Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Country Rap; the term that makes some uneasy. Whether you like the phrase or feel as though the two words should not commingle, it is a vastly growing style that is getting some big recognition. Where did it come from and how did it transpire into an indie music phenomenon? The origins of country rap are tad blurred. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when Country Rap became a movement. The roots spread out so widely, that it’s hard to dig everything up. In 1947, Tex Williams came out with a song called “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)”. The song was set to a fast tempo while Tex talked the lyrics. The aptly named “talking tune” gained quick popularity among the country fan base. Other popular country artists of the time, like Hank Williams, Sr., picked up the idea of a “talking tune” and ran with it. Some of the most iconic songs from the 40’s to the 70’s were referred to as talking tunes including “I’ve Been Everywhere”, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot”, “A Boy Named Sue”, and “Convoy”. Though the style of talking tunes were similar to songs of early hip hop, the word Country Rap didn’t appear in a song until 1986. It first appears in a song by The Bellamy Brothers called Country Rap.Yes,The Bellamy Brothers were the first.
It was over a decade later before Country Rap was mentioned again in a mainstream song. This time, it wasn’t a country singer. In ‘99 UGK released their single “Belts to Match”. In the outro to the track, Pimp C (Rest in Peace) said, “Down here, we ain’t makin’ hip hop songs, know what I’m sayin’? We makin’ country rap tunes. So, uh, separate us from the rest.” There was a lot of buzz from northern hip hop artists at the time who challenged the sounds coming from the South, including music from UGK, OutKast, Nappy Roots, Three 6 Mafia and Geto Boys. All are still popular among older country rap fans. At the time, the northern scene believed that the style wasn’t true to hip hop. The phrase “southern rap” began to pop up in the hip hop genre, but in all actuality, one of the pioneers of southern rap was very fond of the term “country rap tunes”.
Pimp C reiterated in the song “Let Me See It”, on their “Dirty Money” album, that they weren’t making hip hop. They were making country rap tunes. The song features a guitar riff and speaks about being country and repping the south. The “country rap tunes” of the time became influential for southern rappers. The southern artists that followed included some of the most iconic in newer hip hop including Nelly, T.I., and Ludacris. Other artists of the time were also experimenting with meshing sounds. In 1998, Kid Rock released "Devil without a Cause". One of the more notarized songs on the album was “Cowboy”. The music was a mix of southern rock and hip hop, with saloon style piano music, harmonica and Jews Harp. The music alone was far different than traditional hip hop while the rapped lyrics were nothing like those of southern rock. The song was a huge hit among fans.
Another famous name that soon followed, was none other than, Bubba Sparxxx. 1996, Bubba Sparxxx was seen rapping after a University of Georgia game by a music industry veteran named Bobby Stamps. He introduced Bubba to Shannon Houchins, an Atlanta Producer. Stamps and Houchins helped Bubba produce his first big album “Dark Days, Bright Nights”. The album became a hit in Georgia and gained interest from Interscope Records. After signing with Interscope and working with producer Timbaland, “Dark Days, Bright Nights” was reissued in 2001. Ugly became a pretty popular song along with the music video that showed good ol’ country fun instead of a typical hip hop video for the time. In 2003, he released his second album “Deliverance”. He continued showing his country side with the album. It has been said that Bubba Sparxxx’s national success gave other artists the ability to rap about country life more freely. There were quite a few underground artists at the time, stemming back to the 90s. Names we frequently hear in country rap today. Big Po and John Brodnax were making songs together in the late 90s. A couple artists seen some main stream success. Cowboy Troy found his way into the scene and his with Big and Rich found him some radio time. The group Rehab found mainstream success with songs like “Bartender”. Rehab formed in 1998, introducing us to names like Demun Jones and Danny Boone. Sonny Bama was putting in work in the late 90s and early 2000s. The Lacs came together in the early 2000’s. CWB formed with well known names like Alexander King (also known as Lexx Luger), David Ray, Stump and Haystak. Eventually, the group dissolved. After the group split, D. Ray and Stump formed I4NI with Jon Connor. They went on to form Dammit Boy Entertainment and used the label to help other artists. The others from CWB pursued their own endeavors, making a solo name for themselves. Other big names like Big Smo, Jelly Roll, and Brabo Gator, started gaining some traction, working with Haystak in the late 90s to the early 2000s. Now look, all of these guys are killing the game.
