Believe it or not, rap music and country music have a lot in common. Neither rap nor country sounds anything like the music they originated from. They also have passionate fanbases and fervent detractors. Since country and country culture has been around a bit longer than rap and hip-hop culture, there are a few things rap can learn from country music.
First is how to write a good hook. A lot of rap prominently features samples from other songs and genres to make a strong hook. Kanye West is particularly known for it, but the practice pre-dates rap and hip-hop culture altogether.
Sometimes the only thing anybody remembers from a song is the sample that made it famous. Take the Grammy-nominated “Ghetto Superstar (That Is What Your Are)” by Pras featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mya, for instance. The hook is just the melody from “Islands In The Stream,” originally recorded by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. And it was nominated for a Grammy!
Nowadays, sampling means you pay the original artist (thankfully), usually through a writing credit. But why leave all that money on the table when you can just do what country artists do? That’s right — just follow the country model of writing something that sounds so eerily similar to another song without *actually* being that song.
Now, don’t get too close like Sam Smith (who now credits the writers of Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” on “Stay With Me”) or Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” crew (who had to pay $7.4 million to Marvin Gaye’s estate). But it’s pretty easy to pick a popular chord progression, pitch it up and add a few notes to the melody. Just ask these six artists featured on this now-famous country song mashup.
Think of all that money rap artists and producers are missing out on. Then again, Thomas Rhett does have a song on his new album that credits 14 writers, including all the members of the group War. Maybe country is taking the nod from rap on this one?
Either way, remember this: don’t make your (now 100 percent “original”) song too long.
The sweet spot for big radio play is generally considered to be somewhere around 3 minutes and 20 seconds to 3 minutes and 40 seconds. Back in the 90s, they would even play songs that eclipsed 4 minutes (!). But a lot of rap songs made a habit of topping 5 minutes, requiring major cuts for radio edits.
If you look at the rap charts lately, most songs have trimmed down to meet the 3:20-3:40 sweet spot — just in time for the new sweet spot shifting to somewhere between two minutes and 30 seconds and three minutes. In fact, the average length of the Top 15 country singles currently on Billboard is two minutes and 54 seconds — much shorter than even a year ago.
So rappers, take this lesson from country stars: get to the point. Or to echo a more poetic sentiment, “Don’t bore us — get to the chorus!” Pretty soon, it won’t be long before you can fit all the lyrics of your favorite tune on a bumper sticker. The short length may be the only thing modern country or rap has in common with its origins.
Plenty has been made of famous rap feuds in the past. Some that have created some of the greatest diss tracks around, and some that have tragically ended in murder.
Meanwhile, country stars have come down hard on each other and their elders. Zac Brown called a Luke Bryan song the worst he’s ever heard. And despite name-dropping old country stars regularly, folks like Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan have called them old farts and addicts. But they always apologize, and there is rarely any violence.
The closest thing we got to a mainstream diss track was Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” and Kacey Musgraves’ “Good Ol’ Boys Club.” Honestly, it’s kind of boring pretending everybody is cool with what’s going on in country right now. Where is the conviction?
So maybe rap stars can stick to getting even in the studio with their words and country stars can stick to their (figurative) guns when they speak out on whatever thing in country irks them. Who doesn’t love watching artists throw a little shade? Taylor Swift made a career of it.
So while rap and country might be two of the more polarizing mainstream genres around, it only brings them closer in their similarities. Heck, one day they may even be so indistinguishable that they’re inexplicably combined and played during a politician’s presidential campaign announcement.