Almost exactly twenty years ago, in early 1993, golden era great Big Daddy Kane released the video for his lament on the then gimmick-trending state of affairs in Hip Hop, “How U Get A Record Deal?” In the intro to the clip for the first single from his return-to-the-streets release, Looks Like A Job For …, two aspiring artists attired in traditional Country-style clothes comically manage to convince a fictional record label rep that their new blend of Country & Western and Rap, or “Countwap,” will be the next big thing.
Fifteen years after that video first aired, in late 2008, the man who arguably is most responsible for making punchlines a mainstay of any self-respecting emcees lyrical diet clarified when asked about “Countwap” during his HipHopDX feature interview that gimmicks, not genre blending is what he was calling out in 1993. “The way I look at this whole thing,” began B.D.K., “is when you talking about Rap it has no real music base. … Like you take the breakbeat ‘Black Grass’ [by Bad Bascomb], that’s like a Country song. And that was something that people would line up in the park to rhyme over. [Starts singing] ‘Everybody got to get some.’ And that’s like one of them square-dance sounding songs, just a hot drumbeat up under it. So it’s like, mixing Country with Hip Hop, it’s not like it’s a bad thing.”
If an esteemed emcee the stature of Kane can come to accept the concept of mixing Country with Hip Hop, maybe more minds have opened enough to finally allow for the acceptance of a Country artist with a rapping delivery the likes of Colt Ford.
With a 20-year Hip Hop history that dates back to when he was known as The X-Man for his work with Jermaine Dupri (“When he was finishing up Silk Tymes Leather I was there and did every background vocal on the first Kriss Kross record,” Colt noted to HipHopDX. “Me and Jermaine did that whole record together”), and continued up through his late-‘90s tenure as part of a twosome with fellow Georgia native Bubba Sparxxx, Ford may just prove to be the perfect person to once and forever bridge a rapidly shrinking culture and musical divide.
Since formally launching his solo career in 2008 with the release of his genre defying debut, Ride Through The Country, the onetime professional golfer (a career path he pursued for several years after what would have been his more traditional Hip Hop debut for Dupri went unreleased) has shockingly managed to succeed without support from Country or Hip Hop radio. His fourth full-length, Declaration Of Independence, stunned insular traditionalists in both musical cultures when it debuted simultaneously as the #1 Independent and County (and #2 Rap) album upon its release in August.
Speaking to HipHopDX a few months after that history making moment, on the day the ancient Mayans predicted the world would end (“I don’t believe in that; it ain’t in The Bible, so I can’t believe in that,” replied Ford when the day’s date was mentioned), during a brief but wide-ranging discussion, Colt covered everything from the revived national debate over the second amendment (and why he believes “it’s not the guns” leading to incidents like the recent massacre in Connecticut) to how in the world ratchet Hip Hop managed to find a home in honky tonk bars.
But most importantly, the co-founder of Average Joes Entertainment (along with fellow former So So Def alum, producer Shannon Houchins; which both Bubba Sparxxx and Nappy Roots are now signed to subsidiaries of) gave compelling testimony to how his hard-to-define music “transcends culture, politics and religion.”
HipHopDX: “Shotgun toter, Republican voter/Hank Jr. supporter/Let’s protect our border” isn’t a line you’re gonna find in your average Hip Hop song. So since this is the #1 most trafficked Hip Hop site on the ‘Net, I have to ask if you see yourself as part of the Hip Hop community, or a Country artist that’s just doing a “Devil Went Down To Georgia” Rap-esque vocal delivery?
Colt Ford: I just consider myself an artist. I consider myself a Country artist for the most part, but … It’s funny that you say that, the whole “Devil Went Down To Georgia” thing, ‘cause the Country community doesn’t wanna accept me at all at radio. They say I’m a rapper, so …
I’m an old school guy; I started with Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash, Treacherous Three, all that old stuff; Kurtis Blow. I grew up loving lyrics, ‘cause that was the era I grew up in. I knew every Rakim song, and every L.L. Cool J song, and every Run-DMC song. That’s what I grew up listening to.
