Written by: Chay Rodriguez
There is a Historical Relationship between Hip Hop and Country.
Before the sensationalized drug wars of the east coast, and gang violence of the west, there were quickdraw duels of the south and midwest. The same violence, survival, and good times that rappers were able to put into words, lived in the chords of folk steeped in jazz notes a.k.a. country music.
Stemming from the south and dominating the charts from the 1920’s, country music allowed its worshippers to vent of heartbreak and circumstance. However, in 1998, there was a shift. The same pain and fury that laced through banjos and hillbilly music was now more popular when riding on top of an isolated beat and spit with a smoldering cadence. The lyrics were more popular when planted, fertilized, and grown through the soil of hip hop. It was here in 1998, that rap outsold country, formerly the top-selling genre in the US, for the first time ever, selling more than 81 million CDs, tapes, and albums.
The Number Two Spot
Now it looks like rap is taking over the country genre’s most celebrated venues as well. On Sunday June 9th, Staten Island’s own Wu-Tang Clan, made history after being the first hip hop act to perform to a sold out crowd at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville,Tennessee.
And before you start thinking….Nashville? Ironically, Nashville, a city known for its significance to country music is not the only surprising factor in this equation. In fact, the most bewildering factor contributing to this story is the lay out of The Ryman itself. Filled with pews, The Ryman has been hard to book for hip hop acts like 50 cent and The Insane Clown Posse because it is challenging to get fans to engage and dance in the space, which is why most hip hop acts have strayed away from booking the venue in the past.
However, Wu-Tang’s audience is a little older; now in their 40’s and 50’s, possibly spending a little more money for comfort during their consumption, and probably okay with the possibility of sitting through the group’s presentation of Enter The Wu-Tang 25th Anniversary tour. NOT!
Pews or no pews it was pure love that rattled through the bones of The Ryman. For 90 minutes the crowd stood on its feet, rapping the lines to C.R.E.A.M, Protect Ya Neck, and each solo hit that spawned from the group. It was love, history, and hip hop purity that enabled Wu-Tang to fill the 2,300 seats in the Ryman Auditorium and make history and the first hip hop headliner in the venue’s 127 years of existence.
Then and Now
Believe it or not, the Ryman Auditorium, also known as “The Mother Church of Country Music,” started out as a church. Opening as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892. As time progressed the auditorium morphed into a space used for a variety of reasons; most notably, home of The Grand Ole Opry country radio show in 1943 which helped to solidify its place in country music.
Still, it looks like the changing of the times have had more of an effect on the venue than one would think. When contemplating where the music industry is at this exact point in life, we are in a season that has major industry standards trying to regulate what is and is not country. Young hip hop acts are breathing life into the otherwise lifeless careers of many great musicians across all genres, and legendary country artists are becoming hip hop allies.
With that being said, I will tell you to look up. Do not look east, not west, but south right below Kentucky and above Georgia. Tell me if you see a black and yellow “W” emblazoned in the sky. Hip Hop is taking over, and coming to save us all.