Album Review- Shaboozey’s “Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going”

In 2024, it was supposed to be Beyoncé’s “country” album Cowboy Carter setting the pace for country music, redefining the genre and reclaiming it for Black America, while also cementing her legacy as the queen of all of music. Beyoncé’s single “Texas Hold ‘Em” or a subsequent track was also supposed to contend for 2024’s “song of the summer.” But at the present, the 27-track album has so catastrophically failed, it fell to #50 last week, despite it being the most lauded release in music by the press in 2024.

Meanwhile, it’s not Beyoncé, but Shaboozey who has seeded the song of the summer with “A Song Bar (Tipsy),” (read review) and released the album that has shown the resonance and stickiness Cowboy Carter failed to. Though none of us should fool ourselves into believing this is a “country” album any more than Cowboy Carter is, it’s an album that shows curious depth on a few tracks, deserves greater consideration than just the latest interloping episode from a pop/hip-hop performer, and happens to be a hair more country than Cowboy Carter too.

Much of the success of Shaboozey is being attributed to Beyoncé because he appeared on Cowboy Carter first, and because … well … everything must be attributed to the genius of Queen Bey. But in truth it’s “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” that is leading the charge as the #1 song in all of music, while its the Zach Bryan influence on the song that’s predicating much of its success. In fact, Shaboozey may have released Zach Bryan’s biggest hit in 2024 since Bryan’s latest The Great American Bar Scene is rather hit bereft.

But pushing all the tangents and qualifiers aside, Shaboozey’s Where I’ve Been Isn’t Where I’m Going doesn’t unfold exactly how you would expect. There are some outright terrible tracks for sure, along with tracks not even Shaboozey would try to argue are “country.” But there are also some tracks that show a depth that is surprising. Similar to “A Bar Song (Tipsy),” it’s not just this album’s ability to appeal to a wide audience, it’s how it avoids being polarizing to other audiences that gives it strength, unlike the legacy of things like Bro-Country, Walker Hayes songs, etc.

Let’s not oversell the value of this album, or its authenticity as “country” though. The album has six (yes, six) producers, while “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” has six songwriters alone. This underscores how everything here is done by committee. Shaboozey is presenting it as a country album and Billboard is charting it as one, so you can only judge it as a country release. Since this is the case, the album scores very poorly from a host of concerns, including its use of drum machine tracks, and at times, such heavy-handed doses of Auto-Tune that it becomes overbearing on the rest of the music.

The ultimate problem is that Shaboozey’s understanding of country music is very perfunctory and surface level. As pointed out through a video of Shaboozey breaking down his song “A Bar Song (Tipsy),” the guy doesn’t even understand the most elemental aspects of country. He says at one point, “You can’t have bluegrass without 12-string guitar,” which anyone in bluegrass will tell you is a patently ludicrous statement.

Even more troubling, Shaboozey says in the opening song “Horses & Hellcats,” “Lookin’ for me, I be out in Tennessee. I don’t stay the night, grab the cash and leave.” In other words, he’s not committing to country music. He’s looking to exploit the popularity of the genre for money, and then like a fly-by-night contractor, skedaddle. At least, that what he says in this track.

Nonetheless, you can’t help but be surprised to hear a song like “East of the Massanutten,” where Shaboozey blows right past stereotypical mainstream popular country, and goes right to singer/songwriter Americana. Massanutten is an area west of Woodbridge, Virginia (a suburb of Washington D.C.) where Shaboozey grew up. You’re almost taken aback by how good the song is. It’s also one of the least streamed songs on the album, and isn’t being playlisted like the other selections.

“Highway,” “Let It Burn,” and “My Fault (feat. Noah Cyrus)” aren’t as good as “East of the Massanutten,” but are getting significantly more attention as fairly well-written and highly produced versions of electronic-laden folk pop. Once again, it’s often the Auto-Tune on Shaboozey’s vocals that sticks out and get in the way of any organic feel for these tracks, even as other tracks don’t feature nearly as much Auto-Tune, and Shaboosey sounds fine.

If we’re truly being honest about these better tracks on the album, the reason they come across as so surprising is because the bar is set so low for someone like Shaboozey and by the rest of the material on the album. On any other country or Americana release, these songs would be pedestrian. However, what they do show is a depth that belies many of these country interloper projects.

Still, you can’t get past all the symbolic bluster and styling of the song with Paul Cauthen called “Last Of My Kind,” or the outright terrible straight up hip-hop track “Drink Don’t Need No Mix (featuring BigXthaPlug).” If Shaboozey was serious about being taken seriously in country, he would have never included this track on the album. To many, their understanding of “country” is only skin deep. It’s horses, cowboy hats, and screaming “yee haw!” It’s a caricaturist version. This is what you hear on a song like “Horses & Hellcats.”

Some love to argue that when it comes to certain pop/hip-hop/R&B-originating performers making “country” albums, this is their version of country, or their “truth,” and deserves to be taken seriously. But if that version of country is 51% something else and they’ve signaled themselves that the genre is just a stopover, why accept it when we know there is no future in it, and it will only work to make all popular music sound like a mono-genre blob where no matter what genre you’re listening to, the music includes Auto-tune as a vocal feature and 808 beats? How does this serve the diversity of music?

Why are we propping up these one-and-done performers in lieu of ones who’ve devoted their entire lives to the genre, grew up dreaming of being country stars, and spent years upon years pursuing that goal? This goes for Post Malone, Diplo, and a host of other interlopers who now all of a sudden have decided they’re “country” as well, not just Shaboozey, and not just Beyoncé, who let’s not forget, doesn’t consider Cowboy Carter to be country herself.

Tip your hat to Shaboozey for including some songs here that shirk the stereotype many will assign to him as a “country rapper,” including the ending song called “Finally Over” where he reflects on the viral nature of his stardom, and makes peace with the idea that it could all end tomorrow. The name of the album is Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going, and Shaboozey evidences a more thoughtful approach to music and life as someone who wants to grow.

But ultimately, this is a version of Southern-infused pop, overburdened with electronic accoutrements, and whose “country” elements are only surface deep. In truth, Shaboozey isn’t setting a new paradigm in country, he’s cutting across the grain of a more country-sounding moment in the genre. Just like Beyoncé initially did, Shaboosey isn’t drawing popularity through the conversion of country fans, but through the interpolation of pop fans through a song and album being sold as country, even though empirically it isn’t.

1 1/4 Guns Down (3.5/10)

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