Though tensions surrounding perceived race have highlighted social ills in America as of late, there is some hope. There is a saying that music soothes the savage beast, and if that is true, there is a sub-genre of music that has been germinating over the past 25 years that might lubricate the friction between the perceived races. Whilst Southern whites are stereotypically categorized as fans of country music, many people view hip-hop as a distinct part of Black culture. Hick-hop is the amalgamation of these two distinct brands of American music, demonstrating that regardless of skin colour, people can work together to make beautiful art. So with this bullshit introduction now having served its purpose, I present my Fav Five hick-hop singles.
5: Devil Came Up to Michigan, by KMC KRU
Some might consider “Devil Came Up to Michigan” to be the birth of hick-hop, and in my extensive researching of the genre (which consisted of my visiting at least three sites that appeared on the first page of Google after I typed in the words “Hick-hop”), I found the KMC KRU to be the earliest example of hick-hop, and this is one that didn’t even show up on the lists I found. Released in 1990 (happy 25th birthday), the song did not find broad appeal, and KMC KRU has remained so underground that they don’t even have a Wikipedia page. This is sad, because even Emily Schulman has a Wikipedia page and all she did outside of playing the snotty daughter of a plastic surgeon on Troop Beverly Hills was play the annoying neighbour on the short-lived sitcom Small Wonder. As for the song, it samples a loop from Charlie Daniels Band’s seminal fluid hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. Instead of going down to Georgia to have a fiddle contest, Lucifer goes to Detroit to have a spin off with a DJ known as The Butcher. If The Butcher wins, he gets a turntable of gold. If he loses? The devil gets his soul! With lyrics that feature a convertible Nissan truck and a couplet that rhymes ‘city’ with ‘itty bitty bitty’, the song is utterly forgettable except for the fact that it launched a genre, and so it has secured a spot in the top five.
4: Another Love Song, by the Insane Clown Posse
“Another Love Song” is a little hard to categorize. The sample is from Beck’s “Jack-Ass”, which had itself sampled “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, by Them (the band that served as a springboard for Van Morrison’s career) and “Let a Woman Be a Woman and a Man Be a Man”, by Dyke and the Blazers. Neither song is ‘country’, but the amalgamation of the two creates a distinctly country sound, whilst ICP’s lyrics are drenched in the kind of white-trash tragedy that defines country music. The video features a classic Dodge Charger, a car any hip-hop or country lover can appreciate, and in true country fashion, the vehicle breaks down as Violent J ‘sings’/raps about his girlfriend cheating on him with his friends homies (it’s Ebonics and Spanglish for ‘friend’). Of course, rather than dropping a tear in his bear, Violent J outlines the sociopathic blueprint for his revenge, which features him cutting his girlfriend’s neck in half and lodging an ax in her father’s forehead. With the number of cowboy hats in the video, the only thing that is missing in the video is the cowboy’s dog dying. Of course, Violent J does claim responsibility for killing his girlfriend’s cat, so there is a dead pet somewhere in the song. Does that count? Lyrically, this is the stuff of Shakespeare, that is if Shakespeare had somehow transposed a white-trash version of Titus onto As You Like It and convinced him that Rosalind, Orlando and Adam were actually Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron in disguise and the stage was set in a trailer park. Run, don’t walk to your nearest Youtube outlet and see this must-watch video now! Or just scroll down a little and press play.
3: Cowboy, by Kid Rock
I’m sorry, I hate to make anybody even think of Kid Rock, let alone listen to him, but my stringent dislike for Kid Rock aside, even I have to admit that “Cowboy” is a pretty catchy tune, and it is the template of hick-hop (Detroit really seems to be over-represented in this list). The title says it all. With a faux robot voice introducing the track by repeating the words ‘cowboy’ as the squawking bluegrass guitar begins to get the rhythm started before it is backed up with some scratching turntables and samples that build a pretty decent back drop on which Kid Rock spits his white trash fantasies. Kid Rock also puts together the one line that best encapsulates the hick-hop genre, letting us know that he “ain’t straight outta Compton”, he’s “straight out tha trailer”. And somehow, amongst the boob jobs, bordellos, and scotch, Kid Rock actually manages to throw in a reference to Amadeus (though I think it’s technically a Falco reference). As far as the genre of hick-hop goes, Kid Rock is likely the king in terms of sheer volume and continued success. If you like the tawngy blue grass guitar, check out some Gangstergrass. They have a much more refined sound.
