I could drown in a bottle of Hennessy, fuck your amenities, I'm gettin' better with time AHHHHH!
What a performance! The 2014 GRAMMYs were dominated by The Heist narrative, but for me the lasting memory from the awards program was a dynamic collaboration between rising stars in two genres. Paint splattered everywhere, adrenaline pumping... Kendrick and Imagine Dragons? Who would have thought? Little did I know that performance was just a preview of the unexpected and the power that comes with a surprise.
As the camera panned from one stage to another, colored shifted from splattered paint to neon cacti and “a new voice in Country Music” was announced. I immediately tuned out. “Oh, a country singer? Time for a snack break." Thanks to luck and maybe a little bit of schadenfreude - I wanted to see some country singer desperately try to match the preceding performance - I stuck around. I’m glad I did. The energy was completely different, but it was an eerily similar experience. Something unexpected happened, something that still connects with me today. Meet Kacey Musgraves.
“Um...why the fuck is he talking about country music?”
I know you're thinking it. I've thought it, which is why, despite listening to her music periodically since the GRAMMYs, I’ve yet to share it with you. I’ve been tempted, but it never felt right. Country music on a hip-hop site?! Well, I'm a firm believer in good music finding you. After months and, in this case, years, when music still calls to you, when it finds you repeatedly, it deserves attention. No longer can I ignore the whispers. There’s no denying the sonic difference between the two genres, but the more I listen to Musgraves, the more I learn about her, the more I realize maybe we aren’t so different after all.
Doesn’t it drive you crazy when someone says hip-hop is just drugs and guns? Fuck Gene Simmons. Fuck Michael McDonald. I hate when people talk about the radio like it’s an accurate representation of rap. How can they judge something they know nothing about? They took the smallest sample size and put all of it in a box. A box which, those who truly love rap and are truly committed to it, are constantly trying to break out of.
Still, we can become so focused on opening minds to our music that we forget to open our own. For as sick as it makes me to see hip-hop judged based on what’s on the radio, I’ve been doing the same thing to country music for years. I have always made fun of my friends who love the genre. I would sing a fake song about driving down a dirt road in a pickup with a Bud in hand. Toby Keith’s “Courtesy Of The Red White & Blue” became my go to joke, I saw it as a bunch of ignorant rednecks singing pandering songs about fake shit or how much they love America. And it's not like country and hip-hop have a particularly good relationship * has PTSD flashback to "Accidental Racist" *
That’s what country was to me and that’s why I fought my attraction to Musgraves' music tooth and nail. I had to keep up this facade of hating country music. But like a siren, she beckoned me into danger. I was drawn into rocky territory where the ship I’ve built from my high horse would crash and I would be forced to rethink my musical journey. When I finally ran aground, I realized, perhaps, on some levels hip-hop and country aren't so different after all. Neither was Kacey Musgraves. It’s the music that drew me in, but it’s her story that made me a fan.
The same way Chance The Rapper, Oddisee, and Tech N9ne are defying the mold for hip-hop, Musgraves is doing the same for country.
The idea of massive amounts of fame—having my face on Walgreens end-caps and pizza boxes—I don’t fantasize about that. I’m happy with just being a songwriter. I’d rather have smaller numbers [of fans] that are really into what I’m doing than a massive amount of people that don’t really know what I’m about." - Musgraves (Fader)
There isn't something outside of it that I'm striving for. There's more than enough to deal with in the bubble I exist in before I start dreaming and aspiring towards bigger things that people want from me...The only thing I'm working towards is the main thing when I decided I wanted to do music. I want to make a living from music and nothing else. - Oddisee (DJBooth)
The same commitment to difference that drew me to Anderson .Paak, Chance, and Oddisee is what pulled my attention and ears toward Musgraves. You don’t need an interview to know she’s different because it oozes from her every note. “Follow Your Arrow” is just the beginning. “Good Ol’ Boys Club” makes me think of The Roots’ “Never Do What They Do.” Instead of a Black Thought verse, it was Musgrave’s bars that hooked me. There were no Questlove drums, but that country twang served as a perfect landscape. "Merry Go Round" doesn't sound like a single hip-hop song, but the content was all too similar to what I seek from hip-hop. The record is simple and clever, yet poignantly wrestles with expectations and pressures to conform, which give it some serious power.
“Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down / Mary Mary quite contrary / We get bored so we get married / And just like dust we settle in this town”
For a long time, Musgraves was my escape when I needed a break. I would turn to her when I needed a breather from hip-hop, but I’m starting to realize that what drew me into “Same Trailer Different Park” was the same thing that drew me to Rapsody or Cilvia Demo. We might call ourselves hip-hop heads, or punks, or jazz aficionados, but at the end of the day we just want to feel something from music, regardless of the genre. We want to connect. Music is a relationship and that’s where Musgraves wins big; she’s in her music. Her medium may be different, but her message, her authenticity, and her battle to challenge the system resembles that of your favorite rapper. I always considered her drastically different, a world I thought would be completely separate from the one I live in, but after recently jumping on a remixed version of Miguel’s “Waves,” all I can see are the endless possibilities for some amazing collaborations.
Every so often hip-hop champions an artist from a different genre, inviting them to sit at the cool kids table - A$AP Rocky and Florence & The Machine, Anna Wise and Kendrick, every rapper and Coldplay - why not Kacey? Country rap crossovers have never yielded positive results, but they’ve never been done with the right artists. After working with Miguel, Musgraves is one degree away from the likes of J. Cole, Janelle Monae and Kendrick, all of which have that same fierce devotion to the unconventional. She has drawn so many connections to some of my favorite artists, I’d love to see what would happen if she worked with just one of them.
Musgraves also told The FADER, “The more country that my music gets, the less it fits into the country world today.” With her recent Miguel collaboration fresh in my headphones, I hear that as an open invitation, an artist who is willing to challenge sounds, styles, genres and most importantly, convention.
The Mineola, Texas native might wear cowboy boots instead of Yeezys, but she embodies some of that hip-hop spirit all the same. She has proven the power in doing it your own way, and so long as she continues to follow her arrow, she’ll never miss the mark.