Fish Scales, one-fourth of the southern rap group, Nappy Roots, is standing behind the bar, pouring a beer. It isn’t just any beer though, it’s the group’s signature stout, Kentucky Mud, crafted in collaboration with Atlanta’s Arches Brewery.
And it isn’t just any bar he’s standing behind, either; it’s Atlantucky Brewing— Nappy Roots’ sprawling new 6,000-foot brewery and taproom located in Atlanta not far from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College.
“You like that?” he asks, with eyes that suggest he already knows the answer to his question.
Of course, it’s good— it’s rich and smooth with deep chocolate notes. It was carefully crafted, like all the craft beer Scales and his partner-in-rhyme and beer, Skinny Deville, have a hand in. Anyone even remotely familiar with the craft beer scene knows that concocting brew is serious business. Craft brew aficionados will nerd out quick about the science of it all, and Scales, who first introduced craft beer to his friends and family years ago, is no exception.
“I was big on drinking craft beer, like that was just a hobby of mine, finding new, different styles of beer,” he says. “I was always the guy that liked to come in the room with something different that nobody else had.”
But three years ago, his love of craft beer transitioned from a passing hobby to something much more substantial. Nappy Roots were hosting a weekly podcast, Nappy Hour, and one segment featured them trying a different beer each week. One of the show’s guests offered to introduce them to the head brewer at Monday Night Brewing, a popular brewery in Atlanta.
“We met the head brewer, and he said, ‘let’s do a beer tomorrow,’” Scales recalls. “That was the first beer we ever did [a pale ale] called Front Porch. And the rest is history.”
After the Monday Night collaboration, their progression into the craft beer world was steady. William Teasley, a member of Khonso Brewing, one of the first black-owned breweries in Georgia, brewed their first beer for them in Scale’s garage. Not long after, Monday Night Brewery gave them their very first piece of equipment.
“They said, ‘we see what y’all doing in the garage, we’re gonna help speed things up for y’all,’ and they gave us their first brewing system,” Scales says, adding that it was only 15 gallons but put them “way ahead” of most people who were home brewing. “From there, we just felt the pressure. Like, these guys trust us, they believe in us, so we gotta make beer.”
Nappy Roots’ ((Fish Scales, Skinny DeVille, B. Stille, and Ron Clutch) emergence in the craft beer scene isn’t much different from their arrival on the rap scene. Back in 1998, they dropped their independent debut, Country Fried Cess, after originally meeting up as students at Western Kentucky University.
“[Scales] quit basketball to pursue Hip-Hop, when he was still playing, and starting, and starring in it,” Nappy Roots founding member, Skinny Deville, stresses. He adds that they’re more than bandmates and business partners, but more like brothers, with a relationship that’s spanned decades and has lasted through plaques and awards, babies and weddings, highs and lows.
After Scales ditched ball to seriously pursue music with Nappy Roots, Skinny was motivated to take the same faith-leap, quitting his job and even selling his car to buy a mixing console so they could make records. The sacrifices paid off. Shortly after the release of their indie debut, Atlantic Records signed Nappy Roots, and they dropped their major label platinum debut, Watermelon, Chicken, and Gritz in 2002, propelled by the countrified, high-energy singles, “Aw Naw” and “Po Folks.” They released one more album with Atlantic, 2003’s Wooden Leather, before deciding to split from the label and go independent. In 2008, they dropped The Humdinger on their own label, and five albums later— including 2011’s impressive sleeper collab with Organized Noize, Nappy Dot Org— they haven’t looked back. Their most recent offering, 40rty, dropped last September, and Scales says the 12-track album just might be his favorite.
But in 2021, with their busy tour schedule on indefinite hold, and with their plans to hop from city to city collaborating with various breweries on beer scrapped due to the pandemic, their attention is firmly focused on building Atlantucky. Skinny says that when the opportunity came to open the space, they couldn’t pass it up.
“I don’t think we would be here without each other,” Skinny says. “[Scales] passion for craft beer, and my understanding of business and how to build shit—it works.”
The hip, industrial-style, two-story microbrewery (which also serves as an event space) is an investment for the whole group, though it’s primarily operated by Scales and Skinny, who are also the head brewers.
They’re applying the same patient, focused energy that made them successful in Hip-Hop to the brewery, and the important space they occupy as Hip-Hop’s pioneering investors in the craft beer industry.
They’re in a unique position: although strides have been made over the past few years, craft beer is still a mostly white industry. Also, Hip-Hop has yet to truly catch on to it.
“It’s kinda weird it’s not a part of Hip-Hop,” Scales acknowledges, mentioning that beyond malt liquor collaborations with companies like St. Ides in the 90s, Hip-Hop and beer have mostly failed to merge. “Hip-Hop isn’t proud to say they drink beer. Nobody is walking around saying, ‘I drink craft beer.’”
The craft beer connection was easier for Nappy Roots to make because they're an alternative Hip-Hop group whose hipster audience drinks PBR and Bud Light. While on tour, you’d regularly catch them promoting their shows at breweries, even though seeing black people hanging out there was rare.
“We’d go to breweries and we used to be the only black people there,” Scales says, admitting that initially, their interest in craft beer was mostly a means to promote the group before it developed into a viable business path.
“Black people love beer,” he continues. “Why don’t we get to experience the best of beer, which is craft beer? We saw the void and we wanted to bridge that gap.”
Considering that a lot of breweries are in traditionally Black neighborhoods, and a breweries’ arrival is often the first sign of gentrification, Scales says having a firm footing in the industry is even more important.
“This is another industry that we should be cashin’ in on just like everybody else,” Scales says. “Young men can grow up and be brewers— that’s a real job that you can do. You look around our neighborhoods, we’re buyin’ beer, why don’t we make it? Why don’t we buy our own beer? That’s just another thing that we need to make a little blacker, and there’s nothing wrong with it.”
So even as Hip-Hop begins to slowly inch its way toward embracing craft beer, with artists like Run The Jewels, Bun B, and Eightball & MJG collaborating with various breweries to slap their name and lyrics on beer, Nappy Roots envisions Atlantucky being the brewing partner Hip-Hop turns to when it finally fully embraces the wide-open craft beer market.
“All these people who are doing beer, I want all these artists to come to us to make it,” Scales says. “If a rapper wants to make a beer, come to your rapper brewer friends. You don’t have to go outside of Hip-Hop. We can make our own beer for every artist. Eightball and MJG, they should do their next beer with us, let’s keep it in house.”
With plans for Atlantucky to feature rotating chefs and other pop-ups, Skinny and Scales mostly want to be a pathway for Hip-Hop and black folks in general to get into craft beer.
“We take beer seriously,” Scales says. “And we want people to know that black people understand beer, and we know how to make it. We can talk beer with anybody and there’s a whole community of black people that’s growing that wants to sit down and have beer conversations. Atlantucky will be a place for people to do that.”