Lil Rap Column: Can't Say He Ain't Country | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Lil Rap Column: Can’t Say He Ain’t Country

The Rise and Fall of Country Star Lil Nas X

Apr 02, 2019 By Conrad Duncan Web Exclusive
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Hip-hop is the biggest genre in the world right now, whether you like it or not. And that status attracts more than its fair share of visionaries, chancers, and idiot savants trying their hand at fame.

This "Lil Rap Column" hopes to make sense of that noisedissecting the trends that are shaping rap music and hopefully sharing some great songs in the process. Here is our inaugural column.


It has sometimes been hard to tell if country-rap is a real thing or simply an A&R-fuelled fantasy. Although country and rap are two of the most profitable genres in America, their audiences have remained largely separate and the opportunity of combining the two is a tantalizing prospect for the industry. But while the rise of music streaming has brought a sledgehammer to traditional genre categories, attempts to force country and rap together have mostly felt like cynical moneymaking opportunity.

That's why Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" may prove to be a game-changer, as a rare country-rap hit that has blown up organically. On paper, Lil Nas X is a typical 2019 success story. "Old Town Road" blew up as a meme on the video app TikTok and like many other viral Internet hits, it's an extraordinarily catchy mix of emo angst (sampling Nine Inch Nails no less) and trap beats which is designed to be looped infinitely. But it's also a country song at face value, built around a melancholy guitar loop and lyrics about riding horses, driving tractors, and wearing cowboy hats (albeit ones from Gucci).

Until very recently, "Old Town Road" was just about the only thing uniting America, landing on the Billboard Hot 100, R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and Country Songs charts. That was before Billboard ruled in favor of country traditionalists that the song was actually not a country song because it did not "embrace enough elements of today's country music." Lil Nas X understandably objected, denying claims that the song is a parody of the genre.

Of course, Billboard isn't necessarily wrong to argue "Old Town Road" shouldn't count as a country song, despite its YeeHaw-y elements. But the decision is problematic when a song like Florida Georgia Line & Bebe Rexha's 'Meant To Be' (essentially an EDM record with trap drums) is allowed to become a huge country hit. Although Billboard has insisted Lil Nas X's race had nothing to do with the call, his past work as a rapper appears to have disqualified him at least. The message is a clear double standard for hip-hop artists who want to crossover. Country artists can liberally borrow from hip-hop to stay relevant, but rap artists shouldn't expect any support if they want to try it the other way.

As for hip-hop, "Old Town Road" demonstrates how the genre's traditional features have been rewritten. Lil Nas X's hit is immediately recognizable as a rap song, despite it containing as much singing as rapping. Similarly, many of rap's new guard cite bands like Blink 182 and Nirvana as influences, alongside their predecessors in the genre. Recent Juice WRLD songs like 'Fast' and 'Ring Ring' have an equal claim to pop-punk as they do to hip-hop. In a genre that encourages artists to follow trends and make smart business moves to get noticed, it's unsurprising Lil Nas X decided to jump on the cowboy trend that's sweeping through pop culture. If there was a trend for Mexican culture going round, you would probably see a young rapper blowing up with a mariachi band.

The debate over what genre "Old Town Road" fits is also somewhat unnecessary. Fans of Lil Nas X and Juice WRLD have learned to pay little attention to genre and seem largely uninterested in it as a concept. The way young people listen to music increasingly argues that a hit is a hit, no matter how you get there. That philosophy is undoubtedly much healthier for music than the strict genre barriers of old and it also suggests that it would be unwise to dismiss "Old Town Road" as a one-off novelty. With the pace at which hip-hop is moving forward, chances are there will be many more Lil Nas Xs than straightforward rappers in the future.

On DaBaby's Baby on Baby

In less groundbreaking news, DaBaby continues to be a breath of fresh air in hip-hop. His Baby on Baby album follows a tried and tested formulagood beats and funny verses delivered by a charismatic frontmanwith the added bonus of some of the year's most entertaining videos.

"Goin Baby" is a fine addition to his catalogue, documenting DaBaby as he celebrates life on a private jet with toy babies and in the streets with giant inflatable ones. It's as unapologetically goofy as it sounds but also incredibly charming.

Sure, you can argue that DaBaby isn't a particularly skilled rapper and that his work ultimately amounts to nothing more than dumb fun. But as dumb fun goes, it's some of the finest around right now.

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April 10th 2019

I mean technically he’s a rapper but that was a country beat so I think it should count. Versatility!

April 17th 2019

Nowadays genres are all blending anyway so let the young guy have some fun. Who are we to box him in?

April 17th 2019

Rap is just as big as country music anyways!

May 4th 2019

The best MC

May 4th 2019

Hot stuff

May 12th 2019

This is hot