Photo: BBR Music Group
From "Old Town Road" To "Small Town Girl": The Growing Connection Between Rap & Country
Hip-hop music and culture are weaving their way into the fabric of country music. Yet the marriage of hip-hop's liberal sensibilities with the often conservative culture of country music presents unique challenges.
Dec. 17, 2021 was an average new music Friday; there were no superstar album launches or hotly anticipated single drops. But when music fans dove into their favorite streaming service, they may have stumbled on a new song that had them taking a double-take: Superstar country artist Morgan Wallen had released a new single called "Broadway Girls," featuring Southside Chicago's own Lil' Durk.
On the surface, the collaboration may have appeared odd. Wallen is a traditional country artist who sports plaid cut off t-shirts and cowboy boots on stage, and tells tales of dirt backroads. “Broadway Girls” is a follow-up to Wallen's Dangerous double LP, which set the record for the most weeks ever at No.1 on the Billboard Country albums chart. Lil' Durk, best known for his Voice of the Heroes collaborative album with Lil' Baby and his appearance on Drake's "Laugh Now, Cry Later," is a rapper from the Southside of Chicago.
That rebellious spirit is reaching the youth in small town America. Kidd G, an 18-year-old from Hamilton, Georgia, a town of just over 1,000 people, grew up freestyling and listening to artists like Chance the Rapper. He is now cracking the Top 40 country charts with emo sing-rapping flows such as those on "Small Town Girl."
Country rap artist UpChurch, formerly known as Upchurch the Redneck, began his career as a comedian posting videos to YouTube. His 2021 album Same Ol, Same Ol charted as high as No. 17 on the Billboard country albums chart and he currently has over 1.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. His most recent project, People’s Champ, features a collaboration with Boosie Badazz on the song "YZ Remix," where the two rap of Range Rovers, creeks, pistols and country living.
These artists follow a trend in country music that has been happening for several years now: Hip-hop music and culture are weaving their way into the genre's fabric. Yet the marriage of hip-hop's liberal sensibilities with the often conservative culture of country music presents unique challenges. Even for its own artists, country music has traditionally been less than welcoming to ideas that don't fit neatly within the genre's narrative.
During a 2003 concert, the Chicks' lead singer Natalie Manes called out then-President George H.W. Bush's war in Iraq, telling the audience that she was "ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas." As a result, the Dixie Chicks (the group has since dropped "dixie" from their name) were banned from country radio.
And while she wasn’t banned from country radio as a result of her statement, Maren Morris openly supported Joe Biden and Kamala Harris during the 2020 Presidential election saying that she believes "country music is for everyone, and so is this country." The statement stood out in an overwhelmingly conservative country music fanbase.
This begs the question, is country music ready for hip-hop's infiltration and outspoken views?
"Social media and streaming's ability to remove context from culture has significantly benefited hip-hop and country's commingling," says Marcus K. Dowling, the Tennessean's country music reporter. "A 'great song' is now far more defined by sound than by its vocalist's racial, ethnic or social background."
A 2013 article in the Tampa Bay Times titled "Country and rap music are more alike than you think" highlighted the similarities between the genres, including their respective penchants for partying and the sense of pride that runs through their individual musical styles. "Rappers and country stars…share the same template," Sean Daly wrote.
The template Daly speaks of is rooted heavily in the pride both genre's artists share for their hometown roots. There isn't much difference between Lil' Durk talking about the gritty streets of the Southside and Wallen talking about the dirt-filled backroads of his Tennessee hometown. Through their music, each artist holds their upbringing in high regard.
One artist that has managed to blur the lines between country music and hip-hop with significant success is Blanco Brown. As the self-proclaimed inventor of "trailer trap" music, Blanco saw monster success in 2019 with his single "The Git Up," which topped the Hot Country Songs chart and landed in the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100.
Brown grew up in a rural Southern town and was drawn to the relatability of country music. "What drew me to it was growing up in Butler, Georgia, in the summertime listening to Sammi Smith," says Brown of his affinity for the female country music legend. "I can relate to that. I don't know nothing about no drugs, no prostitutes," Brown says, referring to hip-hop's penchant for lyrics about drugs and sex.
The blending of country and hip-hop first saw a flash of success in 2004 when Nelly collaborated with country legend Tim McGraw on the single "Over and Over," which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. But instead of setting off a wave of prosperous country and rap collaborations, the meshing of the genres largely disappeared.
"People still didn't understand what it was," Brown says of the 2004 collaboration. "They just thought it was a cool song. You had Nelly, and Tim McGraw in their prime and Tim McGraw was already legendary."
