While many legacy country artists continue to release more “traditional” sounding country, a newer generation of talent is pushing the envelope on the genre, and heavily sprinkling their material with elements of hip hop.
The blurring of country music and hip-hop currently playing out at radio has been in the making for a long, long time.
As the old saying goes, “everything changes.” Country music is no exception to the rule. While legends such as George Strait and Alan Jackson are still writing and releasing material rooted in tradition, a younger generation of talent is challenging fans to accept a wide range of new ideas. From 808s to syncopated vocal deliveries, the most popular country artists sound more and more like hip-hop artists with each passing year.
And guess what? There is a good reason for country music’s recent evolution. As the team at Insider reveals in a new documentary short, country music has a long history of following other genre’s paths to success. What is happening now has happened before, and it will no doubt happen again as consumer tastes continue to evolve.
To understand how this genre hybridization has shaped today’s country and hip-hop, the Insider team spoke with Kevin Holt, an ethnomusicologist at Columbia University who’s studied the relationship between country music and Southern rap, with a focus on Atlanta hip-hop culture. Holt broke down the many commonalities that country and hip-hop have had all along — including both genres’ particular emphasis on roots, authenticity, storytelling, and lived experience. He explained that in the digital-streaming era, the boundaries between genres like country and hip-hop are becoming more diffuse. That’s how we get artists like Sam Hunt, dubbed the “country Drake,” and it’s also how we got country-trap anthems from MCs like Young Thug and DaBaby. We also took a look at the rise of the year’s biggest genre disruptor, Lil Nas X, who shook up both country and hip-hop with his category-defying smash hit “Old Town Road.”
James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company’s podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.