Country music currently features more Black stars and sounds less familiar to its mainstream fans than at any other time in the genre’s century-old history — and that’s okay. A bizarre combination of circumstances has finally affected a style largely unable to be swayed by broader music industry trends.

In the fallout, something magical can occur. A lesson taught via an oft-mentioned, anonymous quote sums up accepting and adapting to country music’s unique future: “Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.”

The elements of success at country music’s core — songs, voices and songwriting — are being affected by the most notable aspects of sounds that are mostly foreign (such as trap and R&B) to widespread country acceptance. Embracing these songs and their artists, rather than decrying them as "not country," will defy convention — and, again, that’s okay.

The overall music industry has been ransacked and pillaged by streaming’s ability to embrace dollars over sense, and this development has dynamically affected country music more than any other genre. Before the year 2000, $40 billion was spent on recorded music annually, by around 600 million people worldwide, who each shelled out about $64 a year. However, between 1999 and 2014, the music industry’s revenue shrank to $20 billion, of which country music still represented roughly half. Since that point, the industry’s desire to recoup $20 billion lost dollars via streaming has slowly eaten at country music’s reliable stronghold as an untouchable stereotype-as-genre.

In 2014, it was suspected that a future would emerge where, alongside the sale of physical music, one billion people would pay $15 per month for streaming subscriptions, and that ad-based services such as YouTube would generate significant revenue, too. Of course, that hasn’t happened; instead, 90 percent of music’s revenue now comes from largely free streaming or digital services.

Moreover, since 2018, streaming-beloved hip-hop has statistically reigned supreme as music’s most popular genre. Thankfully, hip-hop and country have a long, storied series of creative connections. Imagining what emerges from a strengthening and deepening of these connections highlights a fascinating country crossover invasion of sorts, with historical precedent.

Imagining what emerges from a strengthening and deepening of the connections between hip-hop and country music highlights a fascinating crossover invasion of sorts, with historical precedent.

We are now in an era in which hip-hop controls a cultural conversation that was once awkwardly shared between the genres. Previously, Bubba Sparxxx, Rehab, Uncle Kracker, Kid Rock and Everlast simultaneously thrived by blurring rap and country’s edges. Nelly’s work with Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line was groundbreaking. And, yes, there’s a lot of Cowboy Troy’s lineage in Breland and Lil Nas X. However, rap’s dominance has changed the dynamics between the genres: Now, a situation emerges where the best comparison is to when British artists reigned in rock 'n' roll in the 1960s.

In his 2011 work Encyclopedia of the Sixties: A Decade of Culture and Counterculture, author Brian Corgan attributes the success of the British Invasion to American teenagers bored of music playing against popular, progressive trends. He notes that “when the Beatles introduced British rock music to many young Americans, it whetted an appetite for English bands. Especially welcome were those who were influenced by American blues artists such as the Rolling Stones, but who also brought in a unique British sensibility, such as the Kinks, or raucous rock and rollers like the Who."

Similarly, American musicians and fans now seem to be bored with an industry that’s a shell of itself in many regards, and we've progressed past a place where country music existed on a metaphorical island unto itself. Just as the British Invasion flocked to the Delta blues, it’s the country artists inspired by rap-infused trap music who have achieved significant popularity in recent years.

“Country music is preoccupied with borders, and it treats each new incursion as an opportunity for an identity crisis,” says the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica, a statement filled with angry overtones. The country music that Black artists are making right now is inspired by, maybe, some level of amused intrigue more than anything else: Regarding “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X explained to Billboard, “It’s a country trap song. But once you take a look at it, I feel like it leans more toward country.”

Similarly, when Breland discusses his hit “My Truck” with Billboard -- the magazine that famously denied the inclusion of “Old Town Road” on the country charts -- his genuine interest in musical exploration becomes apparent. "The biggest record of all time is a country-trap song by an unknown artist from Atlanta, and now no one else is putting out songs that sound like that. The lane was wide open. Why on earth would I not give it a shot?" he states.

There's potential for a British Invasion-type takeover of country’s charts by Black artists; moreover, if this plays out like the British Invasion of 60 years prior, it could happen in relatively short order. Just 15 months elapsed between the moment when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 and the May 9, 1965 Billboard chart, on which nine of the Top 10 songs were by artists from the British Commonwealth.

When all skin folk become kinfolk, the Old Town Road opens up to a delightful, unexplored horizon.

Currently, more traditional-leaning Black country music performers are thriving than at any moment in recent memory: Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen and Mickey Guyton among them. Add in Breland, Lil Nas X and extreme outlier RMR, with his tattoos, diamonds and Yves Saint Laurent bulletproof vest, and throw in the newly country-adjacent DJ Diplo, who's working with crooning Atlanta rapper Young Thug; Blanco Brown; and maybe even Nelly, the OG rap-to-country crossover star. There are 10 unique, relevant artists who have established or are establishing credibility within the genre.

Country music’s evolution into a genre more broadly accepting of direct Black influence need not be awkward; instead, in noting exactly how we arrived here and the historical precedent it perfectly mirrors, allowing the sounds to emerge, undisturbed, is the best option. The integration of the tight-knit family that country music metaphorically represents is imminent.

When all skin folk become kinfolk, the Old Town Road opens up to a delightful, unexplored horizon.

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