In 2012, Nelly, again mixed country and hip-hop by appearing on the remix of "Cruise," the hit song by country duo Florida Georgia Line.
This time, "Cruise" spurred more country and rap collaborations from artists like Ludacris, Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Young Thug, and others, though no song reached the same height. That was until 2019, when a new song eclipsed not only "Cruise" but also any expectations of what could become of country meeting rap music.
In March 2019, Columbia Records re-released "Old Town Road," a twangy country-rap ode to riding horses over a trap-influenced beat that was originally released independently in December 2018. Athen-unknown Black artist named Lil' Nas X, had unwittingly recorded what would become one of the best-selling singles of all time — accelerated when Nas X released a remix of "Old Town Road" with country legend Billy Ray Cyrus.
It would also put rap and country at the forefront of the music industry together as they had never been before. But aside from the monstrous success of Lil Nas X, why are these two genres finding such paired success? Blanco Brown chalks it up to music fans driving cultural shifts in the sounds of the industry.
"The world knows what it needs and wants. That's how to create new things," says Brown. "Why separate the two genres? There shouldn't ever be a musical genre, and those things should have never been put in place. The world is starting to hear things with a free form abstract ear."
And Brown is looking to capitalize on the brewing marriage of rap and country music with a collaborative album with one of hip-hop’s biggest superstars.
“TIP is my homie”, says Brown referring to multi-platinum rap superstar T.I. “We got a whole album together. We’re going to name it Trailer Trap. Trailer park music meets trap music. I’m just bridging the gap by bringing him in.”
But there is also something else at play. Despite the significant challenges of racial divides highlighted by evening newscasts across America, rural America, which has traditionally been an overwhelmingly white demographic, is changing. And along with that change comes more co-mingling of musical tastes.
"Population shifts have moved rural whites and urban-to-rural Black people much closer together than ever before," says Dowling. "So for millennials — especially those from not-so-traditionally urban upbringings, racial differences are far less common than ever."
And while we do know that music streaming has made people draw less defined lines between the genres of music they listen to, Brown again stresses the similarities between the two genres.
"They are one and the same. It's storytelling," Brown says of country and hip-hop's uncanny abilities to weave strong narratives. "The artists in both of those worlds want them to work together, and it's radio that holds it back. When I walk into sessions with these country producers and songwriters, they say, " Man, we've been waiting for your style."
It doesn't appear that the fans or artists have been holding back the further co-mingling of country and hip-hop but rather the engrained Nashville establishment.
"Country music's establishment will always solidly be on the fence regarding anything that oversaturates its already lucrative and thriving revenue streams," remarks Dowling.
A fuller embrace of hip-hop will require country to more deeply diversify its already existing revenue streams. The jury is still out on whether this trend will continue, but these rising artists and popular appetite for this meld is a sign that audiences, and industry, are shifting toward acceptance.
Source Photos (L-R): Cindy Ord/MG22/Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue; Mauricio Santana/Getty Images; Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella
Listen To GRAMMY.com's LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2022 Playlist Featuring Elton John, Lady Gaga, Lil Nas X, Ricky Martin, Rina Sawayama & More
For LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2022, GRAMMY.com presents a genre-spanning playlist of emerging and established artists you should know, including RuPaul, Janelle Monáe, Kim Petras & many more.
Now more than ever in the music industry, artists are out, proud and loud about being open members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Across all genres and music of different languages around the world, musicians are joyfully embracing their queer identities while creating much-needed visibility for their queer-identifying fans. As calls for LGBTQIA+ fairness and equality continue, artists throughout the world are amplifying the voices of the global LGBTQIA+ community.
In honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month 2022, GRAMMY.com has put together a playlist celebrating 50 artists across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum from throughout the decades and across all genres.
Among the queer icons who paved the way for representation in pop music and culture are Elton John, Queen's Freddie Mercury, and George Michael of Wham! In the '90s, drag queen superstar RuPaul took the world by storm and would soon lead a drag revolution of her own. Into the 2010s, Puerto Rican superstar Ricky Martin kicked down the proverbial closet door and led the way for more Latin and queer Latin acts to follow in his footsteps. Lady Gaga took queer culture into the stratosphere with her global Pride anthem, "Born This Way." Frank Ocean created waves through R&B and pop as a Black queer innovator with the release of his breakthrough single, "Thinkin Bout You."
The last decade has welcomed more openly LGBTQIA+ artists than ever. South Korean singer Holland has led the way for queer voices in K-pop, Kim Petras has become a pop beacon for trans representation, and Lil Nas X remains one of the biggest rappers and singers in the world today. Also, legendary musicians like Lesley Gore and Chavela Vargas opened up about their queer identities later in their lives.
