I’ve been to two concerts at the Wachovia Center recently. Similarities between the two were everywhere. At both, devoted fans surrounded me, wearing T-shirts of the artist they came to see as they sang the songs they came to hear. Yet, there is a credible chance that I was the only person who attended both.
It was just two weeks ago that I saw country music legend George Strait. Last October I saw hip-hop mogul Jay-Z.
There may not be much overlap in their fan bases, but as I sang Strait’s classic “Check Yes or No” with 17,000 cowboy hat-adorned fans, I found nothing but similarities between them and the hip-hop enthusiasts of a few months before.
More than other types of music, people are rarely indifferent toward country and hip-hop. It seems everyone is either turning up their stereo’s volume or throwing their CDs out the window.
If country music is mentioned in our Northeast corner and many urban centers, the response is rarely short of vulgar disgust. Likewise, in our country’s rural sector and to many others, hip-hop is often thought to be attached to crime, if it’s considered music at all. In fact, Black Pentecostal G. Craige Lewis has gained fame for traveling the world preaching that hip-hop is a tool of the devil.
A lot of that distaste comes from the stereotypes that surround both genres. ‘Country is for white trash hillbillies. Hip-hop is for gun-toting blacks. Those racial corridors do hold strong, but both have had intruders to their racial norms. Country has small-time artist Cowboy Troy and his self-described “hick hop.” Hip-hop has had a number of small-time white artists like Paul Wall and Bubba Sparxx before him.
Of course, hip-hop was shaken when a white rapper from Detroit went quadruple-platinum with his debut album in 1999. While country lacks a huge black star, Eminem has done with hip-hop what many country stars have done: traded some tradition for commercial achievement.
How Eminem and 50 Cent include mainstream radio-friendly songs, likewise, many country stars, like Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney, have been doing the same for years.
Artists themselves are toeing the hip-hop/country divide. Kid Rock broke into the music industry at 18 when hip-hop artist Ice Cube offered him a tour deal in 1989. Yet, in recent years, he has performed with old-time country legends such as Willie Nelson and Hank Williams Jr.
The music video for the country band Hot Apple Pie’s 2005 hit “Hillbillies” follows the video for Snoop Dogg’s 2004 chart-topper “Drop it like it’s Hot.”
Both genres have had huge stars form romantic unions. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are married and, of course, Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles are the first couple of hip-hop.
Perhaps what unites the two genres more than anything is their themes and audiences. Both provide a source of pride for populations that sometimes have little other reason for pride, the poor and struggling of urban and rural America. Almost every country and hip-hop artist has a tale of hard times and misery before rising to stardom.
Alan Jackson was one of seven children supported by an automobile mechanic in small town Newnan, Georgia, before becoming one of country’s best-selling artists of the 1990s.
Rapper Beanie Sigel grew up poor and surrounded with violence in South Philadelphia. Of late, Sigel has helped direct two movies, begin a clothing line, and is one of the most respected rappers in the hip-hop world.
It was two concerts, two genres, two crowds. To many, country and hip-hop are worlds away. To me, the sounds may be different, but the roots and the reasons are anything but. These two genres mean so much to so many. Unfortunately, for most, the Wachovia Center may be the only thing uniting legends like George Strait and Jay-Z and the music they define.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.