Advertisement

Beyoncé is upending country music. These 5 Black country artists are already feeling the effects.

Beyoncé is upending country music. These 5 Black country artists are already feeling the effects.

Despite its fast-growing popularity, modern country music's reputation is not always flattering; thinly veiled conservatism and overused clichés about trucks and beer may come to mind.

For Black fans in particular, the genre is rarely described as welcoming. In 2019, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" was barred from country charts and radio stations for lacking unspecified "elements," igniting discourse about segregation in the music industry.

But when Beyoncé tells you to grab a cowboy hat and "take it to the floor now," how could you say no?

In February, Beyoncé became the first Black woman ever to reach No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart with her surprise-released single "Texas Hold 'Em." Just one week later, it topped the Hot 100, even though some country radio stations initially refused to play it.

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor "Renaissance," which paid homage to the pioneers of house, ballroom, and club music, Beyoncé's new album "Cowboy Carter," out Friday, carries sociopolitical implications. It's been widely interpreted as an act of reclamation — a deliberate move to recoup space in a genre indebted to Black people, but whose audience and public perception have been whitewashed over time.

While Beyoncé is a proud Houston native, this is a territorial battle she's faced before.

In fact, "Cowboy Carter" was inspired by an unnamed time when Beyoncé "did not feel welcomed," which many have speculated is an allusion to the 2016 CMA Awards, where her performance of her outlaw anthem "Daddy Lessons" with The Chicks faced widespread backlash from viewers.

"Because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive," Beyoncé explained on Instagram. "The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me."

Pablo, The Don, a popular music commentator on TikTok, previously argued the "Renaissance" trilogy is intended to challenge our ideas of authenticity: in this case, what constitutes "authentic country music" and who gets to decide. More than perhaps anyone else, Beyoncé can leverage her platform to confront the self-appointed gatekeepers, almost daring them to deny her entry.

"With country in particular, it's going to be the toughest reckoning," Pablo said. "This is a genre that historically has been so incredibly well gatekept and monopolized by white folks."

It may be a stretch to suggest Beyoncé can single-handedly reclaim country music for Black people. As Billboard's Kyle Denis argued, that would imply a dearth of Black musicianship in the genre preceding the launch of "Cowboy Carter," which isn't the case.

But what's undeniable is Beyoncé's ability to spark dialogue on a mainstream scale. Her defiant embrace of country music has served to illuminate its diverse roots, educate skeptics, and revitalize interest in the genre — especially as a space where Black artists can (and do) experiment, innovate, and thrive.

Consequently, she has spurred members of the Beyhive to seek more trailblazers in Nashville. Many Black artists creating country music have already seen major boosts in streaming numbers.

Business Insider caught up with five such artists who are making their own impact on the genre. Get to know their music — and their thoughts on the Beyoncé effect — below.


tanner adell press photo
Tanner Adell was born in Kentucky and raised between California and Wyoming.Chase Foster

Name: Tanner Adell

Age: 27

Song sampler platter: "Buckle Bunny," "FU-150," and "See You in Church," hand-picked by Adell. "Those three sum up my mission statement."

Favorite country trope: "Whiskey and bourbon, because I was born in Kentucky. My blood is Kentucky blood."

The lowdown: As a child, Adell spent summers with her grandparents in Star Valley, Wyoming. The rural area's sole radio station got her hooked on songs by Josh Turner and Shania Twain.

"I connect a lot of my happiest memories [to] the countryside and country music and family," she told BI. "I just happen to also love being a total glam bot."

Adell's distinctive country-glam style earned her a spot in CMT's 2024 Next Women of Country class. She's particularly beloved by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, who have choreographed halftime routines to several of her songs (though admittedly not to the one called "I Hate Texas." For the record, Adell said she doesn't actually hate Texas, just the memories tainted by her Plano-born ex-boyfriend).

Psychic powers: Adell included a shout-out to Queen Bey in "Buckle Bunny," the title track for her debut mixtape: "Looking like Beyoncé with a lasso."

She couldn't have known that "Cowboy Carter" would arrive the following year, making her lyrics even more prescient. ("I manifest often," she said.)

Adell said she's "grateful" to Beyoncé for enticing more people to dig into country and, subsequently, to discover her catalog — especially fans who might have otherwise felt excluded by the genre.

