin’ Trees,” damn. I say them two records are definitely the backup records to the singles that really helped get the word out.

Skinny: I would say “Hustla,” “Set It Out,” “My Ride” and “Kentucky Mud.” Will be the four that I really like. I also like “Dime, Quarter, Nickel, Penny” too.

And those are your favorite ones from the album?

Skinny: Yeah, those are the up-tempo rides. You can just make the face and it's like shit! The beats in there. The beats – they're not complex overly, but they're put together well. We just have a good ole god damn time on those records, man. It's just a ho-down in that bitchh. Somehow, we just somehow in our elements on those records. We was just nailing it.

When I was looking at the credits, I peeped that y’all recorded part of it at Tree Sound. So now that I know that y'all have ties to Middle Georgia, I’m wondering how did y'all end up in Atlanta to record part of this album?

Scales: Well, I lived in Atlanta back and forth, kinda. We lived with my cousin out in Austell. That kind of gave us a place to stay where we could just come to Atlanta whenever we could afford to. We least knew we had somewhere to live. So we ended up recording down in Atlanta a lot even before we made our big records. We was coming to Atlanta to record– [lost Zoom connection]

I think we lost him…

Skinny: Well, we recorded at Patchwerk Recording Studios first. Then we had to make our way to Tree Sound. Falling in love with just how that setup is out there– it's far from where we were staying, but it was worth every mile to get out there and get that type of space because everyone could go into their own little studio and room and do their own thing. We’d bring the records back, and we would just go back and forth hopping on everybody's different records. That's kind of how it kind of flowed for a while. With six artists, you might make a song, but you know you can't get all six people on each one all the time. That's how we got to flipping in and breaking them down because it's a lot of us. You have to do it that way. When everyone was working in different rooms at Tree Sound, you was able to make your record the way you wanted to. Someone can come and jump on that and then you could leave your session and go hop on someone else's, but everyone was starting their own ideas and records. That's kind of how we liked for it to flow. That's kind of why the second album, Wooden Leather sounds the way it does because we all had a bigger budget and was able to do those types of things. On the first one, we was kind of trying to save a nickel. So we was all just trying to kind of hop on it. I guess that's what makes Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz the way it sounds. It sounds like we're hungry. It sounds like we're fighting for some. We're trying to prove a point and Tree Sound Studios helped us make that opportunity a lot easier. 

Well, it’s safe to say that y’all are a part of a legendary group of people who have recorded classic albums at Tree Sound. Even how you were just describing that process reminds me of how Dreamville was utilizing it a few years back. It's just insane to think that one of the modern groundbreaking projects emulated the same approach that y’all were doing 20 years prior. 

Skinny: Exactly, and I don't think anyone was doing it. Well, I'm sure the Dungeon Family’s process was similar too, but I didn't know that back then. I didn't know that until we made the Nappy Dot Org album, just seeing how they worked was also equally dope. Ours was a little more different. Like I said, we got six people, everyone's headstrong in what they wanted to do. Everyone had an idea. We just had to figure out how to work together as six individuals to survive. We had to look out for each other too. Sometimes everybody didn't have $20. So you had to buy someone lunch or buy someone this. You get the drinks for everyone. I had the vehicle, so everyone tried to pile it into my car and ride down. I could only fit five people and it’s six in the group. That didn't go over well a few times. [Laughs]

Nappy Roots at a video shoot in Kentucky on March 22, 2002 - Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images

You do what you got to do and you make it fun. Do it because you love to do it. Through all of those times that we were making the album Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz, there was a lot of love and respect there. I'm thankful that I was able to do that with those guys at that time to make that part of my life what it is. I told them then, if shit don’t work out, I’m at G.E.O. with my mom working. Or I'm at Ford with my uncle making cars. It wasn't really a threat, and it wasn't my plan. It was just always in the back of my head that if this rap shit don't work, I know I can at least go there and get a job. Hell, I got a college degree. It is in general studies, so I don't know what the fuck I would have done. But I knew that rapping was going to be my thing. I knew that Nappy Roots, if we did it right, could be successful. I did not know that I would still be here 20 years later doing what I'm doing. I'm very thankful for those opportunities that we had back then making that album.

