Tonight’s episode of Love and Hip-Hop Hollywood is rife with the typical drama. A1 discovers that Lyrica left him again, but denies hooking up with a girl he met on a plane. He also claims he doesn’t know where his son is because she won’t respond to his phone calls…as if he doesn’t have Lyrica’s mother’s info. Anyway, that is how the episode begins and Lyrica and A1’s drama will be what it is until they decide to be adults and have a real productive conversation, but that doesn’t happen in this episode.
However, K. Michelle was the impetus for an interesting conversation about country music. It’s a conversation that has been reignited by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” As we know, the Yee Haw Mafia were mad at the fact that “Old Town Road” was considered a country song and as a result, it was removed from Billboard’s country music charts. Then he got an assist from Billy Ray Cyrus, who is undeniably a country artist and who also happily joined Lil Nas X for the “Old Town Road Remix” so, bloop.
You can read about that saga here. Before “Old Town Road,” Beyonce faced backlash because she was scheduled to perform “Daddy Lessons” at the Country Music Awards. She still performed the song despite the Yee Haw Mafia being big mad, and she had help from the Dixie Chicks. The haters still hated, but let’s be real, this hate and this push back is because country music is stereotypically known as a White genre. The Yee Haw Mafia thinks it belongs to them but they’re sadly mistaken. Enter K. Michelle.
She was recently a guest on Jason Lee’s Hollywood Unlocked, and that incident where she was on stage somewhere in Nashville telling the audience that she can out-sing any White country singer came up again. She mentioned that she was triggered because that particular night was country music night at the venue, and when she tried to get up on stage and sing someone told her that it wasn’t her night. That was code for, “A Black girl couldn’t possibly be singing country music.” Now, K. Michelle is messy and loves attention, but hearing her explanation for why she said what she said actually makes sense. It was presumptuous for that person to say what they said. But guess what? K. Michelle is among the many Black people who are fans of country music, even with the Whitewashing that has taken place. And I bet a lot of you didn’t know that there’s a huge country music scene in the Caribbean. I have been to a few karaoke nights in Barbados where country songs, sung by Black locals, reign supreme. All of my Bajan homies (I’m not Bajan but have visited the country enough to have friends there) mentioned that country music is big in the Caribbean, periodt. I have also seen this in St. Lucia, where my mother-in-law is from.
So, yes, Black people like country music. We created it. Yes. We created it. I don’t have much time to go into all of the details because it really is a long complex story, so I’m going to keep this as short as I can. Growing up, I grew up mostly listening to hip-hop, funk, jazz, and rock. When I got to college I began working as a broadcaster for my school’s radio station. They started all the newbies off with the blues because it was the least demanding shift. Part of my job was to announce songs and drop knowledge about the blues. That’s where I learned about how country music came to be. It stems from the blues, which stems from work songs sung by slaves.
Black people are some of the most creative people on the planet. For Black Americans, a lot of that creativity was born out of necessity. They had many coded ways to communicate with each other through the use of song and dance. They sang what were known as work songs as a way to pass the time and ease the pain of their awful predicament. They also used work songs to sneak diss the master. Seriously. They would be on the field singing about getting revenge on a lover but really, that “lover” was code for master. Blues is often about pain and what goes around comes around. Get it? What you do to me will come back around to you. It’s brilliant. You can learn more about this concept via the Netflix documentary, Devil at the Crossroads.
Anyway, work songs birthed the blues and the blues also spawned hip-hop, folk, jazz, and wait for it…country music. The banjo is a commonly used instrument in country music. It has been a commonly used instrument amongst slaves because it’s straight out of West Africa. The problem is, appropriation is wicked. In the early days, talented Black country music artists were shut out from getting major opportunities while White artists with more access began to discover the genre, copy Black pioneers, and blow up based on stolen work and privilege. Black artists also often didn’t really own their music because many of them signed with corrupt financiers and record labels who would sometimes give their music to White artists or wouldn’t even put them on their own covers. There are a lot of layers to what caused the shift in country music fandom, but it happened, and Black people moved on to other genres. Again, this isn’t to say that Black people stopped liking country music, but Black artists have been abused, blatantly copied, and shamelessly erased.
So, if we’re going to talk about the Yeehaw Mafia trying to tell Black artists what country music is and who country music belongs to then we need to tell it all because clearly, people don’t know their history…or pretend to not know it as a way to disassociate from the messed up things their ancestors may have done. Frankly, America can thank the slaves, who built this joint for free, for country music, if not most of its pop culture, including cowboy culture (because one in four cowboys were Black according to the Smithsonian), especially when it comes to music and dance, and that’s that on that!
There were other moments throughout tonight’s Love and Hip-Hop where Apple Watts, K. Michelle and even Misterray touched out the fact that Black people invented country music. They weren’t that eloquent about it but we got the point. However, there’s only so much they could say in such a short amount of time. Missterray even stated that, “If we accept Micky Munday doing hip-hop then they should accept K. Michelle doing country.”
Eh…kind of, but again, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Plus, country music does belong to K. Michelle and any Black person who wants to claim it. It’s literally in our DNA. There’s one thing K. Michelle said in the episode that isn’t exactly true. She said that no Black woman has charted in country music. Valerie June is a contemporary country music artist who has charted and has a massive following. I tweeted about Valerie June and then got put on to Mickey Guyton, who I hadn’t previously heard of before. And then of course, there are men, like Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish, and Ben Harper, who have been putting it down for several years. So, we are present and accounted for. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for enjoying country music and definitely don’t let anyone tell you that “Country music is for White people.” Cuz it ain’t. Tuh!
If you are interested in learning more about the history of country music and the shift that took it from Black to super White then check out this interesting NPR article. You can also learn more about work songs via this article by the library of congress.
And if you have beef with anything I wrote then take it up with history and yo’ mama.