I was asked today how I could include both hip hop/rap songs and country western music in my Hot Half Dozen weekly recommendations and the playlist on my radio show. The person who asked – a radio audience member – said they are diametrically opposite and are not in the same universe. Another emailer suggested that my political orientation was not that of a country music fan, so how could I enjoy it and feature it on the air and in print?
Her question and his comment made me think because I have always liked country and hip hop/rap. My only criteria is that the songs are good. And p0litics has nothing to do with it (if it did, “YMCA” would not be a staple at Republican political rallies).
To me, country and hip hop/rap are two sides of a music coin.
They are both homegrown American music forms. They are both short form storytelling that can condense a day or a lifetime into 4 minutes. And they both tell everyday stories from everyday people.
True, their stories come from two different points of view and two different places (or more) but they are about life… and motor vehicles and guns, and booze and love and loss.
One is about lowrider 64 Chevys bouncin’ in the big city hood and the other is about Ford pickups bouncing on backroads in small town America. In one, you need to carry a gun to walk to school safely in the other you need to carry a gun to walk into the bar safely.
In one, you are knocking back long necks and the other you are knocking back Armand de Brignac.
Regardless of what the singers are driving or drinking, in both genres it the story that is important. Consider “Folsom Blues”by Johnny Cash. It starts with a warning from mom not play with guns, but he does anyway and kills a man and now is sitting in a cell thinking about the free people on the trains going by. It has a beginning, middle, end like any good story and a lesson is learned.
Or take “Pocket Full of Stones” by Pimp C that starts with Bun and Pimp selling crack (“stones”) on the street corner so well that they build a big drug organization. But Bun kills a police officer, serves his time and ends up back on the street where he started, poorer but wiser. Beginning, middle, and end, with a lesson learned.
The settings are different and the stories are different, but the lessons are the same – don’t use guns and don’t kill people or your life will be destroyed.
Take positive message rap and hip hop songs like 2Pac’s “Dear Mama”, Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation”, or Kayne West’s “Homecoming” and intersperse them with Carrie Underwood’s “All American Girl”, or “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, and “You’re Gonna Miss This” by Tracie Adkins. They fit. And you will feel really good as you listen to them.
Both genres come from the street, from the hearts and lives of real everyday Americans. They are different Americans and they live on different streets, and yes, they probably vote differently. But that doesn’t mean we can’t listen to them both and enjoy the talent and the music and stories, and absorb the lessons.
And it also doesn’t mean they can’t blend.
Actually they have blended, i.e. Kid Rock’s songs, or “My Truck” by Breland, or Tracy’s “Like a Farmer”. One of my favorite examples of blending rap with other forms of music is Nancy Sanchez’s rap/pop combination “La Gran Civilization”, a collaboration with the rapper Olmeca. Sanchez is a jazz/pop singer with roots in mariachi. Olemca is a hard core, activist rapper. And their collaboration extolling Mexican culture by blending his rap with her pop has won awards on both sides of the Atlantic.
But Sanchez’s song is not a combination of country and rap where there is a culture and values clash, you say?
Maybe not. Listen close to rap and country today. When I listened to Florida-Georgia Lines latest release “Life Rolls On” I could not help but notice that at the end of this pickup truck song the duo points out it’s an all-electric truck — which is permission to hip hop-loving liberals to cheer and tap their feet to it. Put FGL together with Olmeca and see what happens, or even better, how about putting Dolly Parton together with Megan Thee Stallion or Cardi-B. Now that would bring the two sides of the coin together.
Dolly, Cardi, Megan – hope you are listening.
Patrick O’Heffernan, Host, Music Sin Fronteras radio
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