You may have heard the story about a hitherto unknown rapper named Lil Nas X and his song “Old Town Road” which has greatly confused the world of country music. He recorded the song hoping that it would be enough of a success so that the 20-year-old wouldn’t have to go back to school. Mission accomplished, thanks to the controversy it created when Billboard removed the song from the country music charts for “not being country enough.”
The first 30 seconds or so sound pretty country. But then things change up and…
Last week, this was the most-streamed song in Canada with more than 11 million listens. As I write this, the original video has been seen over 50 million times while the Billy Ray Cyrus remix has something north of 63 million views.
Yet the song continues to rankle country purists who believe that “real” country music is a reflection of the white rural experience. But regardless of the position of those purists, country-rap–or “hick-hop” as it’s known in some circles–continues to infiltrate country music.
The New York Times has this list of 29 essential hick-hop tracks from over the last 35 years.
Country music and hip-hop have long vacillated between looking to each other for inspiration and staring at each other warily. Here are 29 examples that run the gamut: Billboard chart-toppers and anthems from insular microscenes; shiny, opportunistic pop collaborations and mud-soaked obscurities; novelty records and sincere simpatico style unions. Each one, in its own way, shifted the idea of what country-rap comity could sound like.
Sir Mix-A-Lot, ‘Square Dance Rap’ (1985)
From “I Just Love My Beat” 12” single
One of the most bizarre conceptual collisions of hip-hop and country was “Square Dance Rap,” a latter-day electro-rap number by Seattle’s Sir Mix-A-Lot, long before “Baby Got Back.” In both versions of the song — the original, and a reworked one on his 1988 debut album, “Swass” — he adopts the rapping voice of a white country boy, and then addresses himself repeatedly as “cotton picker,” an unerringly odd and discomfiting choice.