When you think about country music, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s the likes of Tim McGraw, or maybe you think about Nashville, or a southern dirt road anthem. What probably doesn’t come to mind is a lot of diversity. If you do think about diversity in the country music scene, you probably, and rightfully, think of Darius Rucker. Until recently Darius Rucker was the only black, country artist to reach number one with a debut single. That’s right – until recently. Now, Jimmie Allen is joining Rucker in that category.
But it doesn’t stop there. Georgia native, Kane Brown’s sophomore album Experiment has debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, making it the third country album to earn the spot in 2018. Which is also a pretty big deal. This is also the first country sophomore album to reach number album to reach number on on the Billboard chart since 2014. Kane’s album also earned the most first-day streams for a country album in the U.S. ever on Apple Music.
But what does all this mean? To start it highlights the fact that we shouldn’t put people in boxes and make assumptions about what they can or can’t do. Or what they should or shouldn’t do. Brown took to Twitter, to say “some people in Nashville who have pub(lishing) deals don’t write with me because I’m black”. Brown has since deleted the tweet, but it definitely speaks volumes to what is happening within the industry, and maybe across America.
Darius Rucker made his country debut in 2008. When I first heard that I was quite disappointed. Not because of the color of his skin, but because I really was going to miss Hootie. And now? I gotta say that I love Darius Rucker as a country artist. In 2009, Rucker became the first black artist to ever win the Country Music Association New Artist of the Year award, which has been in place since 1981.
Don’t get me wrong – three country artists of color doesn’t make the entire industry diverse. But it is a start. The bigger question I think we should consider is whether or not there is a greater idea that there is white music and there is black music? I think the answer is yes, insofar as it’s a stereotype. I don’t honestly believe that we can separate music in terms of race. What I think we’re running into is an idea that if Darius Rucker is a country artist, he is less black than someone who might be a hip-hop artist. And that’s not the truth at all.
In fact, I would make the argument that in order to achieve diversity, we have to be willing (as a society) to let our guard down to make room for people of all colors and races to be involved in whatever kind of music they wish to be involved. On the other side of the coin – think about the heat that Eminem has received over the years for being a white artist in a traditionally black genre. He is well respected within that genre, which leads me to believe that we are still categorizing people, based on the color of their skin.
Country music seems to have deep southern roots, and it’s often associated with conservative politics. Regardless of the stereotype, I think we need to take these artists at face value. Not base our judgments on the color of their skin, but rather what they’re bringing to the industry. And in the case of Brown, Allen and Rucker, I only have high praise for the way that they’re shaking up the country music scene.