The hubbub this week regarding Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s controversial duet “Accidental Racist” has, among other things, given a sign that the world might still not be ready yet for a full-blown country/hip-hop crossover. While rap has been above an attempted crossover, no matter how poorly conceived The Disco Four’s 1982 single “Country Rock and Rap” and most memorably in Bone Thugz’s “Ghetto Cowboy”) the unfortunate history of the full blown rap-country collisions has yet to set the world on fire. That in mind, here is our brief history of when rap and country meet.
Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines: “Right Now” by purplenippleac
Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines, “Right Now” (1999)
In the late-90s at the absolute apex of the music industry, seemingly every idea got funded regardless how bizarre it was. When country superstar Garth Brooks wanted to do a cross-genre album as alter-ego Chris Gaines, the industry let him. While the album’s most known for its commercial and critical shortcomings, it also contains Brooks’s oft-overlooked foray into rapping for one of the album’s singles. Considering the cost of not only making the song but shutting down Times Square to shoot the video, it’s one of music’s most expensive pieces of obscurity.
Wyclef Jean, Kenny Rogers and Pharoahe Monch, “Dub Plate” (2001)
Wyclef Jean’s genre-bending 1997 album The Carnival was rightfully heralded for how many different sounds it brought to the table and successfully meshed into radio gold. For his double-disc follow up, The Eclefic: 2 Sides II a Book, Jean took things a little too far by inviting Kenny Rogers and Pharoahe Monch to meet halfway for an uncomfortable reworking of their hits “The Gambler” and “Simon Says.” The awkward result is a song that should never be heard more than one time (one time).
Nelly and Tim McGraw, 2004
“Over and Over”
Looking back on the early 2000s, Nelly had a pretty long reign as one of the biggest names in hip-hop. With his first two albums selling a combined 17 million copies, it seems the only way Nelly could have increased his audience would be to reach out across genre lines. Thus, his third album featured this duet with Tim McGraw “Over and Over.” Nelly’s sing-songy flow blended well enough with McGraw’s voice to see the track go to No. 1 in five countries, as well as spawn a Swishahouse chopped and screwed version that’s become a cult classic. But lord God is it bad.
Cowboy Troy, “Chicken with the Train” (2005)
Country music superstars Big & Rich had tremendous pop-crossover success in the mid-2000s with “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” so they decided to swing for the fences once again by taking “hick-hop” rapper Cowboy Troy under their wing for an album of rapping over hard-edged country music. His debut, Loco-Motive, went to No. 2 on the country charts. Troy’s still performing today and, even though he appeared at the 2008 Republican convention, still shows his hip-hop side on songs like “Cash in the Cookie Jar (and Money in the Biz-ank).”
Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson, “My Medicine” (2008)
Arguably the most successful of these collaborations has been the unique relationship between Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg. Bonded by a mutual love of
young adult fiction marijuana, they’ve benefitted from finding a common ground and working from there. While they’ve recorded a few songs together, including performing “Superman” on The Late Show with David Letterman, their best outing was probably 2008’s “My Medicine.” With Everlast on guitar (!), he finds the perfect medium between Nelson and Snoop’s sounds, resulting in the best sounding hybrid thus far. Which isn’t saying much.