Who doesn’t love country music? I adore songs that tell stories of love and heartbreak and longing, and sometimes I turn to country pop when I find myself facing the relative wasteland of today’s current pop offerings. While the country and pop divide is easily breached, rap and country isn’t always as smooth. I’ve never been that big a fan of rap, but sometimes the subversive marriage of country and rap actually works and works well.
Old Town Road – Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
Old Town Road has been everywhere for the past couple of months, and for good reason. It has a catchy hook that digs its claws into your eardrums and won’t let go. The video goes all in, cheekily celebrating everything that makes country country, presenting it with the unmistakable beats of hip-hop. Witness the hats, the fringe, the sparkly denim, even that white moneybag with a dollar sign on it straight out of some B-movie about a robbery. An enjoyably campy video with Lil Nas X doing the cowboy shuffle to a different beat, Old Town Road embraces everything that screams country cowboy, including a cameo from Billy Ray Cyrus, owner of the achiest, breakiest heart on the yee-haw circuit.
Over and Over – Nelly feat. Tim McGraw
Can you name anyone who can rock a cowboy hat as well as Tim McGraw? It’s almost as if the man was born to wear one and imbue it with effortless cool.
Speaking of effortless cool, who doesn’t love Nelly at his catchiest, most earwormish best? His music video for Ride Wit Me has one of the best visuals for contemporary country you’re bound to see, but I chose Over and Over because I love the vocal stylings of McGraw layered over Nelly’s smoothly laid out hooks and the way the video explores the differences in cultures even further. Check out Nelly’s urban bachelor’s pad and Tim McGraw’s rustic country cabin/McMansion in classic split-screen goodness that heightens the juxtaposition of rap and country. This single and its video will always be one of my favourite Top 40 offerings. You wouldn’t think the marriage of rap and country would work out as smoothly as this one does, but here it works and it works quite well.
Wild Wild West – Will Smith feat. Dru Hill, Kool Moe Dee & Sisqo
Someone on Twitter reminded me of this particular Will Smith offering. It’s got the hallmarks of a high profile music video event down pat, from the elaborately choreographed dance numbers, multiple collaborative artists and the celebrity cameos liberally dropped in all over the place. While the single is pure pop-rap, the video itself is country – with a futuristic bent that toes but not quite oversteps the boundaries of steampunk – going all on in with leather vests, cowboy hats, an elaborate saloon and saucy corsets and petticoats.
It was 1999, and no one did this to intentionally be “woke.” People weren’t necessarily interested in force-feeding us political-correctness as if we’re ducks and they want foie gras, which is what it sometimes feels like these days. Wild Wild West gets points for doing it just because the concept seemed like a cool thing to explore creatively. Also, it doesn’t look like it was made in 1999 – if a person didn’t know better, it could’ve been made in the past few years.
Sadly, the actual movie (a movie that Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in The Matrix for) turned out to be a bloated, ridiculous mess. Oh well. We can’t have everything.