I don’t consider Rap a genre; Hip Hop’s a genre; Rap is the vocal style. Yes, that is the way I deliver my songs, but Charlie Daniels is a Country artist and that’s what he did too. I heard Wyclef [Jean] say that the first Hip Hop song he ever heard, he thought, or Rap style, was “Devil Went Down To Georgia.” Growing up in the islands he had a Reggae station and a Country station; that’s all he had.
So, I consider myself, honestly, a little bit of both. But at the end of the day, I make music, and music transcends – as my buddy DMC would say, it transcends culture, politics and religion. I think that’s really what I am; I kinda got something for everybody on my record. I got some songs that are way more Hip Hop, and I got some songs that are way more Country. Like an “Answer To No One,” yeah, that’s not gonna be the typical Hip Hop song. But, again, I think there’s something for everybody.
Every Hip Hop artist didn’t grow up in New York, so a lot of people from different cultures know about the country.
DX: Now, I just saw that you were named NRA Country Artist of the Month for December. You talk about your “right to tote” in “Answer To No One,” and so I have to ask you about this current battle over gun rights in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting; is it time to make a change to our existing gun laws?
Colt Ford: Well, it’s the old cliché: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. I think it’s more of – to be quite honest with you – a mental health issue than a gun issue.
We don’t take care of people with mental disabilities in this country like we need to. Unless you’re a rich person, and generally a rich White person, there’s not much care for you. There’s not much care for mental disability and that’s sad. There’s not many hospitals that people can go into, or clinics that they can go into, and get any kind of help unless you’ve got a bunch of money – or even just get some information.
At the end of the day, I do think we have a right to tote guns. And the NRA preaches about gun safety and guns being registered and everything. Certainly the Hip Hop community is well familiar with guns. [Laughs]
Legal or not legal, it’s not the guns, man, its people. There’s a whole lack of – In my mind, its people don’t wanna get involved anymore. Like, back when I was growing up if you saw somebody that you thought was a little off their rocker, you’d probably say something to somebody. Now, people just don’t wanna get involved, people don’t wanna care about each other. And that’s not a Black or White thing, or any color thing, that’s just a human thing. We need to start looking out and going “Hey, something’s up with this dude; he might be a little off. Does this dude need help? Is anybody paying attention?”
Laws are not gonna make [the problem] go away. The guy in Connecticut stole the guns. Guns ain’t going away; we just need to be more aware of our surroundings and what’s going on. We can’t ban cars and they kill way more people than guns do. … That’s not what this country is founded on, that’s not what it’s about. It is about freedom, but at the same time I think this really boils down to a lot of mental health issues and people just not being able to have any kind of help. And there’s nowhere to go get it, so people go without things and without medication. And then you got people that’s busy with their lives going, “Yeah man, it don’t affect me.” And they don’t think about it till it does affect you. A lot of people say things like, I don’t like that, and I’m liberal about this; I’m Republican about that. Until it affects you, you don’t really know what you are about it is what I’m trying to say. I don’t think a lot of people can really say that until they’ve been truly affected by it.
DX: Let’s shift back to your connections to the Hip Hop community. You did “Waste Some Time” with Nappy Roots on your last album, Every Chance I Get, and I just checked out the new joint you got with Bubba Sparxxx, “County Folks.” Bubba talks on there about “a generation of people that love Tupac and Hank,” and you note you’re “bangin’ Outkast and a little George Strait.” But I just have to bluntly ask, have you been able to really rock a non-Country crowd yet with your brand of genre blending, or is your audience way more up on Hank and George Strait than Tupac and Outkast?
