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A History of Hick-Hop: The 27-Year-Old Story of Country Rap

From Bellamy Brothers to Colt Ford, Nelly to Ludacris, a chronological look at country’s infusion of rap

Colt Ford and Florida Georgia line backstage at the 2013 American Country Awards

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There's just no ignoring the hick-hop phenomenon. It's spawned a reality show, viral videos and a thriving fringe scene, along with the traditional measure of country success — chart-topping singles. This current trend was preceded by over half a century of talking-blues-style recordings: Western swinger Tex Williams's "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"; fiddling Southern-rocker Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia"; funky picker-narrator Jerry Reed's "When You're Hot, You're Hot" and Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"; to name just a few.

But Cash and Co. weren't technically rapping. Animated, syncopated sing-talking was their way of putting storytelling ballads across with panache. The tradition of rhythmic country recitations primed such outsized personalities as Toby Keith, Trace Adkins and Big & Rich to begin drawing on hip-hop influence. The country-rap aesthetic crystallized once a network of music makers from Georgia — home to the Southern rap capital of Atlanta — made their presence felt in Nashville. Soon, country-leaning mainstream rappers migrated to the country format and a new generation of fans came up on twang, rock and Tupac. Here are the milestones of the movement, in timeline form. By Jewly Hight

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Jerrod Niemann’s ‘Drink to That All Night’ (October 2013)

Country's seen its share of loops and programmed beats in recent years, especially on remixes. But that hasn't necessarily been the case with Auto-Tune, the robotic-sounding vocal effect made famous by T-Pain. Jerrod Niemann used it all over the verses of his country club banger "Drink to That All Night," and scored the second country Number One of his career. That's one feature of the track that remained unchanged when Pitbull was hired to do a pop remix. Here's the video for Niemann's original version.

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Buck 22’s ‘Achy Breaky 2’ (February 2014)

One thing that can be said for "Achy Breaky 2” is nobody saw this YouTube video coming. Over two decades after Billy Ray Cyrus was crowned sex symbol of a line dance craze, a rapper going by Buck 22 — who turned out to be Damon Elliott, the hip-hop-producing son of Dionne Warwick and jazz drummer Bill Elliott — convinced Cyrus to sing his familiar hook over a bass-heavy, sci-fi track. Even more amazing, he got BRC to go along with gratuitous references to his daughter acting out, and to do all this surrounded by twerking women in barely-there alien costumes. Following that brief bust of attention, Buck 22 aimed a more by-the-books single called "Country Pride" at country radio.     

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Big Smo’s Reality Show (June, 2014)

After ABC's Nashville became popular by mixing soap opera storylines with stylized portraits of the modern country music industry, it was only a matter of time before the parade of country-music reality shows kicked off. A&E first tested the waters with the non-starter Crazy Hearts: Nashville, before premiering a show focused on likable country rapper Big Smo the same month he released his major label debut, Kuntry Livin’. During the pilot episode, Smo made his style sound like a no-brainer: "It's country music, with a twist of Southern rock & roll, delivered in a rap form."

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