Rap That Threatens … and Endures

It’s not easy to put out a mainstream rap album that will age well. Fads in the production end change so rapidly that you can pretty easily carbon date most tracks by the way the snare sounds. After a few years even beats by the best producers in the industry will sound like relics.

Kentucky-bred rap group Nappy Roots have generated a sound that doesn’t disntegrate with time. Six years later Wooden Leather still sounds fresh and powerful. What makes this possible, among other things, is the choice to use live instrumentation. Live organ sounds and even an original jazz flute solo soften the programmed drums, but the bass really helps to give an organic feel. It dances and growls, sometimes menacing, sometimes graceful and always deep in the pocket. Even coming though a pair of headphones its almost impossible to resist doing booty-drops in public when “Twang” or “Good God Almighty” pumps into your ears.

One of the other benefits of this kind of production is a much more convincing ballad sound. The slower songs sound genuinely heartfelt and vulnerable, instead of just sounding like the metrognome was turned down. Like in “Sick and Tired”, a midtempo groove featuring Anthony Hamilton, they describe a ghetto that’s very different from the one on Biggie or Nas albums. It’s a distinctly southern ghetto, where the oppression has been a way of life for so long that’s it’s not even painful, it’s just tiring.

I’m sick and tired of being pushed aside
I’m sick and tired of callin’ folks for rides
I’m sick and tired of this petty life
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Folks who still desperately cling to the belief that all “gangster” rap spreads violent tendencies will be hard-pressed to find fodder for their argument on this record. Wooden Leather is aggressive and often vicious with its radical militant perspective, but it never uses the shock value that violent imagery can provide. Instead they use revolution as a threat, and pride as a weapon. Far from pacifism, the general sentiment of this album is that there’s nothing wrong with being threatening, so long as these threats are directed at the right target.

I don’t know if Huey P. Newton would be a fan of Wooden Leather, but I’m inclined to think so. It’s strong, defiant and brutally militant. Even at its most vulnerable, revolution is never far from the spotlight and, although the medium may change over time, that message is always relevant.

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com

LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: lorenzowolff@gmail.com