2: 100 Black Coffins, by Rick Ross
Perhaps “100 Black Coffins” is a little more Ennio Morricone meets hip-hop than it is hick-hop, but it has a distinct country vibe to it regardless. A simple but tight snare running over an instrumental track sounds like it was lifted off of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, Rick Ross is able to use this relatively modest backdrop for some potent rhymes. The thing that sets this one apart from all the other tracks on the list is its lyrical content. Where KMC KRU and ICP seem to mock country music, and Kid Rock sounds like a red neck appropriating hip-hop, Rick Ross blends the two sounds together and uses it as a platform to discuss America’s troubled history with the institution of slavery. Included on the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the lyrics are far more socially conscious than most tracks in hick-hop, and catalog the brutal abuses present in the antebellum south, whilst bringing a voice to the kind of vengeance it inspired. Listening to the song is like what one might imagine listening to Nat Turner would sound like if he spoke from a contemporary perspective (though Turner was quite articulate in his own right according to the lawyer who spoke to him before his lynching). Other songs have tried to bring social awareness to the hick-hop genre, such as Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”, but that track would be more aptly titled “Racist Apologist Who Thinks Ignorance Is An Excuse to Wear the Confederate Flag, Not Realizing That It’s Pretty Much the Same As a Swastika”. Obviously, not all hick-hop is created equal.
1: Ghetto Suprstar, by Pras (featuring Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard)
It was the fall of 1998. Mya and Ol’ Dirty Bastard were still alive, the Fugees were on hiatus, and Pras, who had been listening to Kenny Roger’s “Greatest Hits Volume Three”, came across a track that he knew needed a hip-hop make-over: “Islands In the Stream”, by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. I’m not sure what it was about the lounge-room keyboard, kitsch love ballad lyrics, and Kenny Rogers vocals that shouted out “hip-hop” to Pras, but there was something, and so, “Islands In the Stream” became “Ghetto Superstar”. With Mya managing to somehow improve on Dolly Parton’s delivery of the contagious melody in the chorus of the original, a methodically crisp bass and drum laid down in the back ground, and some tight rhymes getting spit out by both Pras and ODB, this song quickly became the template of what was to be expected from the hick-hip genre and its excellence has not been matched since. Pras’s former fellow Fugee was so envious of the track (which he helped to co-write) that he brought Kenny Rogers in on his next album, but made a far less effective offering to the genre with “Kenny Rogers – Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate“. It’s okay Wyclef, “Gone Till November” has redeemed any and all future mistakes you make in the recording studio.
Everlast’s cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” is certainly worth checking out, and there is not hick-hop artist who is more passionate about the genre than Cowboy Troy. Though I’ve never really taken to his music, you might want to check it out. I would have liked to include Kanye West’s “Bound 2”, which includes a short sample of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s”, but it is only a sample of her vocals and doesn’t really get in any kind of country-music instrumentation, and nor does it have any lyrical content that links it with country music. Even if you are a fan of hick-hop, avoid Buck 22’s “Achy Breaky 2”. Mixing UFO’s, Larry King, hip-hop, and awful line-dancing music from the early 90’s written by Miley Cyrus’s father is NOT a winning combination. But if you have an affinity to train wrecks, I’ve include the video below. You have been warned.
If you enjoyed this post and would like updates on my latest ramblings, be sure to follow my on Twitter @JasonJohnHorn. And if you think I’ve left any tracks off the list that should be represented, be sure to mention them in the comments below.