Over the past 30 years, hip-hop has successfully mated with nearly every other genre of pop music. Soul? Easy. Rock? Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. were overnight BFFs. Pop? That merger has been most lucrative of all, from Kurtis Blow to Mariah Carey to Nicki Minaj.
Country music, though… that hasn’t been so easy. For all the mutual respect and shared listeners connecting country artists and hip-hop MCs, on record the two genres have proved to be like oil and water. The most successful hip-hop/country hybrid to date has been “Over and Over,” the 2004 hit where Nelly and Tim McGraw found common ground by dialing both genres down to gentle balladry. Taking a somewhat more energetic approach is self-described “hick-hop” artist Troy Lee Coleman III, a.k.a. Cowboy Troy, who answers the question no one was asking: what if the young Will Smith had been given a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas?
It may be stretching matters to say that Cowboy Troy has “cred” with any music scene, but he’s worked harder at earning the respect of the country community than at earning props from hip-hop heads. He’s a member of the MuzikMafia, a performers’ collective that includes Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson and is all-around more Muzik (or, as the case may be, Muzak) than Mafia. In his 2005 debut single “I Play Chicken with the Train,” Troy boasts of having the approval of McGraw and the CMAs, not Jay-Z and the VMAs.
Nor did the song’s video put Cowboy Troy at any risk of winning a VMA. It’s a concert clip starring an integrated (but mostly white) audience jubilantly bouncing about while Troy mugs for the camera, bare-midriffed women ride mechanical bulls in slow motion, and the band members flash guitars bearing the messages YEEHAW and LOVE EVERYBODY. If pop culture made any sense, this video would have inspired a new catchphrase synonymous to “jumped the shark” and “nuked the fridge”: “crowd-surfed the dwarf.”
Proudly representing for conservative values, Cowboy Troy performed at the 2008 Republican National Convention (one can only hope he modified the “I Play Chicken” lyrics to rhyme “G.O.P.” with “C.B.T.” and “MP3″), but wasn’t invited back in 2012. It’s the Republicans’ loss… Cowboy Troy might be the one pop artist who’s even more awkward than Mitt Romney.
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