As LGBTQIA+ representation continues to grow across the music industry, may more artists and music fans keep living their truths and expressing themselves openly and safely.
Jay Z Tops 56th GRAMMY Nominations With Nine
Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams earn seven nods each; other top nominees include Daft Punk, Drake, Lorde, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift
Nominations for the 56th GRAMMY Awards were announced tonight by The Recording Academy and reflected one of the most diverse years with the Album Of The Year category alone representing the rap, pop, country and dance/electronica genres, as determined by the voting members of The Academy. Once again, nominations in select categories for the annual GRAMMY Awards were announced on primetime television as part of "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music's Biggest Night," a one-hour CBS entertainment special broadcast live from Nokia Theatre L.A. Live.
Jay Z tops the nominations with nine; Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Justin Timberlake, and Pharrell Williams each garner seven nods; Drake and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig are up for five awards.
"This year's nominations reflect the talented community of music makers who represent some of the highest levels of excellence and artistry of the year in their respective fields," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "Once again, The Academy's awards process and its voting membership have produced an impressive list of nominations across various genres promising music fans a spectacular show filled with stellar performances and unique 'GRAMMY Moments.' We are off to a great start and look forward to GRAMMY Sunday as Music's Biggest Night takes the stage."
Following are the nominations in the General Field categories:
Album Of The Year:
The Blessed Unrest — Sara Bareilles
Random Access Memories — Daft Punk
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City — Kendrick Lamar
The Heist — Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Red — Taylor Swift
Record Of The Year:
"Get Lucky" — Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams
"Radioactive" — Imagine Dragons
"Royals" — Lorde
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Bruno Mars
"Blurred Lines" — Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams
Song Of The Year:
"Just Give Me A Reason" — Jeff Bhasker, Pink & Nate Ruess, songwriters (Pink Featuring Nate Ruess)
"Locked Out Of Heaven" — Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine & Bruno Mars, songwriters (Bruno Mars)
"Roar" — Lukasz Gottwald, Max Martin, Bonnie McKee, Katy Perry & Henry Walter, songwriters (Katy Perry)
"Royals" — Joel Little & Ella Yelich O'Connor, songwriters (Lorde)
"Same Love" — Ben Haggerty, Mary Lambert & Ryan Lewis, songwriters (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Featuring Mary Lambert)
Best New Artist:
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Following is a sampling of nominations in the GRAMMY Awards' other 29 Fields:
For Best Pop Solo Performance, the nominees are "Brave" by Sara Bareilles; "Royals" by Lorde; "When I Was Your Man" by Bruno Mars; "Roar" by Katy Perry; and "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake.
The nominees for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance are "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk & Pharrell Williams; "Just Give Me A Reason" by Pink Featuring Nate Ruess; "Stay" by Rihanna Featuring Mikky Ekko; "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. & Pharrell Williams; and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake & Jay Z.
For Best Dance/Electronica Album, the nominees are Random Access Memories by Daft Punk; Settle by Disclosure; 18 Months by Calvin Harris; Atmosphere by Kaskade; and A Color Map Of The Sun by Pretty Lights.
The Best Rock Performance nominees are "Always Alright" by Alabama Shakes; "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" by David Bowie; "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons; "Kashmir (Live)" by Led Zeppelin; "My God Is The Sun" by Queens Of The Stone Age; and "I'm Shakin'" by Jack White.
For Best Alternative Music Album, the nominees are The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case; Trouble Will Find Me by The National; Hesitation Marks by Nine Inch Nails; Lonerism by Tame Impala; Modern Vampires Of The City by Vampire Weekend.
The nominees for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration are "Power Trip" by J.Cole Featuring Miguel; "Part II (On The Run)" by Jay Z Featuring Beyoncé; "Holy Grail" by Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake; "Now Or Never" by Kendrick Lamar Featuring Mary J. Blige; and "Remember You" by Wiz Khalifa Featuring The Weeknd.
For Best Rap Album, the nominees are Nothing Was The Same by Drake; Magna Carta…Holy Grail by Jay Z; Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar; The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis; and Yeezus by Kanye West.
The Best Country Album nominees are Night Train by Jason Aldean; Two Lanes Of Freedom by Tim McGraw; Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves; Based On A True Story by Blake Shelton; and Red by Taylor Swift.
The nominees for Best Americana Album are Old Yellow Moon by Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell; Love Has Come For You by Steve Martin & Edie Brickell; Buddy And Jim by Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale; One True Vine by Mavis Staples; and Songbook by Allen Toussaint.
