Country rap could be called a maligned genre — that is, if it even constitutes a genre at all.
Collaborations between Nashville stars and rap and R&B artists are trending after Lil Nas X’s unlikely hit “Old Town Road” topped the Billboard Hot 100 last week.
Prior to hitting No. 1, the song gained traction when Billboard made the controversial choice to exclude “Old Town Road” from the country charts, even after Nashville legend Billy Ray Cyrus jumped on a remix of the song. And revisiting the two decades of country-rap that came before it reveals a style of music that’s wholly unique, showing that the two genres’ artists and cultures have much more in common than the stereotypes surrounding both country and rap/R&B may suggest.
Read on for 20 instances where rap and R&B met country, from rappers connecting to their Southern roots to country and hip-hop stars teaming up on remixes.
“Ghetto Cowboy,” Mo Thugs Family and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (1998)
Technically released just over 20 years ago, “Ghetto Cowboy” deserves inclusion by firmly falling within the category of country-rap, with the track’s harmonica working as the star of the show.
“Belts to Match,” UGK (1999)
Hailing from Port Arthur, Texas, the legendary hip hop duo has maintained from the start that their music belongs to both genres, with Pimp C rapping in the song’s last few lines, “Down here we ain’t makin’ hip hop songs, know what I’m sayin / We makin’ country rap tunes, so separate us from the rest.”
“Wild Wild West,” Will Smith, Dru Hill, and Kool Moe Dee (1999)
No list of influential country-rap moments would be complete without the musical and stylistic achievement that is Will Smith’s remake of Kool Moe Dee’s “Wild Wild West,” which was also the theme song of the Smith-starring movie of the same name.
“Po’ Folks,” Nappy Roots and Anthony Hamilton (2002)
Kentucky natives Nappy Roots straddled several genres with the twangy soul on their “Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz” debut album with country and rap both decidedly in the mix.
“Deliverance,” Bubba Sparxxx (2003)
While many listeners know Bubba Sparxxx as the one-hit-wonder rapper responsible for 2005’s “Ms. New Booty,” Sparxxx — the stage name of Georgia native Warren Anderson Mathis — is seen among some fans as one of the 2000s’ most influential country-rap pioneers. His 2003 album “Deliverance” wasn’t commercially successful, but he helped inspire a generation of “hick-hop” rappers who came after him.
“Country Folks,” Bubba Sparxxx feat. Colt Ford and Danny Boone (2003)
“Country Folks” paired up Sparxxx with Colt Ford, one of his contemporaries whose song “Dirt Road Anthem” was eventually covered by Jason Aldean, who turned it into a No. 1 country hit. Ludacris later joined Aldean on a remix of “Dirt Road Anthem,” resurrecting the song’s original country-rap profile.
“Over and Over,” Nelly and Tim McGraw (2004)
Up until “Old Town Road,” this top 10 hit was the song that many mainstream listeners associated with the country-rap phenomenon. Bringing Nelly and Tim McGraw together, the song was lampooned at the time of its release, yet stands up as a solid single more than a decade later.
“Quit Hatin’ the South,” UGK feat. Charlie Wilson and Willie D (2007)
Since the Billboard controversy, Lil Nas X has been vocal online about the idea that “Old Town Road” isn’t country enough. Over a decade earlier, UGK vocalized the same complaints on “Quin Hatin’ the South,” with Pimp C pushing back against the idea that the group’s music was too Southern in the track’s spoken-word intro: “So since y’all (expletives) keep sayin we ain’t real hip-hop down here / We don’t wanna be down with you (expletives) / So y’all stay up there with that (expletive), this country rap tunes’ down here.”
“Irreplaceable,” Sugarland and Beyonce (Live) (2007)
Beyonce’s 2006 hit had country inspirations from the start, with Ne-Yo, the R&B singer who originally penned the song, claiming in a 2007 interview that he was “thinking about Shania Twain and Faith Hill when I wrote that song,” and had ideas of “making an R&B country-western song.”
Beyonce’s recorded version of “Irreplaceable,” beyond a vaguely-twangy guitar riff, leans more towards the R&B side of things, but the song established some additional country credibility when Bey performed it with Sugarland at the 2007 American Music Awards.
“Country (Expletive),” Big K.R.I.T. feat. Bun B and Ludacris (2010)
There’s not much country-sounding about “Country (Expletive),” from the Mississippi native Big K.R.I.T., aside from the lyrics praising the three rappers’ shared heritage of “third coast muddy water,” “candied yams and collard greens” and other examples.
“Stuck On You,” Lionel Richie and Darius Rucker (2011)
Lionel Richie invited country music into his brand of pop-R&B with his 2011 album “Tuskegee,” which featured collaborations with Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Shania Twain, Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney and a handful of other big Nashville names.
“Back,” Colt Ford feat. Jake Owen (2012)
Two artists more firmly in the country realm, Colt Ford handles the drawling rapped verses on “Back” while Owen sings the nostalgic chorus.
“Cruise,” Nelly and Florida Georgia Line (2013)
Nelly struck gold again by hopping on a remix version of Florida Georgia Line’s top 10 hit “Cruise,” driving the song back into the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 and leading it to a then-record-breaking 24 weeks on top of the Hot Country Songs chart.
“Dirt Road Anthem,” Jason Aldean feat. Ludacris (2011)
Ludacris, born in Illinois but long associated with Atlanta, was seemingly always game to celebrate his roots, contributing verses to a remix of Aldean’s country hit.
“Superman,” Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson (2011)
Two musical titans from different genres, Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson had previously been united by their shared love of herbal medicinals. In 2011, they teamed up on music together, recording the collaboration “Superman.”
“Burning Bridges,” Ludacris feat. Jason Aldean (2015)
Several years after Ludacris’ guest appearance on Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” the country star returned the favor, adding some twang to Luda’s “Burning Bridges” track.
“Daddy Lessons,” Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks (2016)
“Daddy Lessons,” with is accompanying cowboy imagery from its music video, was a cause for celebration within the Beyhive for being Beyonce’s most country song to date. Then, the Dixie Chicks joined Beyonce onstage to perform the song together at the 2016 CMA Awards, a momentous collaboration that resulted in a new recorded version of the track.
“Family Don’t Matter,” Young Thug and Millie Go Lightly (2017)
Rapper Young Thug has always flirted with country-inspired sounds and imagery, and the twangy trap beats of “Family Don’t Matter” are his most explicit foray into the genre.
“Like a Farmer Remix,” Tracy & Lil Uzi Vert (2018)
Upon its original release in 2018, the internet largely embraced “Like a Farmer” as a novelty track from the relatively-unknown rapper Tracy, inspiring several weeks of memes before Lil Uzi Vert legitimatized the song with a remix.
“Old Town Road (Remix),” Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus (2019)
Finally, the song that took trap-country to No. 1 on the Billboard charts: “Old Town Road,” which was released in December 2018 and took hold on the video sharing app TikTok before becoming a bonafide hit with a Billy Ray Cyrus co-sign.
Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2019/04/16/love-old-town-road-20-best-country-rap-songs-past-20-years/3446599002/