By Twanna F.
A taste of their own medicine. Lil Nas X is to country music what Macklemore, Vanilla Ice, Eminem, G Eazy, Justin Timberlake, Robin Thicke etc. have been to hip-hop and R&B. Only thing is country music critics have not been half as welcoming to the young Black artist as Hip Hop has been to the white artists I mentioned. As Lil Nas X climbed the Hot Country Songs chart it wasn’t long before country critics deemed his record “Old Town Road” not country enough and got the song removed.
We all know that was the politically correct way to say the song and artist performing it were not white enough to be at the top of the charts. Funny enough, although critics would like to ignore it and most country fans would rather not know, the genre’s roots are Black as hell. Before the blues, before jazz, before R&B there was country music. Instruments like the banjo and the harmonica were staples in Black music of the 1920s. The only thing stopping Black Country artists from gaining recognition and fame was the color of their skin. Because country music is marketed as a genre that promotes traditional family values record companies didn’t push Black artists to the forefront. They had no problem stealing their lyrics though. Some Black pioneers of the genre are Muddy Waters, Leadbelly, DeFord Bailey, Ray Charles and Lesley Riddle. Riddle is quite interesting in that he was a Black guitarist who worked closely with the Carter family, who happened to be the first mainstream country band. But somehow he is forgotten when country music lovers reflect on the history of the genre.
Similarly, Lil Nas X seemed to get pushed to the background by country critics as Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on the remix and got the song back on the charts. So although I’m happy Billy Ray Cyrus could help I feel it’s ridiculous that he’s getting more recognition than Lil Nas X, and even more ridiculous that he even had to help in the first place. As Black people we allow white artists, influencers and entertainers to enter Black spaces and not only remain relevant but flourish as well. An ounce of rhythm and a dash of interest in our culture and suddenly they’re invited to the cookout. All for them to deny us access into theirs. I think as a people we need to be more aware of the message that sends to them. That a seat at the table doesn’t cost much to us after all and that as long as their aggressions are passive they can exclude us.
My problem isn’t only with the “gatekeepers” of country music. As we all celebrated the success “Old Town Road” others frowned upon it. Specifically Dave East, a rapper from the East Coast, felt that the song was an example of the shift in hip hop from authentic to shallow and mediocre. So after watching his rant video I have several bones to pick with this man. For one, the song is COUNTRY. Secondly, Hip Hop has constantly evolved since its birth in the 1970s. Music will always replicate time and culture, and it’s okay! Artists can and will merge country, pop or rock with Hip Hop and if you can’t handle the changes that come with loving the art then you’ll be upset forever. Lastly, what happened to the “I’m rooting for everybody Black” energy? I’m confused as to why a grown man would ever be upset at another young king getting to the bag. Granted, Dave East did have some clarifications to make after a clip of Lil Nas X surfaced on the internet. He replied in an interview on the Zach Sang Show “I do not give a fuck about what Dave East is saying”.
Dave East responded shortly after in a live video on Instagram that he respected his success but still thought it was a really bad song. He also expressed that the internet is quick to turn on people simply because they have unpopular opinions but that he’s not one to bite his tongue. Of all his ranting this was the only thing I could agree with. Cancel culture spreads like wildfire and sometimes people get burned just for being too close. But I stand on my thoughts that Dave East was wrong in addressing Lil Nas X the way he did. He has enough up against him with the gatekeepers of country music there’s no need for Hip Hop to push him out too.
Our community needs to be a united front at all times, tearing down one another isn’t solving anything. So, I hope that with the rise of this next generation’s artists there’s nothing but support from the elders. And Lil Nas X is only the beginning honestly. Black people are coming for any and every genre, tapping into every style and influence possible. Any box that was there before we’re slowly breaking out of and I can’t wait for what the future has in store.