Even meeting Groove Chambers man, with him just being this guy from Kansas City in Atlanta, and his apartment just making beats. I don't know if he was wishing on the right opportunity, but he had a lot of artists coming by his studio that were trying to figure it out as well. For him to stop fucking with them and to really hone in and focus on us for so long, I thank him for that because he could have went left or right. It's the choices you make in life. It’s like leaves on a tree man. You can go anywhere with any choice and decision you make. Any person you meet today could change your life or not, but you gotta be open to that. That guy, we just kind of met on the humble. Our manager was going into a cell phone store to pay his phone bill and he met [Groove’s] roommate who was working at the cell phone store and asked him, “Say, what do you do? You like to do something.” He said, “I’m a manager. I manage a couple of groups.” The guy said, “My roommate’s a producer. We should link up.” That day we was about to beat our manager's ass because we kept coming down here and partying and not getting in the studio. 

The very beginning I was coming to Atlanta from Bowling Green was a lot of just hanging out in 112. Trying to get our footing and just trying to see what was going on and shitt like that man. That last day, we was not coming back no more. He said, “Man, I just ran into a guy that said his roommate makes beats, Ima call him up.” He called him up and he said, “Yeah, come on over.”

"[Groove Chambers] was like, 'Yeah, man, we got a studio session and Patchwerk this week. Come through.' We came through the session and we're going through all these beats at Patchwerk. T.I. is on this side handing out with us...Ghet-O-Vision had signed T.I. That was right before I'm Serious came out. That era for all of us was hanging out at Patchwerk trying to figure out what our next song is. Toomp is in the studio playing beats, and we’re like, 'Yeah nah, we can’t afford that.'"

- Skinny

We just went over there. Eight people went into this man's apartment. He just starts making beats. He was like, “Yeah, man, we got a studio session and Patchwerk this week. Come through.” We came through the session and we're going through all these beats at Patchwerk. T.I. is on this side handing out with us. You got Jim Crow and Cutty was hanging out with us. Polo was playing video games with Big V. This is the early beginnings in late 90s before any one of us really blew up. Ghet-O-Vision had signed T.I. That was right before I'm Serious came out. That era for all of us was hanging out at Patchwerk trying to figure out what our next song is. Toomp is in the studio playing beats, and we’re like, “Yeah nah, we can’t afford that.” And Groove Chambers is sitting on the couch in the 955 room. He was just sitting on the couch in the guest green room or whatever. He's like “What you got?”  Then he played the “Hustla” beat and then he played the “Set it Out” beat. That changed everything.

Those were the first two songs towards the album, and that was the first two songs where Atlantic Records was like “Okay, let's try this shit again. This shit is hard.” After “Set it Out” it was “Ballin’ on a Budget.” Of course, “Awnaw” he produced. He produced “One Fourty,” “My Ride,” and “Kentucky Mud.” He produced a lot of records on that album and gave us our sound in a sense. That sound is what we ran with that allowed us to be who we were coming from Kentucky. Like I said, he's from Kansas City. So he's not making an Atlanta sound. He's not too far from where we're from, sort of Midwest. Just trying to find it man, trying to get it, and we just kind of hooked up at the same time. That would have never happened if that guy didn't have to go pay a cell phone bill. It's crazy how shit happens man. 

It’s crazy even going to a store to pay a cell phone bill. That sounds mad wild.

