When Chris Janson shot the album cover for his new release Real Friends, out Friday, he went full high-class hillbilly: reclining in a silver-dollar-studded 1964 Pontiac Bonneville that was once owned by Hank Williams Jr. and now resides in the garage of Kid Rock, who loaned it out to the “Drunk Girl” singer for the photo session.
Janson is a Williams superfan and channels the polarizing country rebel on a number of songs on the LP, including the shout-along “Beer Me” and the small-town salute “Country USA.” But it’s on “Say About Me” — a rapid-fire, self-referential blast of guitar rock that features a cameo from Migos rapper Offset — where he most taps into his inner Hank Jr., boasting about flying in private jets, rolling in a Bentley, and having the “hottest woman this world has ever seen.”
It was actually one of the song’s co-writers, Shy Carter (Jason Derulo, Tim McGraw), who inspired “Say About Me” after he quizzed Janson about a photo he had of a bearded guy with a guitar hanging on his writing-room wall.
“Shy Carter walked in and said, ‘Who is that?’ I said, ‘What? That’s Bocephus, dude.’ He said, ‘Man, he looks cool as shit. Let’s write something like that,'” recalls Janson, who suggested that they come up with something that sonically bridged the gap between Williams’ rambunctious 1983 period and the swagger of Migos. “I just started rapping and we pushed the record button,” he says.
When an executive at Janson’s record label Warner Music Nashville eventually heard the song, they asked if he’d like to release a remixed version with an artist outside of the country music genre. Janson says his reply was immediate: “It’d have to be Migos, and particularly Offset.”
The label reached out to Offset’s team with the offer and they agreed, and soon a verse from the rapper landed in Janson’s inbox. Opening with a line that alludes to Offset’s wife Cardi B, he echoes some of the country singer’s boasts: “I got the baddest bitch in the game/diamonds on her neck and wrists make it rain.”
But he also drops in risky lines that may raise the eyebrows of some country fans — like “I eat Percocet ease the pain” and “we smoke blow.” There’s also the use of the n-word.
“I said, ‘Just be Offset. Say what you want,'” says Janson when Offset asked for direction in the verse. “He definitely did.”
The overt drug references may seem at odds with Janson’s God-fearing, family-man image, but he says he and Offset — who only met once, randomly, while in line at a Shake Shack in West Hollywood — have more in common than meets the eye.
“I had a feeling in my gut that we’d get along, and we did. We have similar interests,” he says. “We both have four kids. Family comes first for him, from what I gather. And he likes cool cars and jewelry, so it’s a win-win.”
While Janson’s original version appears on the Real Friends physical release, the Offset feature is only available online. Janson says that was by design.
“I chose digital exclusively because his crowd is a digital crowd,” he says. “They’re not going to buy an Offset CD or buy a Chris Janson CD, but they will download it and they will stream it.”