This year's Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominations go to Rob Cavallo, Dr. Luke, Ariel Rechtshaid, Jeff Tweedy, and Pharrell Williams.
This year's GRAMMY Awards process registered more than 22,000 submissions over a 12-month eligibility period (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013). GRAMMY ballots for the final round of voting will be mailed on Dec. 11 to the voting members of The Recording Academy. They are due back to the accounting firm of Deloitte by Jan. 8, 2014, when they will be tabulated and the results kept secret until the 56th GRAMMY telecast.
The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards will be held Jan. 26, 2014, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and once again will be broadcast live in high-definition TV and 5.1 surround sound on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT). The 56th Annual GRAMMY Awards are produced by AEG Ehrlich Ventures for The Recording Academy. Ken Ehrlich is executive producer, and Louis J. Horvitz is director.
For updates and breaking news, visit The Recording Academy's social networks on Twitter and Facebook.
The Week In Music: Who Is The Fairest Of Them All?
GRAMMY ladies go head-to-head in the battle of the pretty
What are the attributes that make the perfect woman? Is it a camera-ready glow? Fashion sense? Intelligence? Sense of humor? Talent? An uncanny argumentative ability? Chances are the ladies making AskMen.com's Top 99 Women of 2012 list have all of the above, and much more. With actress/television personality Sofia Vergara topping a list containing the usual abundance of actresses, models and paparazzi favorites, current Best New Artist GRAMMY nominee Nicki Minaj led all female musicians at No. 5. Other GRAMMY nominees putting the "s" in scintillating in the top 20 include Rihanna (No. 9), Zooey Deschanel (No. 12), Katy Perry (No. 16), and Lady Gaga (No. 18). Other notables making the grade include Selena Gomez (No. 14), Beyoncé (No. 39) and even hot newcomer Lana Del Rey (No. 95). Of course, lists of this nature are always subjective. But if you're a female looking to get in on the competition, we invite you to sample some tips from our GRAMMY Glam Squad.
While Music's Biggest Night is just a week away, Indianapolis will take center stage on Feb. 5 when the New England Patriots and New York Giants battle it out in Super Bowl XLVI. While the staff at ESPN is busy crunching statistics for their exhaustive game coverage, musicians are chiming in with their official predictions. Not surprisingly, JoJo, who grew up in Foxboro, Mass., will be pulling for Tom Brady and the Patriots. "I just feel like we [will] win by default, because we have heart," said the songstress. Putting on his analyst cap, Nelly thinks the Giants defense will be too hot for the Patriots. "I think the Giants play a little bit better defense, and I just think defense wins championships in the end," he said. Theory Of A Deadman's Tyler Connolly is leaning toward the Giants, but don't quote him on it. "I guess I'll go with the Giants," said Connolly, a San Francisco 49ers fan. When it comes to the halftime entertainment, Connolly did not mince words, however. "In reality you need to think about who's actually watching the Super Bowl — it's big dudes eating nachos and drinking beer," said Connolly. "And they want to watch the commercials with the Doritos girls. … Madonna? They're not going to watch Madonna." While there are few things better than Doritos girls, we here at TWIM we'd definitely rather watch Madonna, while enjoying a side of nachos.
Speaking of the Super Bowl, following Elton John and Madonna's Golden Globes feud last month, the Rocket Man is reportedly turning over a new leaf in offering the Material Girl some advice for her upcoming halftime performance on Feb. 5. "Make sure you lip-sync good," John advised Madonna on "Good Morning America." "I've never seen a decent one. Never ever." While Super Bowl halftime shows have arguably become more about the spectacle instead of the performance, it's hard to tell if John's advice is sincere. In 2004 the tiny dancer's response to Madonna winning the Best Live Act honor at England's Q Awards was: "Madonna, best fing live act? F off. Since when has lip-syncing been live?" While much of the Super Bowl action will happen on the field this Sunday, there's no doubt there will be lots more to see between Madonna's halftime spectacular featuring LMFAO and Nicki Minaj, and John's Pepsi commercial, set to air during the big game.
While Dave Grohl has long been known for his quirky sense of humor, evidenced by videos for Foo Fighters songs such as "Big Me" (Mentos, anyone?), "Everlong," "Learn To Fly," and, most recently, the GRAMMY-nominated "Walk," the Foos frontman is taking funny to a whole new, hopefully hysterical, level. According to a report, Grohl is teaming with comedian Dana Gould to executive produce a 30-minute sitcom for FX Networks. The show will reportedly center on a rock band that is in the midst of their big break, and a breakup. The band seeks help from a therapist, who ends up being broken herself. Did we say sitcom? This sounds like the makings of a perfectly good drama to us. But whatever the show turns out to be, we're sure it'll be a hit, given Grohl's vast voiceover experience in films such as The Muppets and television series including "Daria."
