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The Country Music Association has given out 88 awards for Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, and New Artist of the Year since 2000. Of that number, can you guess how many winners have been African American? If you said “two” — Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen, both in the New Artist category in 2009 and 2021, respectively — you’d be correct. Not exactly the strongest show of diversity for a musical genre that’s been notoriously one-noted with its representation.
Allen, a Delaware native who’s written and performed his own music for years, understood the need for a script refresh. The Grammy-nominated artist also knew that if the narrative of little Black boys and girls never seeing country performers who looked like them was ever going to change, he’d have to be a part of the revision. And with each stage show and new song, he’s been just that.
But the need to alter mindsets goes well beyond Nashville. Far too often, the images we see on social media of Black men leans either violent or emotionally distant. In his new partnership with Dove Men+Care, Allen, a proud husband and father of three (including one born last October), is helping to flip the script on how guys who look like him appear on your timeline. Through the #CelebrateBlackDads initiative, feeds are starting to show Black guys doing their kids’ hair and playing sports with them.
Tulip Drive has been out for a few months now. What has been the consensus from folks who’ve heard it?
The one consistent thing I’ve heard is that they feel like there’s something on there for everyone, no matter what genre of music you like. Personally, that’s what I was going for. I love country. I grew up in this small town [called Milton, Delaware]. But I also love Christian music. I love hip hop. I love rock. I love pop. I love R&B. I want, no matter what I’m doing and where I’m at, everyone to feel like it’s a place they can go. I feel like my albums should represent that. I feel like my album shouldn’t just represent Delaware. It shouldn’t just represent country music. It shouldn’t just represent the U.S. It should represent the world and we’re all different. I’m trying to promote peace in the world with my album.
Jimmie, with a new album, a new baby, a new tour, and everything else, how are you not exhausted?
Man, the career I’m lucky enough to have is something I’ve worked my entire life for, something that I lived in my car for, something that I gave up on college for. So, what fuels me is what I want in life. Also, what fuels me is the obvious support of my friends and my family. The other cool thing is when I get to meet new allies such as Dove. That’s motivation right there, the fact that Dove has gone out of its way to celebrate Black dads. That’s purposeful. It’s not a situation where they’re like, “Yeah, we got a brochure about Black dads to make it look like we care.” Nah, it’s a whole thing and it’s intentional. So, that’s motivation.
How are you dealing with those sleepless nights with the new baby?
It’s a real thing, bro. Honestly, I can tell you since it has happened to me three times, between birth and [when the child turns] seven or eight months, you’re like, “What are you doing, baby? This is crazy. Why am I a father? I will never do this again.”
But how I started looking at it was like this — they’re only going to be small one time. Luckily, you have a baby that’s crying. So many people can’t even have kids. Some people have kids that don’t have the ability to speak. They can’t cry. I’m being thankful for my child’s life. Even in the moments where [you’re] like, “I’m going back downstairs to feed them another bottle,” just try to remember that, “Hey, we’re here thriving because somebody did this for us.” You might have another one. And as soon as you have another one and the baby’s crying, you’re going to be like, “Why did I do this to myself again?” I did that to myself three times, bro.
What helps me is that I focus on my kids. I have the opportunity here, especially with my sons, to help raise them right, adding to the better picture of being a Black man. We control that, bro. We have the ability to get rid of stereotypes. We also have the ability to raise young Black men, make them strong and teach them self-worth. That’s how I look at it.
How did you come to partner with Dove for this important project?
I’ve been washing my underarms and feet with Dove since before Dove knew I existed. My dad used it. My dad was this big country boy, but he was using that smell-good women’s stuff. I was like, “Bro, what you doin’?” But real talk, I love Dove, man. My team reached out to me and told me about what they were doing. I was like, “Yo, I’m down.” I don’t get down with people just for notoriety or just for a check. I can go get a check anywhere. I can go get notoriety anywhere. For me to rock with a company, there’s got to be a real connection there. I either have to really like the brand and the products and/or it reminds me of my family, growing up. And with my dad no longer being alive, the first thing I thought about [when I was considering to work with Dove] was my dad. That’s what it was about. Luckily, I get to work with a brand that I actually use and, at the same time, it reminds me of my family. And they got stuff for men now.
