Evolution of Country Rap

History

 

While decades-old examples of hip hop and country cross-pollination can be found, country rap has been slow to find its footing as a genre. This has been due in large part to implicit (and sometimes explicit) racial lines drawn between hip hop’s predominately black-American artists and their mostly white, country contemporaries. This tension could be seen even as recently as 2019, when Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was removed from the Billboard Hot Country charts while clearly trap-influenced tracks like Florida George Line and Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be” were permitted to stay. Fortunately, continued efforts in bridging these sounds have meant that country rap today has a solid portfolio of exciting music to be proud of.

Influences

 

Modern country rap took flight in the late 90s and early 2000s, when artists like Bubba Sparxxx were able to achieve mainstream success based on their country rap sound alone. Depending on whether it’s ‘country’ or ‘rap’ that an artist wants to emphasize, different sonic influences can be prioritized. A country rap track could use hip hop’s head-nodding grooves to help forefront lyricism, with only select elements of country music added for dramatic effect. A country rap song could also prioritize sung vocals and southern-twang rap done over a 4/4 beat.

 

Sound

 

Typically a country rap song will feature a hip hop beat with syncopated snare and kick drums, vocals that focus on traditionally country themes (like cowboys, heartbreak, and the old west), as well as country instrumentation like acoustic guitar, slide guitar, banjo, and heavily saturated back-up vocals.

 

 

Blowfly - "Rapp Dirty"

West Palm Beach, Florida, 1980

 

This track is a country rap precursor that shows how rappers were for many years playing at combining hip hop and country themes.

 

 

Mo Thugs Family & Bone Thugs-n-Harmony - "Ghetto Cowboy"

Cleveland, Ohio, 1996

 

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony produced one of the first songs that defined the country rap genre, with a track full of harmonica, neighing horses, gunshots, and countrified bars.

 

 

OutKast - "Rosa Parks"

Atlanta, Georgia, 1998

 

Outkast’s “Rosa Parks” features country guitar lick, percussion that sounds like a horse clopping down a hallway, and a harmonica solo.

 

 

Kid Rock - "Cowboy"

New York City, New York, 1998

 

“Cowboy” by Kid Rock scored the first big hit for the country rap genre, nailing the country aesthetic with upbeat slide guitar and hard-hitting power chords in the chorus.

 

 

Dr. Dre ft. Eminem - “Bad Guys Always Die”

West Coast, USA, 1999

 

This hidden gem was featured on the soundtrack for the film Wild Wild West, an album that is full of old west inspired rap tracks.

 

 

Wyclef Jean - "Kenny Rogers - Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate"

New Jersey, 2000

 

Wyclef Jean got Kenny Rogers to sing an updated version of “The Gambler” for “Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate”, which features in-your-face guitar and country themed vocals.

 

 

Bubba Sparxxx - "Comin' Round"

Athens, Georgia, 2003

 

Bubba Sparxxx masterfully infuses blue grass elements into a slickly produced hip hop track on this country rap classic.

 

 

Project Pat & La Chat - "Don't Bite The D"

Memphis, Tennessee, 2003

 

A country music trope involves a male and female vocal duet, where each singer takes turns tearing each other down. Project Pat and La Chat released a hip hop version of this style with their crunk and country influenced track “Don't Bite The D”.

 

 

Big Smo - "Honky Tonkin"

Shelbyville, Tennessee, 2010

 

Big Smo lifts a classic Hank Williams riff, lays a beat on it, and raps about country life on “Honky Tonkin”.

 

 

Lil Tracy - "Like A Farmer"

Virginia Beach, Virginia, 2018

 

With its trap beat and autotuned crooning of “I got horses in my car like a farmer,” this Lil Tracy song is audible proof that “Old Town Road” didn’t just come out of thin air.

 

 

Lil Nas X - "Old Town Road"

Atlanta, Georgia, 2018

 

“Old Town Road” seamlessly drapes iconic cowboy imagery over a trap beat, pulling the track together with a catchy chorus that was primed for many memes to come. In fact, Lil Nas X would later take independent marketing and country rap to the next level with his many guest feature re-releases of the track that helped keep it relevant and fresh.

 

 

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