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Nappy Roots

Wooden Leather (Atlantic)

Defiantly homespun, the 2002 debut of Kentucky's Nappy Roots, Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz, gathered up the back-porch drawl and bacon-grease funk that had been surfacing on Dirty South albums over the past couple of years, tied them together with a strong dose of populism and became a surprise success by celebrating the heartland everyman that hip-hop has usually ignored.

But with such a heavily urbanized genre, you can't expect country mice to stay down on the farm forever, and Wooden Leather is the sound of Nappy Roots leaving home. The leadoff single, "Roun' the World," makes the point most obviously, with ethnic percussion spicing up the group's travelogue, but several of the other tracks -- with production by hitmaker Mike City and neo-soul man Raphael Saadiq -- dress up the sextet's down-home beats considerably.

What hasn't changed is the group's concern for the little guy and their knowledge that simple songs can say so much. When guest vocalist Anthony Hamilton moans, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," it could be just a boring old tagline. But the Nappies turn it into an anthem for the huddled masses, the working moms and dads scraping by. It has more to do with Woody Guthrie than the hip-hop mainstream that the group unexpectedly crashed, and is a reminder that these Roots are still drawing nourishment from the same humble sources, whether they sound Nappy or not.

 
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