Skinny: I feel like he’d just got clipped, that's why he went in there to pay it. Because he was talking about on the phone, and they cut his shit off. [Laughs]

Ah, damn! So you mentioned how Atlantic was like, “Oh, okay, we're good,” once they heard “Set It Out” and “Hustla.” Looking at the success that Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz had — going gold in under two months and platinum in under eight months — it’s interesting that none of the singles were like platinum or gold-certified singles. How did this album do so well commercially? Was Atlantic caught off guard? Did they believe in y'all to move numbers like that? 

Skinny: I think they were surprised, but they put us out there so hard. We beat up the pavement so hard everywhere we went before the album came out. They literally had us on the road for nine months just promoting every day in a different city. They had different regional reps with us at different places. We just learned the game from them. How to go and shake hands and kiss babies. Every record store, every radio station, every high school you had to hit, you had to hit the club that night, three or four of them. You had to really work your name into that city and hang out with the movers and shakers in every city we had to do that. They put the budget together for us to do that. We showed up on time and did our job. We weren't a bad group of kids. Everyone was on time, or you got chastised within the group, or you got left. So you learn real fast how you had to be on your shit. They just believed in this man. I think after a while we made them believers.

I think when it kept selling, you normally see a high release, and then kind of just dips. This one kind of went up, and it did [flatten out]. Then it just kind of stayed steady for a long period of time, because we was out there working it. We kept getting good looks from late-night TV shows. That helped us get out there and get in front of people. I just think the music was good. I think when you heard it, you were blown away because you didn't know what to expect. Then you've got all of this– it was like 18 or 19 songs on that damn album. Like way more than what we should have put on it. But that's before iTunes was really out there, you know. Way before digital media. We had to hit people in the head and just win them over. I think the album overall was so good, and that's why it stayed where it stayed. It wasn't just based off one or two songs. I was gonna say hit songs, but they weren't really hits. They just kind of stuck. I think “Good Day” is a much bigger record than the songs that came out on Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz. The success we're having with “Good Day” now — shit, “Good Day” went gold independently. 

Yeah, I saw that on RIAA. There’s Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz and then “Good Day.”

Skinny: Yeah, it's a whole nother generation for Nappy Roots. We're not even at that 20 year anniversary of The Humdinger yet. That was 2008. Then we have this next set of shit that's 2016 to 2021. We have these three little parts of our lives that we've been living that’s represented the different phases of Nappy Roots. It's gonna interesting when it's all said and done. To tell the Nappy Roots story of how we stuck together through it all for 20 plus years. Of course, we lost a couple of members just to growth and guys wanting to do their own thing. That's respectable. You’ve got to respect them for being who they are as individuals. The fact that we still kept the bulk of the group together still, throughout that. We didn't bring on new extra people, but we work with everybody we can just to keep the name going. I think that's the story, to me. I wish we could do it all over again, but I'm glad the way it happened the way it is. Now we’ve got a brewery. I can’t even fathom that. You told me back in Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz that I would have had a brewery 20 years later, I'd have laughed at you like hell.

"I wish we could do it all over again, but I'm glad the way it happened the way it is. Now we’ve got a brewery. I can’t even fathom that. You told me back in 'Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz' that I would have had a brewery 20 years later, I'd have laughed at you like hell."

- Skinny

And then to have a beer named after the album.

All of that man. That shit’s crazy. You can’t make this shit up.

Facts, facts. Even when you were talking about the projection of the album, how it didn’t drop off. I looked at the Billboard 200 year-end chart, and y'all ranked higher than the first Jay-Z and R. Kelly collab album, Cam’ron’s Come Home With Me, and the Clipse’s Lord Willin. Those are some series artists right there — legends in their own right. Were y'all prepared for that type of life-changing success?

