Hillbilly Hip-Hop, A Retrospective?
(photo of Bubba Sparxxx)
Lately it seems that I’ve spent more and more time lamenting the premature deaths of some of the great hip-hop movements. From the gone-too-soon-tragedy of Irish hip-hop (R.I.P. House of Pain) to the we-hardly-knew-you passing of various ethnic hip-hop trends (French Celtic rap, Klezmer Hip-Hop), I feel like I’m just discovering these mini-genres by the time they’re declared “played out”. Thank god for the isolated folk communities of this world who will probably be nurturing their own strange hip-hop scenes for the next 50 years (Inuit trip-hop, I’m looking at you).
The Birth (and Death?) of Hillbilly Hip-Hop: Bubba Sparxxx & Timbaland
But by far the saddest passing is the untimely death of Hillbilly Hip-Hop. I first heard about this strange sub-genre of hip-hop way back in 2005 from bad-boy music critic Jon Caramanica at the annual EMP Pop Music Conference. He presented a paper entitled “Can Country and Hip Hop Get Along?” that blew my mind. Caramanica uncovered an entire subculture of hip-hop, juxtaposing the urban bling of standard hip-hop tropes with images of the countryside that went from expected (camouflage clothes) to surreal (pig-wrestling). Sure, Dirty South hip-hop and crunk was huge at the time, so Hip-Hop in the South was already a big topic in the press, but I was elated to see Southern rural roots in this music, and the intense Southern drawls only added to the fun. After Caramanica’s 2005 paper, I tried to keep up with hillbilly hip-hop, even going so far as to special order a bizarre CD from the only Cajun rapper, Coonass (I’ve tried for years since to find this guy, but he vanished after making his debut CD). In fact, hillbilly hip-hop even got pretty mainstream with Cowboy Troy, a country-fried rapper who joined Big & Rich for some of their tours and was actually pretty stupendous. But for me, Hillbilly Hip-Hop will always be defined by the two artists that Caramanica focused on in his paper: Nappy Roots and Bubba Sparxxx. Nappy Roots dropped two awesome albums of Kentucky countrified Dirty South hip-hop at about the same time that Ludacris was tapping a slightly more urban vein. Bubba Sparxxx dropped a few great albums as well, but this white rapper from Georgia was never seen as much more than a novelty. Too bad, because I loved his mash-ups of hip-hop beats and burning blues licks. Haven’t heard that since the Lyrics Born/R.L. Burnside collaboration.
I’m pretty sure that Hillbilly Hip-Hop has died a final death (please someone correct me!) and I am again in mourning for a genre of hip-hop that played out before its time. But my point here is that you gotta grab your music memes while you can! Cause in our business, music doesn’t last, and the revelation of today quickly becomes the has-been of tomorrow.