Country Music Doesn’t Need Kidd G, or an “Emo-Rap Star”

The amateur, undercooked, and extremely cliche Bro-Country stylings of the 17-year-old “Kidd G” made it onto my radar a few months ago via his aggressively-formulaic “song” called “Dirt Road.” It was so beginner and maladroit almost to the point of being parody and inadvertently hilarious, it was deemed not even worthy enough of criticism. Not only would such an enterprise be a waste of time, it would also be potentially unethical to publicly admonish this performer, however constructively, since he was still in such a clearly nascent, developmental stage. No matter how bad the music was, broaching the matter could potentially cross the line into a version of bullying, especially considering Kidd G’s age.

Please appreciate, when speaking about Kidd G, this isn’t simply a matter of taste. Even when addressing songs or artists in the much-maligned Bro-Country segment of mainstream country, there is at least a ground level entry point for what you expect from this music: a set of benchmarks—however lowered from the regular standards of country music—with which to fairly judge any offering among its class of peers. Kidd G’s music was so probationary and adolescent, it couldn’t even clear the lowest of hurdles to qualify to be considered among the bottom rung of the Bro-Country class.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of audience for this music that is equally immature, and either unwise or ignorant to the better options for their listening pleasure present in the marketplace. And sure enough, Kidd G has found some reception, bolstered by what appears to be an incredible budget behind him for videos and promotion, and of course, the newest avenue of music discovery for many, Tik-Tok. Don’t discount that some Rebecca Black-style hate listening might also be behind his popularity, or perhaps paid-for streams. To that end, Kidd G and “Dirt Road” did see a small blip on the charts, eeking in at #40 on the consumption based Billboard Hot Country Songs chart recently, but still well outside the level that saw artists like Kane Brown, Priscilla Block, Breland, or even Lil Nas X emerge from obscurity via social media buzz.

But leave it to The New York Times to publish an exasperated and effervescent deep dive puff piece into the world of this young, unready, and undeserving performer titled, “Meet Kidd G, Country Music’s Next Emo-Rap Star.” The article takes a perspective so aggressively ignorant of actual country music and its doings from its very title on down to the details it reveals, the article wasn’t just ill-conceived, it was irresponsible. In short order Kidd G and The New York Times headline became a meme and went viral, with many people dog piling this young man and his music. If you want an example, just look at the Twitter thread from the original New York Times post. It’s absolutely brutal.

Make no mistake, if you put yourself and your music out there—especially if you garner some attention and popularity—you better be ready for whatever criticism may ensue. The brighter the spotlight, the deeper the scrutiny. But this article from The New York Times acted like a funnel for severe criticism towards Kidd G simply from the vigorously illiterate understanding of country music it is presented in, gussied up as an effort to compel country music to be more open, and expand its borders. Ironically, it spurned the opposite response.

Written by pop critic Jon Caramanica, the article once again underscores the problem of outsourcing country music coverage to journalists from other disciplines. Jon Caramanica is a fine journalist and this is nothing personal. But he writes about pop, not country. His #1 album in country in 2020 was Sam Hunt’s Southside. Why? Because it’s not country, it’s pop. If “The Paper of Record” wants to cover country music—popular or otherwise—it should hire or freelance out individuals who are versed and connected to the country music universe, instead of individuals who come to country music with a pop or hip-hop perspective. This might be fine for your local newspaper. It’s irresponsible at The New York Times. You wouldn’t have your Israeli corespondent cover a flood in Houston.

Even a country writer with strong pop or hip-hop leanings would have still been able to identify that Kidd G was neither worthy nor ready of this type of dedicated spread in a major periodical, photo shoot and all. A country writer would have done what all the writers and journalists in country music did do, which was give Kidd G a pass.

Despite being from “Small town Georgia,” one of the many things that makes Kidd G detestable to many country fans is the rich kid vibes he gives off in both his lyricism and videos. The 17-year-old fumbles around with words like “beer,” but clearly has little or no experience with it, while the cross dangling around his neck reminds you of all those hypocritical kids in high school that just like Kidd G, had the life-sized Hot Wheels truck and all the toys they wanted.

Kidd G comes across as affluenza incarnate, and The New York Times piece just fuels this criticism with further details of his life, ultimately underscoring and emphasizing how uniquely unqualified and uncommitted to perform country music he is, as opposed to ingratiating him to the country music public, which was the aim and purpose of the piece. Meanwhile, The New York Times also foolishly attempts to couch Kidd G as exactly what country music needs, proclaiming if he’s not accepted, it’s only due to the genre’s long-enduring rigidness that should be well past its expiration date.

“For all its lip service paid to inclusivity, the genre makes precious little room for Black performers,” the article says. “And apart from Sam Hunt, white performers who have dabbled in hip-hop references—say Florida Georgia Line or Luke Bryan—often only do so fleetingly, trying it on and off like costume. Country music remains cloistered, even though many of its fans are not, and in truth, haven’t been for some time.”

If your concern is black performers in country music, why are you featuring a 17-year-old ultra-privileged white kid culturally-appropriating hip-hop elements? There are ample actual black performers playing actual country music. Kidd G should be the antithesis of what you’re rooting for in country.

But the above quote reveals the true reason The New York Times is pushing Kidd G. It’s this notion that for some reason, country music needs to open itself up to hip-hop as opposed to holding true to its own sound. Sure, many country fans also listen to hip-hop, pop, and other genres, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not a tangible reason why country music needs to adopt hip-hop elements and artists. Let hip-hop be hip-hop, and let country be country. If you combine the two, that’s not that’s not promoting diversity. When every major genre sounds the same—like Kidd G with hip-hop beats, bad rapping, and shallow notions of what country is primarily resting on buzzwords like “beer,” “dirt road,” and “trucks”—it’s the death of diversity.

Forget the question of what happened to quality in popular music. What happened to quality in music criticism, where elements like originality, and quality of writing and story are what score you points? Today many music writers swallow their scruples to push a poptimist or identitarian agenda aligned with their own self-interests and tastes. Show me the country writers telling pop and hip-hop how to conduct their business, and what artists they should allow in? Hip-hop is the most dominant genre in popular music. It doesn’t need to incorporate country music’s culture and infrastructure to find support. Country music is the genre that’s under siege. Call the “music” of Kidd G what you want. But regardless of what genre you label it, it’s an immature, materialistic, derivative, and moronic embarrassment of modern pop culture.

But doubling back on the original sentiment about Kidd G when he first came on the scene, it’s probably important to not spend too much time delving into his music at this point, and it does feel like bullying to share honest opinions about it. Truth is there’s been dozens of underground hick hop artists for the last decade or so who’ve garnered the kind of attention Kidd G has with little or no press or industry participation. Either Kidd G will succeed, or he will fail. The most important lesson to learn from this moment is about how embellished fawning over a completely under-developed performer can result in more harm and foul than help.

Yes, country music must evolve to some extent if it is to survive in the popular music sphere moving forward. Tik-Tok is a rising influence in music, and should be accounted for in country. Country music should also be accepting of everyone, and come with an open mind to any performer and judge them on their own merit. But in the case of Kidd G, when you do judge his music on its merit, it doesn’t stand up to even the most mild of scrutiny. It’s not even worth criticizing, let alone lumping accolades upon him such as “Country Music’s Next Emo Rap Star,” whatever that even means.

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