Colt Ford was another name from that time frame and one of Country rap’s greatest assets in its formative years. Colt Ford has seen great success with his own music but has helped the genre more in his side endeavors. Colt Ford joined forces with Shannon Houchins, the producer who helped discover Bubba Sparxxx, and formed Average Joe’s Entertainment. Like Dammit Boy Entertainment, the label gave country rappers a place to be signed and heard on a bigger scale. Names like Moonshine Bandits, Lenny Cooper, and The Lacs all found large growth under the label. In the 2000s, country rap was ran mostly underground. The artists gained local success but it was much harder to get heard nationally with only two label companies that represented country rap artists. Selling CDs from the back of the trunk was the main source of distribution. Nowadays it has become easier for artists to be heard, thanks to the internet. Between social media sites and YouTube, artists can share music to the masses. They aren’t restrained by label companies trying to conform them into either country or hip hop. They do not need radio play because of word of mouth and sharing on social media. Spotify has become the new age of radio. YouTube has replaced MTV and anyone is free to share their talent. It’s almost amazing how quickly someone can become a viral phenomenon. You can look at one of the biggest names in country rap for example.
Upchurch the Redneck, aka Ryan Upchurch, has gained great success with internet promoting. His YouTube channel boasts 2.24 million subscribers, Instagram shows 1.6 million followers, and 3.1 million on Facebook. As an independent artist, those numbers are huge. His Spotify numbers are even more impressive. 1.49 million monthly listeners. Those numbers tower over iconic names like Garth Brooks and surpasses Big and Rich. He is very close to surpassing Hank Williams, Jr. He still has a way to go to reach numbers like newer acts in country such as Florida Georgia Line, but to think, he is surpassing iconic figures in country music is mind blowing. Just knowing that an independent country rap artist is pulling in such large numbers, while his whole fan base is solely from social media and small venues booking him, shows a huge change in times. Other artists have seen their share of good numbers like Adam Calhoun and Upchurch, who found their success through the internet. With the ease of access, more artists are coming into the lime light. Veterans are also finding it much easier. Many have started their own labels and are signing artists to help smaller artists be heard. A problem now is that social media has began to limit their ability to share without paying to boost posts. It isn’t slowing Country Rap, though. Supporters and Artists have found ways to work around algorithms and spread the music. Mainstream music has slowly become more aware of the growth in popularity for country rap artists. Big names, like Nelly and Tim McGraw, have collaborated, trying to cash in on the growth. Jason Andean picked up Colt Ford’s and Brantley Gilbert’s music a couple times. The newest song that made huge waves in the media is Lil Nas X’s song, "Old Town Road", which featured Billy Ray Cyrus. Before the remix, big wigs in the industry didn’t want to recognize the song as a country song. With the help of Billy Ray, it gained access to country stations world wide. While the roots of country rap runs back close to 75 years and the actual name has been around for 30+ years, Country rap is still a very young and ever growing genre. It has its challenges and mountains to climb. Most can’t decide what to even classify it as. It’s still pretty common to hear people use the terms southern rap, outlaw rap, or hick hop. Others have said artists were just rappers who were from the country and not country rap artists. In actuality, Pimp C clearly defined the scene in 1999.
So, the next time you hear someone say your favorite southern rap artist isn’t country rap, tell them Pimp C said, “We make Country Rap tunes. So uh, you can separate us from the rest, like I told ya the last time.” And if anyone challenges that, just tell them to #FactCheckThis and tag Country Rap News. In the mean time, keep jamming those Country Rap tunes. - Ashley Davis