Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Country Music + Rap = Secret Soulmates Part One

To anyone who is a connoisseur of both rap and country music, the similarities of rap and country should be no surprise. Both unapologetically portray worlds that hum below the mainstream of American society (but nevertheless make the force felt): one being the largely African American and Hispanic lower to middle class and the other America's rural and largely blue collar whites. Both are flat out honest in their music, one will show you the rough, money, sex and power pursuing world of the inner city and the other will show you the same in the country.

Both communities are conservative, God fearing and honest. Due to racial, cultural and geographical differences, the two communities don't cross over much. I mentioned this to a girl I dated years back (who was black, incidentally) and she said that, as much as they hate each other, they cross over in sporting events like Oakland Raiders games or professional wrestling events.

I'm not the first to recognize this similarity. Just about every white rapper has tapped in to the cultural similarities. Kid Rock merged rap with blue collar flag waving in order to deem himself an "American Bad Ass." Everlast took up the blues and helped make Fenders and Casios friends. Brother Ali echoes Everlast's gospel style in his songs, complete with guitar use. Eminem, in his more sentimental moods, frequently samples Ozzy Osbourne, Queen and Aerosmith, stalwarts of any suburban rock station. Meanwhile, Mos Def and Pharoahe Monch have brought gospel and blues beautifully into their work and Kid Cudi has sang acoustic ballads.

Yelawolf, an up and coming Alabama rapper of mixed white and Cherokee ancestry, showed working class unity in his video "Kickin." The song is not his best work (though it is good) but shows a great panorama of skateboarders, rednecks, police, Atlanta rappers and even a guy in a sombrero with none of it being awkward:

Now that's really multiculturalism.

Let's do a little compare and contrast. Here's Lightning Hopkins sing about that tried and true scenario: you make a good home for a woman, then they up and leave.

Now let's turn around and look at Mos Def, singing about a pretty ghetto gangsta woman:

Next comes Yelawolf, once again, with his song "Break the Chain," which samples Fleetwood Mac. The chorus, "Alabama dirt road, Dixie flags fly," is sung flawlessly over synthesizers, drums and chopped up Fleetwood Mac samples in one of the best steps at connecting the worlds of country and classic rock to the, at first glance, far different world of rap.

The similarities between the two genres, from gun loving to blues over women and a general embrace of masculinity, are so strong that this "Secret Soulmates" column will have to be a regular feature of the blog. I can already think of more than a few songs and artists that would work well in the next rendezvous.

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