It's a sensation that Adell knows well. She recorded her subversive hit "Luke Combs," whose refrain is "My country heart still wants to be the girl in a Luke Combs song," because she grew tired of the odes to blue eyes and blonde hair that dominate country radio. She didn't feel represented by the music she loved, so she wrote herself into it instead.

"I'm understanding that there are a lot of people like me," Adell said. "There are a lot of Black people who love country music, that have been afraid to say that they love country music, even afraid to make country music."


shaboozey press photo
Shaboozey's new album "Where I've Been Isn't Where I'm Going" is out May 31.Daniel Prakopcyk

Name: Shaboozey

Age: 28

Song sampler platter: Start with "Beverly Hills," "All Men Die," "Vegas," and "Tall Boy," Shaboozey said, "just to get your feet wet and understand, 'OK, this is what this guy represents.' Sometimes it's hip-hop, but also, it's something super unique."

Favorite country trope: Dirt roads, backroads, and crossroads. "A lot of things happen on those little paths."

The lowdown: Shaboozey, whose real name is Collins Chibueze, initially drew attention for weaving trap beats with hints of Southern twang. (Back when "Old Town Road" was released, he got a lot of texts asking, "Did I just hear you on the radio?") But as a native Virginian, leaning even further into country music felt natural.

"I just really wanted to bring an identity and bring something home to Virginia that they can call theirs," he explained. "That's really what my goal was with pursuing this sound."

Bridging the gap between rap and country felt natural, too. Both genres are deeply rooted in hometown pride and storytelling traditions — and both often use the trope of the "outlaw," something that Shaboozey connected with. The throughline extends from folk heroes like Marty Robbins and Woody Guthrie to contemporary hip-hop legends.

"I've always been an outlier everywhere I am. I've been an outlier in my own home," Shaboozey said. "I feel like I don't belong really anywhere. What I've been learning to do, especially on this next project, is make your own space. Make your own world."

Ice breakers: In the six weeks since Beyoncé dropped the two lead singles from "Cowboy Carter," Shaboozey has felt a palpable uptick in attention surrounding Black country artists.

"That's such a powerful woman," he said, "to create this much conversation. And it is great. It's a blessing. It also showed me how much work there is still left to do."

He hopes this moment isn't a mere trend, but a turning point — not just for more fans to enjoy country music, but for more Black artists to make it big. Unprompted, he reeled off several fellow musicians who deserve more attention: Kashus Culpepper, Buffalo Kin, Valerie June, Brittany Howard.

"There are many other people still that need to be talked about, but they're only focused on the ones that wear cowboy hats," Shaboozey said.

"Hopefully the future of country music is just something that is really meant for everybody, for all of America," he added. "I think that's what we're all doing here."


breland press photo
Breland was raised on gospel music in New Jersey.Henry Ammann

Name: Breland

Age: 28

Song sampler platter: "Cross Country," "The Extra Mile," "Thick," and "Heartbreak & Alcohol."

Favorite country trope: "I do actually drive a truck, so anytime people mention a Chevy in a song, I'm like, 'Let's go!' You're talking to me."

The lowdown: The night before Breland spoke to BI, he had a late-night studio session with Nelly. They previously collaborated on the 2021 song "High Horse," and both were eager to keep exploring the intersection of rap and country. (Credit where credit is due: Nelly had a hit song with Tim McGraw all the way back in 2004).

Indeed, Breland, whose full name is Daniel Gerard Breland, cut his teeth as a songwriter for mostly R&B and hip-hop artists. After his independent single "My Truck" went viral in 2019, Breland has made songs with Nashville darlings like Thomas Rhett and Keith Urban.

Ace in the hole: Breland said country is more "isolated" than other genres, which makes the enthusiasm for Beyoncé's new album even more fascinating.

"There is a level of loyalty that country fans are expecting and that country radio is expecting before they're willing to give an outsider a chance," he explained. "When you're an artist of color, you're under even more scrutiny."

Many people have argued that Beyoncé, noted tastemaker and internet-breaker, is specially primed to change the game. And while Breland agreed, he offered another theory for a favorable outcome: She already held all the right cards.

"'Irreplaceable,' to me, is a country song," he said. "You listen to the way that the guitar is being strummed, you listen to the way that the story is being told, and that is a Nashville song."

"I would argue that she's done it a bunch of times," he added. "We just didn't interpret it that way because it was Beyoncé."

