Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X perform during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The 40-Plus Year Evolution of Country-Rap in 15 Songs

Ever since rap (used synonymously here with hip-hop) emerged as an art form, it's been influenced by some of the same rural living and pop culture tropes associated with country music.

Country music has never existed in a vacuum, either. Just as jazz (Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline) and classic rock (Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt) fans flavored prior changes in the genre, 21st century stars raised on rap brought elements from their formative listening years to Nashville. So, the incorporation of outside influences by Luke Bryan and other polarizing acts continues a long-held country tradition.

For a sense of the overlap between two supposed opposites, consider the following 15 country-rap songs, spanning from early hip-hop to the current digital age.

Our selections begin in the 1980s. Otherwise, examples could stretch back to the earliest recorded string bands' comedy skits or the talking blues delivery of Johnny Cash.

"Blowfly's Rap," Blowfly (1980)

For this hardly safe-for-work tale of a showdown at a local honky tonk, Clarence "Blowfly" Reid adopted the talk-singing of C.W. McCall and other products of country music's CB radio craze.

"Country Rap," Bellamy Brothers (1986)

The Bellamy Brothers' shot at popularizing the term country-rap comes across as sincerely laughing with, not at, rural folks beholden to the past and big city creatives with ideas that'd reshape popular culture to come.

"Wild Wild West," Kool Moe Dee (1987)

Early rappers embraced the outlaw imagery commonly associated with country music, as heard on such crucial tracks as Kurtis Blow's "Way Out West" and this minor crossover hit that's best known now for being sampled in the 1999 Will Smith song of the same title.

"Buttermilk Biscuits (Keep on Square Dancin')" Sir Mix-a-Lot (1988)

"Baby Got Back" rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot parodied vocal twang with this bizarre opening track from 1988's Swass and the similar "Square Dance Rap." Both are examples of how country and rap have long allowed for good-natured (if not slightly obnoxious) humor about overlapping topics.

"By the Time I Get to Arizona," Public Enemy (1991)

In a less obvious case of a rap group paying homage to country music, Public Enemy hat-tipped Glen Campbell's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" with its takedown of Arizona Governor Evan Mecham for his 1987 cancellation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"Hay," Crucial Conflict (1996)

Country living themes abounded in rap long before hip-hop beats signaled 21st century changes in Nashville. For example, Crucial Conflict cleverly used farm analogies in this classic about getting high.

"How Do I Get Here," Deana Carter (1996)

The least likely piece of the country-rap puzzle fits for a slightly subtle yet very important reason.

"'How Do I Get There' was the first record on country radio to ever have a drum loop in it and that was something I just fought to be the case, not to be the first on country radio, but it had to be on the album," Deana Carter told Sounds Like Nashville in 2021. "And no country record had ever had a drum loop in it ever because that's how I feel my rhythm. I don't feel rhythm on the down beat like 1 and 3, I have like funky rhythm like 2 and 4, which isn't typically what country music is, but ironically ever since that record, country music has morphed over into that."

"Belts to Match," UGK, Smitty and SONJI (1999)

As UGK (Underground Kingz), Texans Pimp C and Bun B paved the way for Big K.R.I.T. and others unashamed of their redneck roots. In "Belts to Match" and "Let Me See It," the duo proudly refers to its "slang and twang" formula as country-rap.

"Back on the Road," Lil' Black (Feat. Willie Nelson) (2000)

Seventeen years before Billy Ray Cyrus embraced Lil Nas X, Willie Nelson spit rhymes inspired by "On the Road Again" with Lil' Black. It's way more surreal than any of Nelson's musical run-ins with Snoop Dogg.

"Deliverance," Bubba Sparxxx (2003)

Prior to the rise so-called "bro-country," Bubba Sparxxx bridged Southern rap and contemporary twang. For a taste of Sparxxx's contribution to hick-hop, spin this undeniably catchy banger or Colt Ford and Danny Boone collaboration "Country Folks."

"Cruise (Remix)," Florida Georgia Line (Feat. Nelly) (2012)

Florida Georgia Line sweetened historic chart-topper "Cruise" — and embraced early 2000s nostalgia— by working with Nelly, a country-rap titan who'd already found success as a Tim McGraw collaborator.

"Western," Gangstagrass (Feat. Kool Keith) (2012)

As its name telegraphs, Gangstagrass blends hip-hop and bluegrass in a way that reminds us that in the grand scheme of things, both are forms of folk expression. Here, the collective joins forces with New York rap and punk outsider Kool Keith (aka Dr. Octagon).

"Family Don't Matter," Young Thug (Feat. Millie Go Lightly) (2017)

UGK's spirit of acknowledging its rural roots while basking in big-city acclaim impacted hip-hop in the years to come. For example, trap stars from Atlanta maintain a similar perspective, which influences such rising genre-blending artists as Shaboozey.

"Old Town Road (Remix)," Lil Nas X (Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus) (2019)

Much has been speculated about why the same genre that cashed in on "Cruise" shunned what became an unfathomably huge streaming sensation. Beyond that vital discussion, it's worth considering what "Old Town Road" taught an entire industry about the power of trending audio— the same social media phenomenon that brought us "Fancy Like" and other mega-hits that blur the lines between country and rap.

"The Git Up," Blanco Brown (2019)

Positive rhymes impact the country space like never before, with Blanco Brown and other artists gaining traction by proclaiming in their own voice that it's a great day to be alive.




READ MORE: Gene Watson on Collaborating With Willie Nelson and Thinking 'Outside the Box'