Like a good red-blooded American, I spent last night ignoring the CMT Awards like the ugly girl at the dance. More than a passing reflection on the doings of a shindig that has the wet cigarette of Kid Rock hosting and lets the pliable pop-country music fan vote the outcomes (gerrymandered by legions of glitter-faced 14-year-old girls stuffing ballots harder than a sock down the front of Jason Aldean’s nut huggers) is risking giving the event way more credence than it deserves. The ACM’s, and principally the CMA’s, though of course mostly relegated to a joke these days as well, are still the only awards that count in the grand scheme.
However when the headline performance of the night went down, we had one of those moments when as we populate the timeline of how all popular American music coalesced into one big mono-genre, it will count as one of the big bullet points, as Jason Aldean performed a rap song, with a well-established rap artist in Ludacris, to close out the festivities. Yes, Jason Aldean performed the same “Dirt Road Anthem” song at the ACM’s a few months ago, but this was the point that the mainstream country establishment has been working up to for a while. They started with Lil’ Wayne making an weird, non-performing appearance with Kid Rock on the CMA’s a few years back. At this year’s ACM’s Rhianna performed with Jennifer Nettles.
Slowly Music Row has desensitized the country music public into accepting artists from the hip-hop super-genre into their format, until now Ludacris, an artist that regularly refers to black people as “niggas” and disrespects women in his songs, is performing on a country music channel, on a country music awards show.
Please spare me the arguments that this is all for the greater creative good. This isn’t about inclusion or open-mindedness, this is about money. Diversity isn’t to have all popular music be an amalgam of everything, but to have sharp lines and blinding contrast. Let rappers rap in hard-edged styles. Let country artists be twangy, with harsh-sounding banjos and steel guitars. Let pop stars dance around with glitter shooting out of their nipples (or whatever). And let the genres mix when it presents itself as a creative bridge instead of an economic opportunity that mortgages tradition and contrast. That is an environment of healthy diversity.
A few days ago rapper Big K.R.I.T., along with the aformentioned Ludacris and “Bun B” released a remix of a song called “Country Shit”. My first though was “Ah, now rap artists are trying to capitalize off the laundry list-style of country songs the spew out easily-recognized imagery and artifacts of rural life to facilitate the white suburban demographic living vicariously through music.” This same “white suburban” demographic has been a big home for hip-hop as well. But the simple fact is rappers are not ripping off country artists, it’s vice versa. Hip hop was the first to spew out laundry lists of urban language and easily-recognizable imagery.
Country isn’t combining with rap in the formation of the mono-genre, it is allowing rap to take over, along with pop. When two dogs meet, one usually stands in a dominant stance, and one rolls on its back. Right now, rap is the butch, and country is the bitch. Why don’t we see country acts on the Hip Hop Awards or BET Awards? Why don’t we see rap artists aping country styles, why is it only vice versa? (I’ll give you Cowboy Troy and a handful of others, I’m talking big picture here)
When the music sales for 2010 broken down by genre were released, all the major genres of music were down sharply, except for rap and country. Rap actually gained, and country was only down a few percentage points, but that slight difference may be why country feels it needs to be submissive to rap to stay relevant.
What continues to baffle me about country is their lack of talent development and innovation. Instead of incorporating rap and pop styles, why doesn’t country tap its vibrant and growing independent/underground post-punk movement full of fresh styles and ideas that would appeal to the coveted young white suburban demographic? Or how about The Avett Bros. and Mumford and Sons, two bands with huge followings that play upright basses and banjos, but have had to revert to indie rock circles to find a home. They likely would be embarrased to be embraced by country at this point even if they were. In many respects, it feels like Americana has never been stronger. There is a vast talent pool for country to draw from, and instead they’re trying to figure out how to suckle off some of the popularity of Justin Bieber and Ludacris.
With Kid Rock hosting the CMT Awards, with country rapper Colt Ford performing, and with Jason Aldean and Ludacris closing the show out with a rap song, you can make the case that 15%-20% of what went down at the 2011 CMT Awards was either rap or rap inspired. I expect those percentages to increase over the next cycle of award shows until the number gets to 50%. Then the mono-genre will be fully realized, and the death of contrast will be complete.