Contrary to what the lyrics of today’s hits might suggest, hip hop is not all fun and games, according to Ron Clutch of Nappy Roots.
“I won’t say what it ain’t,” Clutch said of newer rap, “but I’m more likely to say that if you’re an innocent bystander listening to hip hop on your local radio station, you might think that it’s all one thing — being in the club, how much money you got, how many guns you can shoot, how much drugs can you sell. And I’m not pointing fingers at nobody, but that’s just the fact of the matter.”
Clutch offers a unique perspective on the evolution and current state of hip hop, having created and produced rap music for almost a quarter century with the Grammy-nominated Nappy Roots, who will headline Belly Up tonight.
“I think hip hop is at an age now where it’s almost at a crossroads because it’s matured, so even though it’s a young man’s game, I feel like it’s going to have to reckon with maturing and being a little bit more responsible, because hip hop is such a powerful force,” Clutch said. “Collectively, we’re almost there. We’re almost there, because hip hop is parallel to — just to say it — black folks. And right now, black folks in America, man, we’re at a crossroads.”
Referring to repeated instances of police brutality in the U.S. and within the black community, Clutch maintains that hip hop should be used as a platform to speak up, and that artists bear the responsibility to do so.
“We can party Thursday through Sunday, but Monday through Wednesday, you still got a job to do,” the Kentucky native said. “We used to compare it to food — you can’t just eat dessert all day. I mean, you can, but how healthy would that be and how long would that last? We try to provide a little watermelon, a little chicken, a little grits, little side salad, a little beer, little liquor, some Brussel sprouts, try to mix all of that in together.”
Fittingly, “Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz” is the title of Nappy Roots’ debut studio album that was released in February of 2002.
Born on the campus of Western Kentucky University in 1995, the southern rap quartet and its lyrics tend to keep it real (also the name of a song) and raw.
“We (were) in a unique position because when we came out, we wasn’t really talking about a lot of what was popular at that time,” Clutch recalled of their early days. “At that time, it was a lot about how much money you had, how fancy your car was, and you know, we wasn’t really living that. We was just some college kids trying to make enough money to eat lunch and get to the studio, and that’s pretty much what you heard in our music.” Consisting of Clutch, Skinny DeVille, B. Stille and Fish Scales, Nappy Roots is best known for its songs “Po’ Folks,” “Awnaw” and “Good Day.”
In 2017, the group ventured beyond hip hop to also pursue a new and somewhat unexpected venture: craft beer. Nappy Roots’ introduction to the craft beer scene, much like its formation 24 years ago, was a natural development: “In the last four or five years, we found ourselves performing in a lot of smaller venues, like bar and grill style, and after we checked the sounds and mics, we’d post up at the bar and have a beer or two. Then, we find ourselves drinking and asking for the local beer,” Clutch said. “In some cases, the bar or grill might’ve had a brewery in the back, and then that led to invitations to go in the back, and then they show us the whole process. Then it went from that to OK, let’s get a home brewing system and try this ourselves. And one thing led to another, we found ourselves collaborating with some more established breweries, and here we are with our own brewery. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it, now that I’ve said it out loud.”
In addition to opening their own brewery in Hapeville, Ga., and creating a few craft beers in collaboration with other microbreweries, Nappy Roots launched an associated television production, titled 40Akerz & a Brew, that documents their latest venture.
“We been drinking beer for a long time,” Clutch said, “so we have a little bit of credibility.”
Nappy Roots will feel at home when they take the stage at Belly Up tonight, having performed at the venue at least 10 times. The group first visited Aspen in 2010 and has returned every year since, including twice this year, according to their manager.
When asked about a fun Aspen memory from over the years, Clutch said, “I remember one time we was not supposed to smoke. I don’t know if we forgot or what — you know, marijuana has effects on your short term memory, so I blame that. I don’t know who did it, somebody smoked, and [Belly Up] was pretty mad at us.” He doesn’t remember the year, but it was memorable nonetheless.
In spite of the rather hazy incident, Clutch sang Belly Up’s praises and called it an honor to perform there.
“The fact that so many other world-class acts have performed there, from Snoop Dogg to the Marleys to George Clinton,” Clutch said, “the list goes on and on, and it’s great to be in the company of legends like that.”
IF YOU GO…
What: Nappy Roots with DJ Naka G
When: Tonight, 9:30 p.m.
Where: Belly Up Aspen
Cost: $20 GA
For more information, visit bellyupaspen.com or follow @nappyroots on social media.