DDespite the ubiquitous calls for “real” country music and condemnation of what many listeners consider “country pop,” the truth is that time and culture have moved on, and so has sound. Country music is no different from any other genre in that it has seen many trends come and go as the music has evolved. The same listeners who condemn country pop tend to gleefully appreciate artists like Luke Bryan, whose catalog features heavily pop-influenced hits like “That’s My Kind of Night.” With country music, the unwritten rule seems to be that influences from non-mainstream country music are welcome, as long as they come from an approved source.
While country pop was frowned upon, the idea that hip-hop could or would merge with country was outright dismissed. The country music industry has long kept the door shut against the inclusion of black people in all facets of the mainstream industry. However, their influence has always been present. Contemporary hitmakers like Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, and Colt Ford have embraced hip-hop influences in their music and found monstrous success doing so. What the industry lacked were black people – the creators, heart and soul of hip-hop – to affirm hip-hop influences within the genre.
Recently, notorious country music artist Morgan Wallen found success in a collaboration with rapper Lil Durk. While some would expect this to be a next step for a genre that is being forced out of its comfort zone, the reality is that this is a perpetuation of the harm caused by the genre to an entire culture – not to mention that black people played a major role in the birth of country music, and Wallen hurt their descendants by using the N-word. For black listeners, this decision seemed like a smokescreen for the bad behavior of Wallen. Collaborations that are little more than public relations maneuvers are not a step forward. But there is something else new and exciting happening in the country kingdom.
As the movement for a more inclusive country music landscape grows and intensifies, black artists are increasingly expressing their appreciation for country music and claiming their right to create it in new and exciting ways. Some not only incorporate hip-hop influences, but also mix genres from an authentic perspective.
In 2019, Lil Nas X planted the seeds of the emerging movement, using his mastery of internet marketing to create a viral hit with “Old Town Road.” As the country music industry actively fought against it, the song became a worldwide hit and undoubtedly inspired many of the cross-genre projects that artists are doing now. “I think [Lil Nas X’s influence] is here to stay as long as it’s conducive and beneficial to the culture of the genre,” says the Dallas artist Hisydes. “Take Jimmie Allen and Nelly [collaborating], Kane Brown and HER It’s here to stay. All it needed was a window of opportunity.
After spending years working behind the scenes in music, Hisyde has risen to the fore in 2021 with a unique sound that blends country, hip-hop, blues and soul. For Hisyde, it’s a natural expression of how he sees himself.
“When I decided to infuse hip-hop, blues, gospel, R&B into country, it wasn’t that I wanted to create a new version, or create a wave in the beloved genre that would take away the art of country music,” he says. “I was just letting my country music fans and supporters experience my life — my upbringing, the rich history and culture that is at the core of who I am. I’m hip-hop, I’m blues, I’m R&B, I’m soul, I’m gospel, I’m country.
While it may seem at first glance that these experiments with the genre will forever live on the fringes, Hisyde predicts a shift. “I think the new generation of country music listeners yearn for their favorite hip-hop or R&B artist to be steeped in country,” he says. Still, he acknowledges that listeners’ willingness to embrace something new may not be enough. “But like in all industries, there are rules and unseen influences that determine what is acceptable and who can bring it into the dominant country.”
The woman behind “Grand Ole Wagon” – a hip-hop/country crossover track that has racked up hundreds of thousands of plays on Facebook, Twitter and ICT Tac — was surprised to find such a large audience. “It was honestly an experience,” Houston says Chiyanti. “I just wanted to do something different. I didn’t expect people to go there so much. The song is undeniably hip-hop, with a fun, upbeat sound behind smart, confident lyrics. It’s also undeniably country, underlined by Dominique Hammons’ expert fiddle strokes.
While hip-hop, pop and R&B influences aren’t new to country music, what’s new is that black artists are leading the charge. There haven’t been many black artists welcomed into the country music industry over time. When they attempted to gain acceptance, they were warned that they had to behave and make music in a certain way. In a 2020 interview with CNN, Mickey Guyton recalls being told she had to make sure her songs sounded country and didn’t sound like R&B. Chiyanti was aware of this double standard and decided to go ahead anyway.
“Honestly, it was a concern in the back of my mind, like, ‘This is not a traditional country,'” she says. “Are they even going to accept it as a country, or welcome it into the genre? But I just said, ‘I don’t have time to worry, just do it. I’m a creative, I can’t limit myself. If I want to do it, I will. »
Artist and Apple Music Radio host Breland laid out a plan for what these performers might hope to achieve. After a successful career in hip-hop and R&B, Breland began experimenting with blending these sounds in country music in 2019, following the success of “Old Town Road.” His song “My Truck” caused a stir. “I was aware that the biggest record of all time is a country-trap song by an unknown artist from Atlanta and now no one else is releasing songs that sound like that,” Breland said The New York Times back in 2020. “Wide open. Why the hell wouldn’t I have given it a shot? Since then, country mainstream has hosted the Breland. He’s collaborated with country headliners like Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban, proving that intuition he used to develop his sound was perfect.
The call for “real” country music has proven to be only a weapon against the diversification of the genre. Black artists are starting to say “no more”. If the goal is authentic sound, artists like Chiyanti and Hisyde provide compelling examples of what that could be. And they do it in exciting ways that have the potential to reach a much wider audience than the industry typically markets to.
The state of country music today and in the year to come