Taking five years between albums in Hip-Hop is tantamount to career suicide. In this industry, name recognition and progression are key to long-term survival, and millions of fans are too young to remember the glory days of Nelly and Lil’ Jon & The Eastside Boyz. Not to be deterred by such truths, the Nappy Roots are back with the long-delayed The Humdinger. With a track record of great albums, hopes are high that the group can overcome any rust and stagnation to release an album worthy of their catalog.
Older albums found the Nappy Roots developing their own sound, a southern-influenced, group dynamic that set the group apart from their contemporaries. On The Humdinger, the group too often abandons that model of success, trading innovation for attempts to crossover. “Flex,” is a song aimed at the clubs, but the beat sounds recycled and the MC’ing is sloppy, either falling off beat or failing to rhyme in certain parts. “Pole Position” does not feature the lyrical trickery or humor required to make the track anything more than another tired ode to strippers. Most troubling is the fact that the crew sounds like they aren’t buying into the crossover attempts, and for a group who has blamed label troubles for the albums delays, you wonder who is pulling the strings.
When the group returns to their country-fried roots, the results are still stellar. “On My Way Back to GA,” trades club synths for a soulful groove, and the crew brings the introspective rhyming we’re used to, re-taking the mantle of the country hustler. “No Static” tackles the subject of drug addiction and the party life with even-handedness and honesty that work, thanks to solid performances from Fish Scales and Skinny Deville. And of course, country boys can floss as well as anyone. “Tinted Up’s” ode to everything fresh bounces perfectly over a laid-back trumpet sample. And on “Swerve and Lean,” Skinny lives up to his billing at the most talented group member, taking a solo turn that lays out the Nappy philosophy: “Damn, I know I’m worth a couple hundred grand and I ain’t spittin’ any verse until I got my money in my hand/and we going to stick to the plan swerve and lean on these suckers making sure these city slickers understand…”
Yet even in those lines there is a contradiction: are the Nappy Roots after money or aren’t they? The lead single “Good Day” gives an unfortunate answer and is the perfect example of a momentum killing track that plagues this album. It features an insufferable chorus, an overly simple beat that (recycles the same sample from Snoop’s “Hollywood Nights” from four months ago,) and is a lame attempt to capitalize on a feel-good summer vibe. Other attempts by the group to branch out, like the techno/house instrumental “Panic Room” leave one perplexed. Thus despite many solid tracks, the album is too inconsistent to be called great.
With The Humdinger, the Nappy Roots have proven they have the pieces in place to continue making a mark on Hip-Hop in the future. At the same time, the album is unlikely to provide the launching pad to a second career renaissance. A return to basics, coupled with increasing their work rate could produce results fans at are looking for. In the mean time, The Humdinger will leave Nappy heads with a mixture of confusion, satisfaction, and disappointment, starting with the album title, and moving all the way to the final track.