We have known since the ‘00s that the country/hip-hop musical hybrid was a failed experiment, yet for some reason, it keeps being executed tastelessly.
Kid Rock, Martina McBride and T.I. did it in 2010 with “Care.” Carrie Underwood and Ludacris did it last year with “The Champion.”
Brad Paisley and LL Cool J did it in 2013 with “Accidental Racist,” and the result was as pleasant as rubbing sandpaper on your tongue.
Nashville is littered with what should serve as cautionary tales to anyone trying to take left turns in a genre that historically adheres to tradition, but one could use the continual release of country-rap hybrids as an example of the “definition of insanity.” So why do they keep doing it?
See, industry bigwigs in Nashville want to make money, but they also want country music to maintain longevity and ubiquity. So the genre has to evolve, and it has to venture beyond the secured demographics in broadening its appeal. Otherwise, you just have artists sounding exactly like George Strait, and along with them, a music market that will only dwindle in the long run.
The intentions behind these country-rap hybrids are good, but have you noticed that most of the country-rap in the ‘00s has not aged well at all? It just made country music look like George Costanza from Seinfeld in that episode where he desperately tries to find black friends. Everything about it was tacky, and today, anyone who has ever taken a crack at it just looks bad for having done it.
Kane Brown is the exception to this rule, as he uses this same hybrid in “Learning,” but does it tastefully. You get a refreshing whiff of authenticity from the song as he extracts a wholesome lesson in recounting his life experiences which, as he will tell you, would make the best of us feel justifiably embittered.
Born in 1993, Brown was raised by a single mother in rural Georgia, and throughout his childhood, moved between schools frequently as his family would occasionally be homeless. His father has been incarcerated since 1996 but has kept in touch with his son as he encountered enormous success.
When Brown was 7 years old, his then-stepfather was also incarcerated after physically abusing him. As Brown came of age, he encountered racism and even recalled on stage a time when two middle schoolers called him the n-word and started a fight. This resulted in him hiding in a forest long enough for his mother to think he ran away.
As Brown recalls these experiences, whether through song or stage banter, part of him has a big chip on his shoulder — and why wouldn’t he? Nonetheless, he maintains a positive outlook on life, and even as he played to a crowd of over 8,000 adoring fans at the Allen Event Center last night, he remained humble and grounded, and did not forget for a second where he came from.
After Brown kicked off his set with “Baby Come Back To Me,” “Weekend” and “What Ifs,” he took a moment to express gratitude to the audience in saying, “Thank you for making my dreams come true.” As he briefly reflected on his swift, unlikely rise to stardom, he dove straight into “Used To Love You Sober,” the song that went viral on Facebook and started it all.
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The vibe oscillated between introspective and fun. He channeled the former in telling of his upbringing, showing on the stage’s LED screen a video montage of service members making short PSAs and singing about school shootings and police brutality in “American Bad Dream.” He channeled the latter in encouraging people to drink gratuitously as he tried to evoke the spirit of karaoke in a medley consisting of All-American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell,” Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” and Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls.”
Brown’s music is saccharine and polished, but that’s to be expected. He made a name for himself in the more commercial-friendly circuit of country music, and these days, you don’t get there by sounding like Townes Van Zandt. Moreover, he came into the limelight with a style that combines country with pop and R&B music, and in order for such a fusion of styles to make sense, one has to draw from a pop-friendly musical palette.
Musical qualities aside, what makes Brown truly special in the pop-country landscape is the fact that he actually has a story to tell, and that he is not stroking his own vanity. What’s even more a marvel is the fact that he sang about police brutality to a crowd that overwhelmingly “backs the blue” and people didn’t protest (either because they weren’t paying attention to the lyrics, or because telling an artist playing to a packed arena to “stick to music and don’t get into politics” would be laughably futile.)
Most impressive is the fact that he brought 8,000 people to Allen on a Thursday night despite a series of circumstances in life that would impede anybody else aspiring for the same level of success. People like Brown are truly an anomaly, for reasons pertaining to his upbringing, but more specifically because he actually took the country/hip-hop hybrid and made it authentic, a quality which no collaboration with Nelly could ever replicate.