Updated: Mar 1, 2021
Where have all our outlaws gone? Well, it seems that they all came to make, or listen to, country rap. Is country rap the new age outlaw country of modern times?
It’s evident in the rapidly growing genre, see independent artists have given record labels the shaft. They’ve found a way to express themselves freely without dealing with some mainstream man telling them how to do things. Whether most know it or not, when an artist signs with a record label, the record label takes control of their music, their image, and even their interactions with others.
Recently, the obvious difference between mainstream and remaining independent has been shocking. Look at Taylor Swift. The company that owned her masters completely sold the masters without her knowledge. She had no control or ability to stop it. She is in the process of remaking every song she’s ever made just to have ownership of her masters.
Another loud example is Morgan Wallen. We’ve all seen Morgan Wallen in the news. His record label immediately black balled him for his inebriated slurs caught on camera. They did not simply free him from his contract to pursue other ventures. No, they locked him up in contractual chains by suspending him indefinitely. Suspending him meant that they still remained in control of Wallen and his music. He, most likely, cannot make any music freely because the label company probably owns rights to the next X amount of albums that he produces. The man will be held under that contract, unable to do much, for who knows how long because of his poor lack of judgement.
That brings us to a new issue that has been dragged into country rap. Due to Morgan Wallen’s drunken rants, country artists have begun to ask forgiveness for things in the mainstream media before it becomes an issue like Morgan’s did. Luke Combs, being one of them, asked his fans to forgive him for being in a music video that displayed the rebel flag.
Those who know mainstream “Luke Combs” have probably never heard of a little collab Country Rap fans have played 73 million times. Hard to believe but it is true. Yes, I am referring to “Can I Get An Outlaw?”, by Ryan Upchurch featuring Luke Combs.
The song speaks boldly about country life and asks what happened to the outlaws of country music who used to push against what mainstream shoved onto their listeners. The guys that people consider the legends of country music, like Merle Haggard or Johnny Cash. The video, if you haven’t watched it, is the one that Luke Combs is asking forgiveness for.
Many, including Upchurch, are confused as to why Luke Combs is speaking out against the song now. Upchurch has spoken before, that the record label had asked Upchurch to remove Luke’s name from the song. They expressed that it wasn’t a good image for Luke. He removed it when asked. Now however, in the wake of Morgan Wallen’s blunder, Upchurch is finding his name being brought into a discussion that he feels is unnecessary.
After hearing the things that Luke said, Upchurch made an Instagram story saying that he would be taking down the video because he didn’t want to appear in a music video with a mainstream sell out. Shortly later, he returned to Instagram to say that he was sure that Luke’s label company was relieved that he took the video down. Then, he laughed and said that he was putting the video back up.
Later in the evening, Ryan went on YouTube to explain his side of things. He began the video by asking if he was the only country singer that was topping charts while saying and doing what he wants. He goes on to say that the legacy that country music was founded on was deteriorating because the biggest artists in the game were scared of being cancelled. He calls them actions figures that record labels play with. He said even The Dixie Chicks had to change their name to The Chicks due to political correctnes. While it may seem harsh to some, what Ryan says is the truth.
For so long, the outlaws of country music fought to be able to sing about things outside of the traditional concept. They weren’t called outlaws for bowing down. They were outlaws because they rebelled. They sang about things that weren’t accepted by music row. The did what they wanted in their personal life’s, as well. Some were even refused the chance to play at the Grand Ol’ Opry due to it. Their determination and music style made them legends. After all they went through, it seems that we have reverted on a large scale.
Ryan continues his video to say that country music is losing true country fans, and he never thought that country music would be on it’s knees begging for forgiveness for something that it didn’t do. He explains that the fans aren’t leaving because of confederate flags, but instead, they are leaving because musicians look like sissies about things. Ryan may be correct. I have seen, in my own personal timeline, a lot of people calling Luke a sellout and quoting lyrics of the song, sarcastically saying, “we don’t need another pretty boy singing a pretty song”.
Ryan says in the video that, as a Nashville native, the flag didn’t mean racism to those around him. It meant rebellion just like the legends of country music rebelled against the norm. He talks about songs that talked about rebel flags in the lyrics and how popular they were when he was in high school. He gives the example of Rhett Atkins’ song “You Can Kiss My Country Ass”.