The key difference with "Cowboy Carter" is the marketing. It raises the question: Why is country music treated as something physical, a certain aesthetic, or a skin tone, rather than a songwriting technique?

"What country radio typically says to artists like myself is, 'This isn't country.' Even when it is undeniably country," Breland explained. "So for her to find success at country radio, to be able to force their hand, is a significant development."


Blanco Brown press photo
Blanco Brown will release his new EP "Heartache & Lemonade" this year.J. Kaviar

Name: Blanco Brown

Age: 39

Song sampler platter: Two key songs are particularly important to Brown: "CountryTime" and "Georgia Power."

The former, a tempo-switching showpiece that was recorded in one take, was a labor of love. "It was just a magical moment that night in the studio," he said. "I freestyled the lyrics, no pen, no pad."

The goal of the latter is summarized by its title: "Georgia Power" is all about "not allowing somebody to dim your light or steal your energy."

Favorite country trope: "Moonshine."

The lowdown: Brown was raised by musicians between Atlanta and Butler, Georgia. His father was a music director for the church while his uncle was signed to LaFace Records.

Music was always an important part of his life, but country was a special case. Brown has a vivid memory of hearing Tim McGraw's "Don't Take the Girl" when he was 7 or 8 years old. Something clicked. He followed that instinct.

"By the time I was 16, I used to play around with this country type of twang," he recalled. "People were like, 'Man, you yodeling.' I was like, 'Oh man, that's what they call that? That's dope.'"

Today, Brown has racked up millions of streams for the genre-blending style that he dubbed "Trailer Trap," or better yet, "country music on steroids."

Lemonade recipe: Brown is a key dissenting voice amid the Beyoncé fervor; he's more impressed than encouraged by the scope of the "Cowboy Carter" discourse. Based on his experience in the industry, he doesn't think one album will have the power to change country music. "It's impossible," he said.

"When I first came to Nashville I was told, 'Yeah, we would never play this stuff,'" Brown said of trying to get his music on the radio. "They would ask, 'Is it a gimmick?'" he recalled. "But what space am I supposed to be living in when my ancestors created it?"

"I never broke into country music," he added. "I still feel like I'm on the outside looking in."

But even in the face of prejudice and rejection, Brown remains undeterred. He's due to release his new EP, "Heartache & Lemonade," later this year.

Much like Beyoncé's own 2016 album, the title evokes the urge to extract something sweet from a sour experience.

"I really honestly do music because I feel like I could do whatever I want and can't nobody tell me what to do," Brown said. "That's how I'm built."


Tiera Kennedy press photo
Tiera Kennedy is gearing up to release her full-length debut album.Alexa Campbell

Name: Tiera Kennedy

Age: 26

Song sampler platter: "Found It In You," a fan-favorite love song that Kennedy wrote about her husband, and "Gentleman," which she said epitomizes her "R&B-country vibe."

Favorite country trope: "I'm putting out my first album this year and there are a lot of truck songs. Actually, we have a song on the album and we just call it 'The Truck Song.'"

The lowdown: Growing up in Alabama, Kennedy was influenced by artists like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash to tell her life story through songwriting.

"I always tell people I don't feel like I found country music. I feel like country music found me," she said.

Kennedy was so determined to gain experience as a musician that she put on tiny concerts at Buffalo Wild Wings and Chick-fil-A. After completing the country artist's pilgrimage and moving to Nashville, she continued paying her dues for years, performing in restaurants and hotel lobbies until she scored a publishing deal.

It was a classic "I made it" moment, and a relief after a lifetime of hard work. "When I got that offer, that to me was like, 'OK. I'm supposed to be here and the right people are noticing.'"

Social-media savvy: One day after Beyoncé unveiled "Texas Hold 'Em," Kennedy shared an acoustic cover on TikTok. She promptly collected hundreds of thousands of views.

"That was my first experience of having somewhat of a viral moment," Kennedy said. "I realized the importance of what Beyoncé is doing."

"It's brought so much attention to artists like me, who've been in town for a really long time," she continued. "I go through the comments and see people say, 'I am not a fan of country music but I love your sound, and now because of this Beyoncé moment, I want to dig into your music and become a fan of you.'"

Listen to a roundup of key tracks by Black country artists on Business Insider's Spotify.

Read the original article on Business Insider