Skinny: Yes, we knew what we made if people caught on, they were going to go crazy. We just knew that it was just that good. We were like, “Finally!” It took four years once we got signed for people to find out who we were and to like what we were making. It was so refreshing, when I made the shit, I was like “Dam this shit is refreshing. This shit is great! I can't wait for people to hear it.” I kind of knew that it was going to be a big thing if they caught on. I just didn't know if they were gonna catch on. Because again, you come from Kentucky. It's not a respectable place in regards to hardcore gangster hip hop or lyricism. Whatever coastal thing you're thinking of, Kentucky is not that. You’re thinking tractors, barns, motherfuckers not having on shoes, straw and horses – you're not thinking nothing else. It's almost like a dope rapper coming out of Idaho or Iowa. Not saying there aren't any and I don't want to suspect the states. Even Ohio, there’s dope people. Cincinnati and Cleveland have dope artists. The Dayton Family was probably the Ohio that I knew back when in the 90s. It was a hard place to come out of. I can't say no easier than that.

To get that much success – for a minute I thought it wasn't going to stop. That's probably why I fucked up. This thing is gonna keep going, and they're gonna like the next song, and they're gonna like the next album. It just doesn't happen that way. Fame is quick. If you don't have your shit together, it’s two minutes, not 15. If you don't prepare yourselves for the fame, and what to do with it, when you have it, that's how you lose it. I don't think we were actually overall prepared for what came with the success of that album. We all got money, and we all moved away from each other. So that fucked us up right there. We were hanging out in college as a group of college buddies, we all got money. Two of the guys moved back to Louisville. Scales moved to Atlanta, and me, Big V, and Stille kind of lived in Bowling Green on opposite ends of the city. The only time we saw each other after that was to go do something to do a show, or to go get in a studio for a long period of time. That was 2003, and that was that. That was kind of the slow death of Nappy Roots, in a sense.

"If you don't prepare yourselves for the fame, and what to do with it, when you have it, that's how you lose it. I don't think we were actually overall prepared for what came with the success of that album. We all got money, and we all moved away from each other. So that fucked us up right there."

- Skinny

I have a couple follow up questions and then one final question for you. You mentioned that you got the degree. Did everyone who was at Western Kentucky finish? 

Skinny: Half of us did. Big V never went to Western, he went to Eastern, but he kind of dropped out his freshman or sophomore year, some shit. That's how he ended up back in Bowling Green, fucking with us. Scales was on a scholarship for basketball. He quit his scholarship to do Nappy Roots. By losing his scholarship, clearly, they kicked them off-campus and he had to move back to Atlanta and figure out life a little while. 

Ah, man! I wish he was back on the call so I could ask him about that. 

Skinny: Yeah, that was a hard period, him quitting. I graduated in August, but because he quit basketball and lost everything he had for Nappy Roots, I felt it was my duty to quit my job and come down to Atlanta and figure out this Nappy Roots shit with him just to get back going. Just to make my conscience sleep right at night. That's when we started off and we made up, we found “Hustla” and “Set it Out” with Groove Chambers. All that had to happen in order for that to happen. So, Prophet and Scales, they didn't graduate. Stille, he was the youngest one in the group, so the rap shit took off before he could graduate. He ended up going back a couple years later and graduating from UofL and getting his degree.

Nappy Roots at a video shoot in Kentucky on March 22, 2002 - Scott Gries/ImageDirect/Getty Images

Got you. Also, going back to the second album that was in between Country Fried Cess and Watermelon Chicken and Gritz. What was the name of it again? 

Skinny: No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm…

That's a title. Just for some clarifying points on that. When y'all were going into creating that, were y’all going into it as this is gonna be our big major-label debut? Or was it just purely practice?

Skinny: Purely practice. When we got signed in 1998, we started recording with Atlantic Records. We was going to Nashville after we got out of class every day for about, let's say, a month. Atlantic Records was trying to get us to recreate Country Fried Cess. They just wanted to take Country Fried Cess, clean it up, make it polished a little better, and then put that out. We tried our best to polish up Country Fried Cess. We added a bunch of new songs to it, but it wasn't Country Fried Cess. It was just this hodgepodge of them just showing us how to make the songs better. But it sounded very... too something. It was not it at all. We made that album for Atlantic Records. It sat on the shelf, they didn't know how to market it, they didn't know what to do. That was 98 and I was like, “Alright, we need to figure out how to get good. I don't think that's going to work.”