He sings the first verse of the song that says, “Tearin' down a dirt road, rebel flag flyin'. 'Coon dog in the back. Truck bed loaded down with beer, And a cold one in my lap. Earnhardt sticker behind my head, And my woman by my side. Tail pipe's poppin', the radio's rockin' "Country Boy Can Survive". Well, if you got a problem with that, You can kiss my country ass.”
Upchurch talks about how the song was nostalgic; that the song didn’t mean he hated black people. In fact, his black friends would have been in the truck with him, jamming to the song.
Ryan goes on to say that his rebel flag tattoo is something that he has taken the most flack for over the years. He goes on to say that all his tattoos represent southern culture. He points them out one by one. Then he said something that should resonate with people.
“I’m not telling you sorry for using my environment, that I was brought up, as a warm blanket to love myself in. You’re not going to make me say sorry because I am not sorry,” Upchurch explains.
He refers back to Charlie Daniels and his use of the flag as symbolism. He reads a quote, from Charlie, that basically states that the flag, to Charlie, was a sign of defiance and of pride of a geographical area that a person was raised in. Charlie’s quote says that it was all that it meant to Charlie and many others. Nothing more; nothing less.
He goes on into more about Luke Combs and the video “Can I Get An Outlaw?” He plays clips from a media source, Taste of Country, talking about Luke’s abrupt apology of the Confederate Flag imagery. (You can watch the video here). He asks if people truly believe that Luke really thought of the apology himself or if the, quote, “record label daddy” told Luke that he needed to say it because of the Morgan Wallen incident. He states that Luke Combs never mentioned anything about the video publicly for 6 years, but is now trying to talk about it. He asks again, “You don’t think someone told him to?”
The clip says that Luke Combs’ record label has asked that Upchurch remove the video previously. Upchurch says that the statement is true. He says, “See, here’s the good thing. Record labels don’t tell me what to do. I tell record labels what to do. That’s what I have built for myself in country music”.
He finishes the video by saying that Luke Combs may be asking for forgiveness for “rebelitus”, but he hasn’t said that the film crew who made the video was all black and friends with Upchurch. Upchurch makes it clear throughout the whole video that he holds no hate or racism in his heart. He says he doesn’t have to say sorry for anything that is simply not true about him. He says he’s never done anything to anybody and he has no need to make an apology video. He goes on to say that he would never say anything that would need an apology video because that’s not the kind of person he is.
“So if I’m the last one left out here saying what needs to be said, and stand up for myself, and speaking from my heart, then I’ll be the last motherfucker left. It don’t bother me none. See y’all later, baby. Keep it country,” he speaks before walking off camera.
Then, he plays a clip of another video reporting on the news. It says that several sources have stated that Upchurch and Luke Combs were both offered record deals from Sony Music Entertainment if they stopped doing the outlaw kind of thing. The reporter says that Luke Combs took the deal but Upchurch turned it down because he is a “don’t give a damn” type of artist. Upchurch pops back up on screen to say, “That’s right, baby, that’s right.”
Upchurch’s message is very clear. He is not a racist, and does not believe the flag means what the mainstream media tries to make it mean, and feels he has no reason to apologize for that. He is, also, very clear why he will never sign to a record label. Him, along with many independent artists, refuse to let someone dictate their life and creative freedoms for some money in the bag.
While those on the radio have to follow a very thin line in hopes of not becoming a victim of cancel culture for various reasons, independent artists can be themselves and create music that reflects that. They build their fans organically and it’s starting to see large numbers. The road to stardom is much quicker when you have a record contract but, in return, you have to sign the old you away and take on who they want you to be.
Country rap isn’t going anywhere. Artists like Upchurch will see to that. Mainstream may have a lock on the radio station, but YouTube and Spotify are quickly replacing that. They cannot control what they do not have claws in. Simply put, Luke had to choose whether to be hogtied and suspended in the air by a contract, or make a public statement rebuking a song that got him noticed to begin with. Upchurch will never have to fear that retribution because he’s made his own way very smartly.
Again, where have all our outlaws gone? Right here, in the independent rap scene known as Country Rap.