Since rap (used here as a synonym for hip-hop) became an art form, it has been influenced by some of the same rural life and pop culture tropes associated with country music.
Country music never existed in a vacuum either. Just as fans of jazz (Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline) and classic rock (Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt) flavored the genre’s earlier shifts, 21st-century rap-raised stars have brought elements from their years of listening trainers in Nashville. Thus, the incorporation of outside influences by Luke Bryan and other polarizing acts continues a long country tradition.
To get a sense of the overlap between two supposed opposites, consider the following 15 country-rap songs, spanning from the early days of hip-hop to the current digital age.
Our selections start in the 1980s. Alternatively, examples could date back to the earliest comedy sketches of recorded string bands or the talking blues performance of Johnny Cash.
“The Blowfly Rap”, Blowfly (1980)
For this barely safe story for the job of a showdown at a local honky tonk, Clarence “Blowfly” Reid embraced CW McCall’s talk-singing and other products of country music’s CB radio craze .
“Country Rap”, Bellamy Brothers (1986)
The Bellamy Brothers’ attempt to popularize the term country-rap comes across as heartfelt laughter with, not against, rural people beholden to the past and big-city creatives with ideas that would reshape popular culture to come.
“Wild Wild West”, Kool Moe Dee (1987)
Early rappers embraced the outlaw imagery commonly associated with country music, as heard on such pivotal tracks as Kurtis Blow’s “Way Out West” and that little crossover hit that’s best known now for having been sampled in the 1999 Will Smith song of the same title.
“Buttermilk Biscuits (Keep On Dancing Really)” Sir Mix-a-Lot (1988)
“Baby Got Back” Rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot Parodied Vocal Twang With This Bizarre 1988 Opener Swas and the similar “Square Dance Rap”. Both are examples of how country and rap have long allowed for good-natured (if not slightly obnoxious) humor on overlapping topics.
“By the Time I Get to Arizona”, Public Enemy (1991)
In a less obvious case of a rap group paying homage to country music, Public Enemy gave a nod to Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” with their removal of Arizona Governor Evan Mecham. for his 1987 cancellation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Hay”, Crucial Conflict (1996)
Country-life themes abounded in rap long before hip-hop beats signaled 21st-century changes in Nashville. For example, Crucial Conflict cleverly used farming analogies in this stoned classic.
“How Do I Get Here”, Deana Carter (1996)
The least likely piece of the country-rap puzzle holds together for a slightly subtle but very important reason.
“‘How Do I Get There’ was the first record on country radio to contain a drum loop and it’s something I just fought for, not to be the first on the radio. country, but it had to be on the album,” Deana Carter said. Looks like Nashville in 2021. “And no country record had ever had a drum loop because that’s how I feel my rhythm. I don’t feel a rhythm on the downbeat like 1 and 3, I have a rhythm funky like 2 and 4, which isn’t usually what country music is, but ironically since that record, country music has morphed into that.”
“Matching Belts”, UGK, Smitty and SONJI (1999)
As UGK (Underground Kingz), Texans Pimp C and Bun B paved the way for Big KRIT and others unashamed of their redneck roots. On “Belts to Match” and “Let Me See It,” the duo proudly call their “slang and twang” formula country-rap.
“Back on the Road”, Lil’ Black (Feat. Willie Nelson) (2000)
Seventeen years before Billy Ray Cyrus kissed Lil Nas X, Willie Nelson was spitting rhymes inspired by “On the Road Again” with Lil’ Black. It’s far more surreal than any of Nelson’s musical skirmishes with Snoop Dogg.
“Deliverance”, Bubba Sparxxx (2003)
Before the rise of so-called “bro-country”, Bubba Sparxxx bridged the gap between Southern rap and contemporary twang. For a taste of Sparxxx’s contribution to hick-hop, turn this undeniably catchy banger or the Colt Ford and Danny Boone collaboration “Country Folks.”
“Cruise (Remix)”, Florida Georgia Line (Feat. Nelly) (2012)
Florida Georgia line sweetened the historic “Cruise” track record — and embraced early 2000s nostalgia — by working with Nelly, a country rap titan who once found success as a collaborator with Tim McGraw.
“Western”, Gangstagrass (Feat. Kool Keith) (2012)
As indicated by his name, Gangstagrass mixes hip-hop and bluegrass in a way that reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, both are folk forms of expression. Here, the collective teams up with New York rap and punk outsider Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon).
“Family Doesn’t Matter”, Young Thug (Feat. Millie Go Lightly) (2017)
UGK’s spirit of acknowledging its rural roots while enjoying big-city acclaim impacted hip-hop for years to come. For example, Atlanta’s trap stars maintain a similar outlook, which influences emerging, genre-blending artists like Shaboozey.
“Old Town Road (Remix)”, Lil Nas X (Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) (2019)
There has been much speculation as to why the same genre that profited from “Cruise” avoided what has become an unfathomable streaming sensation. Beyond this vital discussion, it’s worth considering what “Old Town Road” taught an entire industry about the power of trending audio – the same social media phenomenon that brought us “Fancy Like.” and other mega-hits that blur the lines between country and rap.
“The Blooper”, Blanco Brown (2019)
Positive rhymes are impacting the country space like never before, with Blanco Brown and other artists gaining traction by proclaiming in their own voices that it’s a great day to be alive.
READ MORE: Gene Watson talks about collaborating with Willie Nelson and thinking ‘outside the box’