Kane Brown wrote his first song a mere two years ago. Titled "Don't Go City on Me," it begged a love interest to return to a simple country life. But Brown, raised in rural northwest Georgia and around Chattanooga, Tennessee, has already started to distance himself from the song as his writing has progressed.
"A lot of people ask me if I'm gonna play it, but every time I listen to it I'm like, 'Dude, that was so cheesy,'" he tells Rolling Stone Country. "Every time I listen to it!"
But that song, along with Brown's viral covers of country hits from Lee Brice, Chris Young and others that he posted to YouTube, played an important role in his rapid rise to promising major label country artist. With his heavily tattooed appearance, the biracial Brown figures he probably caught a lot of people off guard when he opened his mouth to sing in a resonant country baritone.
"I feel like everybody that saw my videos was like, 'Oh this dude's about to rap,'" he says. "They just played my videos and I feel like I shocked a lot of people. I started getting close to everybody and I think they heard my story, what I had to tell them. I told them how I grew up, and they just got something started and I feel like they wanted to keep going with it."
Brown continues that tradition of challenging assumptions and re-telling his story on his self-titled debut album, out today. He co-wrote seven of the 11 tracks, digging back into a life that has known some tremendous hardships as well as inspiring joys. The album's current single "Thunder in the Rain" is more interested in attraction, looking at the chemistry of two individuals with a driving chorus earworm. On the pop-flavored "What Ifs," Brown addresses the uncertainty of a new relationship with some vocal support from Lauren Alaina, a school friend from his time living in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.
"She's always had this amazing voice and then she went on American Idol and she really convinced me to sing," he explains. "I was always a shy kid in choir and I would always hum and she was like, 'Sing for me' and she was like, 'You have a beautiful voice.'"
In the more groove-based "Learning," Brown recounts feeling abuse at the hands of his stepfather, then later discrimination for the color of his skin. Rather than sink into bitterness, he's determined to push past it. "I'm learning how to let it go," he sings, accompanied by some tangy slide guitar. He found guidance from his great-grandfather, whose general store he details in the poignant "Cold Spot" – co-written with "The House That Built Me" tunesmiths Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas.
“He owned this store called the Cold Spot and every day after school I would go and sit in there and just hang out with him and he would teach me everything," says Brown. "Teach me life, pretty much – how to run the store, what goes where, how to clean up, how to sweep. Every day I'd go in there and get minnows and worms and I'd take my pop, which is my granddad, and we'd go fishin' every day."
With such a quick rise to prominence, Brown has had to find his legs quickly. He just made his national television debut yesterday on Ellen, and spent all summer opening shows on Florida Georgia Line's Dig Your Roots Tour. Early in November, he kicked off his headlining Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now Tour, which runs through January.
It's all pretty remarkable for a guy who hadn't written a song before two years ago. But with his debut album, Brown reveals himself to be an artist determined to succeed – and willing to learn.