I’ve mentioned country-rap before, and I want to again reiterate that I am glad of the diversity in the country charts. There truly is a country sub-genre for everyone, whatever kind of music they enjoy. And while country-rap is not traditional country, I am more than happy to welcome this relatively new genre to our country family.
Mainstream country-rap may still be in its infancy, but there are hints of this genre within country music’s history. There is at least one example that I can think of, and that is Charlie Daniels. Just listen to The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Daniels does not sing the verses, but speaks them, in a style that could be described as rap. He follows the beat of the music with the words, and yes, with Daniels fiddle it sounds country, but he is technically rapping. Back to that fiddle: the way Daniels plays is extraordinary, the high screeching fiddle is comparable the effects we hear in modern country rap, it’s Daniels equivalent of a turntable. He does sing the chorus, another common trend in country rap, that this song may have had a hand in. Its worth noting that this is not the only example of Daniels work that could be described as a predecessor to modern country-rap. The Devil Went Down to Georgia may have been released in 1979, but I think it’s had a larger impact on country rap than we give it credit for.
The first mainstream example of country-rap appeared in 2004, when the MuzikMafia were making waves in Nashville. Big and Rich broke onto the scene with Wild West Show, and Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy). Save a Horse was the first hint of rap on our country radio, and when the album Horse Of A Different Color was released, there were more surprises to come. We were introduced to Cowboy Troy – the self proclaimed “big black cowboy, with the crazy vocal”. A Cowboy Troy solo album shortly followed, and although the album got to number two in the country charts, there was very little airplay of his singles. I think Cowboy Troy was seen as a novelty. I remember being truly amazed and excited by this new sound that I had heard on Horse of a Different Color, but no follow up singles were taken seriously enough to thrive on country radio, and provoke the chain reaction currently occurring in the charts.
It was a few years after Big and Rich’s debut that country-rap really made a name for itself. Jason Aldean had been present in the country scene since 2005’s single Hicktown. He was always famous for doing much more rock orientated country, however it wasn’t until 2011 and Dirt Road Anthem hit the charts that the country-rap scene exploded. The writers, Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert had both previously recorded the song, but it was Aldean’s version that took the single to number one. Not only did this song introduce the country audience to a new genre, but it propelled Aldean to superstardom.
It was at this point that an avalanche of country-rap artists cascaded onto the scene. The writers of Dirt Road Anthem are now both successful in their own right. Brantley Gilbert was named as the ACM Best New Male Artist, and Colt Ford recorded his single, Twisted with one of the reining superstars of country, Tim McGraw. And it’s not just new artists. Most recently Blake Shelton has experimented with the rap genre with Boys ‘Round Here, although with this example the listener must bear in mind Shelton’s tongue-in-cheek humour. We also have examples from Tim McGraw with the slightly dubious Truck Yeah, and Kenny Chesney’s Pirate Flag alludes to the genre. Florida Georgia Line are also storming the charts at the moment, yet again raising the presence of country’s new found genre.
I can’t fail to mention that Aldean’s latest hit, 1994 was a rap song about Joe Diffie. Country-rap takes lyrics seriously; they have to be good, well written, even if they are humorous. 1994 manages to fit in numerous (eight to be exact) nods to Joe Diffie hits:
“So help me girl, I’ll be your pickup man”
Country rap maintains the same high quality of lyrics as other country music in the charts. The lyrics also pertain to a country/southern way of life, and are specifically targeted at country music’s demographic. We even see hints of more traditional country instrumentation, which differentiates this genre from mainstream rap.
I don’t think there is any harm in country-rap, it is merely yet another genre that country music embraces. It widens the appeal of country music, in the same way that Taylor Swift has. It brings a wider audience, making it possible for our favourite artists to continue making music. We still have more traditional artists in the charts- after all, George Strait just racked up his 60th number one hit. Country music isn’t going anywhere- no matter if country-rap exists or not. So I think we should embrace this new, young talent from Nashville, because music changes; it is the nature of music that it will develop and form these sub-genres, so we can continue to enjoy original music in the future.