Friday, June 3, 2011

Mix Me A New One, Bartender: Country Rap

Q: What do you get when you cross over? 

A: A Cowboy with a Devil's Haircut Sittin' at a Bar 
singing a Dirt Road Anthem.

When it comes to the mixing of musical genres, The Inky Jukebox is often a bit skeptical of the results. In recent years there have been some well-known attempts to blend country music with rap.

Kid Rock, for instance, is the embodiment of such an unlikely marriage, a creature embraced by both worlds with the personality and cajones to pull it off. “Cowboy” is clearly the most successful example of a seamless blending of these two genres because like a good mixologist, he pours the fundamentals of both to form a whole new drink. He brings the pace and delivery of rap with the melodic rhythms of a good Southern Rock together, and neither bows to the other.

But there was a much earlier Kid Rock, by the name of Beck. Bear in mind this was 1996, and give “Devil’s Haircut” a new listen to hear how laid back and country his underlying melody is. He’s kitted-out in western-wear, which mollifies the hipster-douchebag vibe somewhat. (Compare it to Billy Currington’s video for “Don’t” – seriously.)

Tim McGraw and Nelly collaborated on “Over and Over” in 2004 with less convincing results. It appears as though McGraw is merely providing backing vocals for a soft R & B song, which misses the point for both artists. It also provides a dilemma for marketing: which pigeonhole can you slot this into? It’s not a bad song — it is pleasant to hear, but it’s sleepy and forgettable.

The convoluted history of Rehab’sBartender Song” makes for a nice Nashville ending, and shows how hip-hop and country can drink together in harmony. Originally called “Sittin’ At A Bar,” the title was changed to circumvent an unauthorized reissue by their former label once it became popular. Bringing Hank Williams Jr. in for a duet really upped the ante and gave it a whole new audience. You know things are going to go well when Bocephus walks in the door. Again, this works because the music is consistent and melodic throughout. It helps that Danny Alexander’s voice matches Hank Jr’s so well. (The Inky Jukebox LOVES this song.)

The latest rap / country performance does something different again: it takes a country singer who raps out verses for a hard-core edge. But if you ever wondered how on earth Jason Aldean ended up rapping his “Dirt Road Anthem” of all things, it’s because of the song’s interesting genesis. Originally written by “Country Rapper” Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert, and recorded separately by both. Colt Ford’s version has Gilbert’s vocal on the chorus.

It’s a more laid-back version than Aldean’s, and if you’re used to that one it will be a revelation to hear how the floating vocal overlay enhances this duet. It reminds The Inky Jukebox of rapper-turned-country-boy Uncle Kracker, cruising along in a convertible. Compare it to Aldean’s angrier, bitier, higher-wattage version.

Evidently, Aldean’s cover of this song has ruffled a lot of feathers, especially among those who think that either he shouldn’t be rapping, or that he’s not giving credit to the song’s originators. To quiet them down, Brantley Gilbert offers this reassurance to his fans. It’s not the first time Gilbert and Aldean have come together for a hit: the title track off Aldean’s album “My Kinda Party” was written and recorded by Gilbert first.

Check it outThe Inky Jukebox likes it a lot (especially the guitar licks) and it bodes very well for Gilbert’s burgeoning career now that he’s signed to The Valory Music Co.

Colt Ford’s rap remix of Montgomery Gentry’s “Roll With Me” is one example of where trying to squeeze two genres together doesn’t work. Essentially, all he’s done is added rap and speeded things up, and for anyone who knows the original, it can’t be a satisfying outcome given that it was sublime to begin with.

Speaking of strange mash-ups, we’ll end by asking you to try this other iconic 80's hit on for size: shockingly, it ain’t as bad as you think it will be. Enjoy, y'all.


  1. I think you're miscategorizing Beck's folk influence as country, or at least overstating his "country-ness."

    As for Odelay, check out the beautiful spanish version of "Jackass" (which was pretty damn good to begin with) he recorded:

    Add mariachis to any song and you've improved it a thousandfold.

  2. Thanks for the tip on "Jackass." Now you have The Inky Jukebox thinking about a mariachi post....


Comments welcome, y'all