I convinced everybody in the group to put some money together. We put about $30,000 from the deal. We spent about $25,000 building out a new ET studio and putting new equipment in. Again, like I said, I got the Tascam, mixing console, 32 channels, I got the ADATs, so we had 32 tracks. I got the monitors. I got everything that I saw in the big studio, just more affordable for us at the time. We made this new album called No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm just to get better at it. I didn't think that Atlantic record was going to put it out. I kept sending them songs from that as we were doing it just to show them like, “Don't give up on us. We still making records. They might not be as good as the ones that you're trying to figure out, but we're getting better.” We all felt like we had to get better on our own without them involved in our shit. After that album, No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm, that's when I graduated that summer, and started coming down here and working in the studio with Groove Chambers and doing that. That was us getting into Patchwerk based off the efforts of us trying to get better from No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm. 

"We made this new album called 'No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm' — just to get better at it. I didn't think that Atlantic record was going to put it out. I kept sending them songs from that as we were doing it just to show them like, 'Don't give up on us. We still making records. They might not be as good as the ones that you're trying to figure out, but we're getting better.'"

- Skinny

Okay, cool, so it was like self-imposed artist development. 

Skinny: Definitely, definitely. That was probably before mixtapes were mixtapes. You would call it a mixtape now. We just recorded ourselves, but even at the time, it was like the best studio you could have probably had in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Again you’re in Kentucky, where it's not really a music industry. There's no one really doing it on a level at all of what we're trying to do it at. There's no one to really help us do it. There's a few people but they're old R&B singers that are trying to be managers and take everything and still not go nowhere with you. It’s a lot of trap doors in Kentucky. They just don't go nowhere. You think you are but you don't. It was very important for us to stay close to the source as possible. Which would have been having conversations with Mike Caren, who was an aspiring A&R at the time. I was talking to Mike Caren almost every day, sending him records. He was sending me beats from all kinds of producers. He believed in us. So again, No Comb, No Brush, No Fade, No Perm. — we just called it No Comb, No Brush… — was really just for us just to really get better, trust our instincts, and not emulate. Country Fried Cess might have been us emulating a bunch of shit we saw out there in the world that we was just trying to do. Rough, raw talent, but nothing like, “Oh, this is a hit single or oh, this is gonna be another–” It was like, “Oh, these guys got something. People are talking about them and they’re buzzing. Let me see what that's about.” Then us being ambitious, and not letting that A&R walk away without him having something to hold on to. Us doing a deal, that probably wasn't the best deal, but knowing that if we got good at it, we could change our future by renegotiating it later. Now we’re getting good and making songs that go into a Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz category. And now we're ready. Now we've learned we're hungry. We worked out in the offseason. Now we're ready for the league. 

All that over a four-year period. 

Skinny: Yeah. 

A lot of people wouldn't stick that out. 

Skinny: They give up, and they go do something else.

Prophet, Clutch, B Stille, Skinny, Scales and Big V of Nappy Roots at music video shoot on June 18, 2003 - Kevin Winter/Getty Images 

Well, final question for you. Since 2018 was when y'all did the Watermelon Chicken and Gritz beer at the Atlantucky Brewery in Atlanta, will y’all be bringing it back for the album’s 20-year anniversary?

