In the early to mid 2000s the hip-hop group Nappy Roots out of Kentucky were unstoppable. They put out hit after hit with songs like "Awnaw" and "Po'Folks", and did not seem like there would be any end to it. It has been about four years since we last heard from them, but very recently they released a new album called 40 Akerz. While it seems like they fell off the map, they actually decided to take a route in music that more seem to be taking daily. They left the major label system, and decided to go independent. It is not that they haven't been making music; it's just that they are making the business end of things more profitable for themselves. I had a chance to sit down with them this past week to discuss the new album, being independent, and what we can expect from them in the future.
Just last week Nappy Roots released a new album, 40 Akerz. They spent two years on the project. Originally it started out as an EP that was only supposed to have five songs on it. Each Tuesday when they got off the road from traveling they were working on it. After eight months of doing so they had a total of eight songs instead of the five they originally wanted. They could not figure out a way to trim those songs down though so that is when they decided they were just going to be making a new album. Over the next 14 months they kept adding songs to it until it felt like a complete CD, and that is where this project came from. It is also a new experience for them because only two of the members of the group are on it, Skinny Black and Fish Scales. Every other piece of work they have put out has featured all of the members on it. In terms of why they chose to go this route they said,
"We've always seen ourselves as a Wu Tang Clan where we can come together as a unit. But individually we are able to do amazing things as well when the time is opportune. This is just the first offering in that direction for all our fans. We really don't think anyone will be disappointed either. We believe this is our best work yet. But it's also not the end of Nappy Roots as a group."
When everyone was hearing Nappy Roots on the radio and TV in the 2000s they had a major record deal. At the time they were signed to Atlantic Records. They were telling me about the multi-million dollar budgets that were available to them for pushing their albums, but they soon realized they preferred to be independent artists. They said there were pros and cons to the major label system. On the positive side, there was the budget, and there was an entire team of people working for you. All of these were people that were experienced in what they were helping you do, and proved to be very beneficial. So even while they were not working certain aspects of things those things were already being handled for them. The problem was that they didn't have total creative control, and a lot of decisions were made for them before they had a chance to even agree to them. Those types of things added together made them realize it was time to leave the major label system, create their own music label, and go off own their own.
These days all of the artists from Nappy Roots are much happier. They wake up everyday knowing they are in full control of their destiny. They still have a team and a budget, but those things are coming out of their own pockets. While it might be more expensive to them personally, they also feel they are getting a more personal touch to each aspect of what is going on in their business. Also, they said before if there came a time when a song was not working then the label would come to them, and tell them what they had to do instead of finding ways to work with them. That lack of faith in the artists was something the group was not too fond of. These days they just find more clever ways to keep working the record until they get it to the place they want.
Most people believe that the artists making the most money must be those we see on the radio. According to the group it is actually the exact opposite. Because they have less people taking their cuts when profits come in, they are making much more money than they were back then. Specifically, Skinny Back explained to me
"We're making more money as an independent than we were with Atlantic Records. Our royalties are much better. On Atlantic we had to borrow money. Now we're making money. We define our company and craft. Make out money directly. The music we make is still everywhere. And we get paid more each time."
The Internet has revolutionized the music industry. The change has been in larger things such as marketing and distribution all the way down to the smallest of details. Certain artists such as the Nappy Roots have found ways to embrace it, and be better for it. As the industry continues to change it will be interesting to see who is able to adapt, and who will end up falling by the way side. Nappy Roots figured it out so now the question is who else can?