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich lost the Florida primary Tuesday to Mitt Romney by a wide margin, but that may not be the worst news he got this week. Gingrich also joined the long list of politicians who have been sued for misappropriating a pop song for a campaign without the artist's permission. On Monday, Rude Music Inc., controlled by the song's co-writer Frank Sullivan, filed suit against Gingrich for his use of Survivor's GRAMMY-winning "Eye Of The Tiger" from Rocky III. Gingrich was clearly gunning for some Rocky Balboa magic now that he appears to be the underdog again, and the anthem's other co-writer, Jim Peterik, who hasn't joined the suit, says that's okay with him. "If it motivates people to get out to the polls and create some excitement, that's what it's for," he told the Washington Post. And while Chicago-native Peterik is loyal to his native son, President Barack Obama, he concedes, "I like [Gingrich's] taste in music." Still, as Rocky himself might ask, "Yo, don't I got some rights?"
Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain" is No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" is tops on the iTunes singles chart.
Any news we've missed? Comment below.
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GRAMMY Insider: Mariah Carey, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Halestorm, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, And Usher
All the GRAMMY winners news, including who will take the stage to perform on the Fourth of July
(The GRAMMY Insider keeps you up to date about news on your favorite GRAMMY winners, including new album releases, tour updates, notable TV appearances, interviews, and more.)
Fourth Of July Music
The "37th Annual Macy's 4th Of July Fireworks" spectacular will air from New York at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET and feature a fireworks show directed by Usher, and performances by Nick Cannon, Mariah Carey, Selena Gomez, Tim McGraw, and Taylor Swift. … Barry Manilow will take the stage during "A Capitol Fourth — America's Independence Day Celebration" from Washington, D.C., at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. on PBS. … For more Fourth of July music, check out our GRAMMY playlist.
Lists And Polls
She's been previously voted as one of the hottest female singers of all time, but who does Cher fancy? During a recent appearance on "Watch What Happens Live," the vivacious songstress engaged in a game of "Truth or Cher" with host Andy Cohen, during which she revealed that actor Tom Cruise ranks high on her favorite lovers list. "Well, he was in the top five," said Cher. "It's not a long list, it's a good list." … The fans have spoken and Taylor Swift ruled the 2013 edition of Billboard's Mid-Year Music Awards poll in three categories: First-Half MVP, Favorite Billboard 200 No. 1 Album for Red and the voter's favorite live show of 2013. Other GRAMMY winners who dominated poll categories included Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Pink, Fun.'s Nate Ruess, and Britney Spears.
The late Amy Winehouse is being commemorated with a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum in London. Created in collaboration with Winehouse's brother, Alex Winehouse, the exhibit features intimate items owned by the singer, including the actual list of songs on her "chill-out tape."
Nine Inch Nails are rivaling Kanye West for the most epilepsy-inducing music video with the release of the visual component to their new single "Came Back Haunted." Directed by filmmaker/musician David Lynch, the video features flashing images of human insects, strange faces and frontman Trent Reznor.
Kanye West took a walk on the wild side with his new album Yeezus, and it has garnered praise from none other than Lou Reed. In a review for TheTalkhouse.com, Reed wrote that the album is a mix of "supreme beauty … greatness … [and] the same old s*," and that West "really, really, really is talented." "No one's near doing what he's doing, it's not even on the same planet," he added.
News is out that the electric guitar with which Bob Dylan shook up the folk world will be auctioned later this year and is expected to bring in $500,000. The Fender Stratocaster that Dylan played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 is being auctioned by owner Dawn Peterson, who showcased the guitar on an episode of PBS' "History Detectives," where she got the estimate. After the PBS episode aired, Dylan reportedly claimed ownership, but a deal was worked out for Peterson to auction the guitar, preventing the whole thing from being tangled up in red (tape).
Pianist Keith Jarrett is among four artists named to the 2014 National Endowment for the Arts' Jazz Masters class. Jarrett's classic 1975 live album, The Köln Concert, was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame in 2011.
Does winning a GRAMMY make you rich? Not necessarily, according to recent GRAMMY winner Lzzy Hale of Halestorm. "It's all been great, but there's a lot of people who are like, 'Wow, they're rich,'" she told Pulse Of Radio. "No, no, the GRAMMY didn't come with a million dollars. We just got a statue."