Skinny: Damn man. We did that beer with Against the Grain out of Louisville. "Watermelon Chicken & Gritz" is made with real watermelon, and it’s stout season right now. What we do have, we have a stout called Kentucky Mud in collaboration with a brewery called Arches. That, you can get in stores right now in Atlanta in select stores. What we've made here at Atlantucky is we made Atlantucky Mud. We have our own stout that we have here. It’s stout season. We have two beer releases that we just did — the OG Wheat and a Blackberry wheat. So yeah, we're releasing beer like we used to release singles. The whole thing is to keep it going. In celebration, we're gonna party probably this week. Half-off beers all weekend in celebration of Watermelon Chicken & Gritz’s 20-year anniversary. It’s gonna be a big week. We have an art exhibit this weekend at the Brewery. Black is Beautiful art exhibit with a bunch of local artists that we have on the walls here. We do that, it's our fourth exhibit here at Atlantucky. We have trap yoga this Saturday. We’ll probably be in there playing Nappy Roots on the speakers all weekend like we always do. We'll probably stop and do a toast or something on Saturday. 

Got you. Well, Ima slide by. [Shows Skinny a vinyl copy of Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz]

Skinny: That’s hard! I got “Hustla” and “Set it Out” on white label. I found cleaning out my stash in my folks crib. I don't have the album, and somehow I can't find all the articles that we got picked up in. We had a stack in a book that I made for my mom. All the articles we got covered in like two or three years, man. That shit was amazing. Again, that time period, it happened so fast looking back at it. Looking at a centimeter on a ruler, it doesn't look like much, but back then that was a whole yardstick that my life was living in. It was just so much shit that happened that I'm so thankful for that made me who I am today. It made me a savvy musician that I am today and made me study just the game and know that things take time. All good things take time. Some things might take four years, some things might take 10. We had the idea for starting a brewery in 2015 or 2016. We didn't end up getting the keys to our own spot until 2020. Ask me how I am 20 years from now with the brewery opened up on the 20 year anniversary. You gonna have gray hair, I’mma probably have no hair. 

We’re gonna have to schedule that fasho.

Skinny: Yeah, man. Lord willing, I will be doing something in the creative space for the next 20 years of my life. I think making beer is a great transition for an artist because you can still be creative, you can learn something new. As an artist, you don't want to grow old trying to be a rapper. Rappers haven't, we haven't figured that out yet. There's artists that are aging well and gracefully doing it, but everybody doesn't make it 20 years or plus. You haven't seen nobody do it for 40 years. I don't think anyone wants to do it for 40 years. As you make it as an artist, you need to find something else you need to do after you're an artist. If you're too high up, that crash is hard, but if you have other things going on while you're becoming an artist that you can fall back on. Those are the best years of your life and use the money you're making as an artist to invest into the things you really are passionate about, instead of us blowing it on bullshit. You can put whatever you want on that. Whatever you think is bullshit to blow money on, that's bullshit. Take the money you're making and put it on something that you can invest in yourself.

"I think making beer is a great transition for an artist because you can still be creative, you can learn something new. As an artist, you don't want to grow old trying to be a rapper. Rappers haven't, we haven't figured that out yet. There's artists that are aging well and gracefully doing it, but everybody doesn't make it 20 years or plus."

- Skinny

Then when you get to my age, I'm mid-40s, I can't rap forever. I don't want to figure that out when I'm 55 or 60 either. To figure out at 40 that I want to have a brewery that I can get old doing– I can get old doing this shit. I can lose another 20 years and won’t nobody say shit about Skinny DeVille making beer. You don't want to be Skinny Deville at 66 trying to put out a single in a new space that I don't even know what the fuck people talking about but my music is there. Hell, this NFT shit. I'm trying to figure that out to try to put shit out.

My last words would be, everyone follow their dreams but have a plan B. And make sure that plan B has a plan A, you know what I mean? Just figure it out man and just keep going. Have something to fall back on. Surround yourself with a good team. We wouldn’t be able to make Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz without a good team. We had a great team of people at that time that just believed in us, from the producers to the mix engineer Manny Marroquin. I forgot who mastered, but Mike Caren believed in this. Sydney Margetson, our publicist, busted his ass to get us exposure. Everybody who was so helpful at the time on Atlantic Records. And everybody on our side of the fence man. There's a lot of people that we had employed to help, and they all believed in us because we believed in the overall goal of us being successful.

Believe in something, man.

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