Colt Ford: I think my audience is up equally on any of ‘em. I don’t know how much time you’ve personally spent in like a country kind of bar, or a honky tonk kind of place, but as soon as the band quits playing they put on nothing but straight Hip Hop music - especially down here in the South, [they put on] to me like the most ghetto of Hip Hop music. [Laughs]
DX: Ratchet. [Laughs]
Colt Ford: The most street, dirty or whatever, and the floor is packed. I’m a fan of any music that’s creative; I don’t really care what it is. I can appreciate it; I might not listen to it, but I can appreciate what it is.
I’ve got a 17-year-old and a 13-year-old, and they don’t know what the #1 song is. If my daughter puts on a CD in the car that she’s made, it might go Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Jason Aldean, Drake. I mean, it don’t even make no sense. [Laughs] But that’s what they listen to. Every one of these kids where we live now; you’ll see these kids, they’re country kids, they’ve got blue jeans and a hat turned around backwards in a jacked-up truck, and they’ve got all of my CDs, they’ve got all of Jason Aldean’s CDs, but they know every Lil Wayne song, they know every Drake song, every Nicki Minaj song.
Good songs are good songs, it doesn’t matter, you can call it whatever you want to. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song. That’s just the way I look at it. … I think Jay-Z is just crazy. I think Lil Wayne is insane. I would love to do something with him. I love Tupac. I was watching Resurrection the other night and I’m going, “Man.” I got to meet him a few times. And, it’s so sad that we lost him and Biggie, people like that, that I couldn’t imagine how many great records we woulda heard from guys like that. I mean, I’d love to do something with T.I. I love Ludacris - really anybody that wants to do something creative, somebody that’s not afraid to go “Yeah, I’ll do that. Let’s get in there and see what’s cool.” ‘Cause when me and DMC did [“Ride On, Ride Out”] – This is 50 million records, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; you can’t argue with that guy. That’s a legend. That’s an absolute legend and Hip Hop royalty, and it bothers me that some of these young cats don’t appreciate and give enough credit to guys like that; the Old School guys that paved the way to be able to do anything that we’re all doing today.
And that’s really where I’m at: if somebody never did something different [where would we be]? If KISS listened to everybody, and Run-DMC listened to everybody, and Waylon Jennings listened to everybody you wouldn’t of had those [cross-genre] records, ‘cause they told ‘em that they shouldn’t do ‘em. … Look at Lil Wayne, somebody like that, where he’s evolved, from where he started to where he’s at now. It’s crazy, lyrically, to me where that guy is.
So, I’d love to work with anybody that’s willing to step in there and go “Okay, there’s no rules to music.” I mean, there aren’t. Music is something you feel, so … When D and I worked together, it wasn’t about somebody putting us together, I said “I would love to do a record with him, but him and I need to sit down and see if we’re on the same page.” And that’s what we did. So we sat down, we kicked it, we hung out, and was like, “Man, we really like a lot of the same stuff.” So we made a hard, “Rock Box” kind of song … I just like making music, man. And I like blending it, so I think it’d be fun to do with some of those big time Hip Hop artists, to do something that gives a little bit of what I do with a little bit of what they do.
DX: Before we wrap up this quick Q&A, I just have to ask, you mention that this happens but I’m still skeptical; you’re saying you’ve really heard “Hip Hop In A Honky Tonk”? That’s really happened?
Colt Ford: I mean, are you joking me or you don’t believe that?
DX: No, I do not believe you. [Laughs]
Colt Ford: That’s fucking crazy, dude. Any honky tonk you go into in America, when I get done playing they play Ying Yang Twins, Ludacris, and the most ghetto-ass Hip Hop you’ll ever hear. Every one of these clubs across the country, don’t matter where you go. I’ll put that on my mama and my hand on The Bible.
DX: Wow. I gotta go on a spy mission or something to see if that’s true. [Laughs]
Colt Ford: I swear it’s the truth. I mean, that’s just what it is. It’s everywhere you go; as soon as the band gets done that’s what you hear. And it’s funny, ‘cause these country people – I mean, guys in boots with dip in their mouths, and they know all the words to them songs. It’s country white girls droppin’ it like it’s hot in there. I mean, I don’t know how to explain it; you just need to come see it.