I’m not out here just sayin’ what I say or just promotin’ a company just for a check. Look, if [the company you endorse] gets tied up in some nonsense, you get tied up in some nonsense. I’m proud to be a part of the Dove family. I’m proud to be the person who brings comfort to the term “Black dad.” I’m trying to clean up this negative stereotype. And the crazy thing is that the facts don’t support that Black dads are worse. The facts support that there are actually more white dads who don’t show up. Shout out to Dove for making [a narrative change] intentional. On their website, they legit got Black dudes on there you can celebrate.
Even in the midst of Kanye [West] going through whatever it is he’s going through, Kanye’s a great dad, bro. I don’t care what nobody says! You can’t take that away from him. I love the fact that Dove is doing this. And I love the fact that I get to be a part of it, bro. Real talk. So do you. Us sitting here, having this conversation right now as two Black fathers, we’re motivating each other. Just challenging each other to be better.
You’re not just changing how Black dads are perceived, though. You’re also changing how country musicians are seen. Do you think the industry is evolving quick enough?
I don’t believe in speeding up anything because however you go up, that’s how you come down. I was taught at a young age to build steps and take steps. When you build the steps, you lay the foundation. Take your time. It might take a little longer but you’re building it the right way.
When it comes to change, I don’t really like the word “change.” I like the words “add to.” You got two ways to look at it: if I were to come in here and say I want to change country music, well, my dad grew up on country music. He loved it. I would be changing the pieces of country music my father and grandfather loved. Bruh, I don’t want to do that. I want to add to it. People ask, “But what about the negativity?” Every kind of music has negativity. How do you get rid of the negativity? The same thing you do with food. In order to get rid of the sour, you add some sweet. If you keep pouring in, you keep adding to it, eventually it’ll get where it needs to go.
Real talk, I don’t get wrapped up in the whole color thing. When I came into country music, I wanted to make good music first. Here’s the thing: I can’t use my platform to benefit Black men and Black people until I’m at a level that’s competitive and people respect me as a musician. In order to do that, I had to focus on the music. There are a lot of young Black guys in country music that I’m starting to work with. I tell them to make good music first. You can’t complain about this if you’re not successful. People listen to successful artists. Build your career first. Focus on the music.
This is the genre I got started in. I had 1,000 followers on Instagram when I got my record deal. What I did was focus on the music. I didn’t get wrapped up in where I was from, what I looked like, none of that. The song I’m writing doesn’t care where I’m from. The song doesn’t care what I look like. I need to focus on that song. When the song became successful, people started to see me. The success of the song led to people seeing that I was Black. Once they saw I was Black, it motivated some people and confused some other ones. Yet, it started to position me on this platform where I could be a role model and mentor, showing you could make great music and it doesn’t matter what you look like. I could encourage other Black folks that if they wanted to make country music, they could do it. There was noise around me. People telling me to do this and do whatever, whatever. I just focused on the music. That’s the change I want to see. I want people to focus on the music. I don’t care what color you are. Let’s all make great music first. Then, whatever you’re pushing, whatever you’re benefiting from, whatever you need to do, go for it.
I don’t really look at it like pressure because I’m okay with who I am. I love the fact that I’m a Black person in country music from Milton, Delaware. I have no shame in that. It’s a beautiful thing that my dream that I’ve had helps inspire people. That’s what I want people to see. But that wouldn’t have happened without the songs first.
You mentioned the term ‘role model’ a little earlier. It appears you’re embracing the term. What comes with being a role model in the country music industry?
What comes with it? People’s unwanted and often-wrong opinion. What comes with it? A level of responsibility to the younger generation. What should come with it when you step into this [entertainment] thing? They should give you a tough-skin jacket because that’s what you’re going to need. Every day I wake up, I say a little prayer for myself to get through the day. I’m thankful for my parents. I say it all the time—they raised me with so much confidence in who I am and where I’m from that I don’t care about the opinions of people if they go against what I believe.
I’ve had times when people write some crazy, racist comment on my [social channels]. And people are like, “Jimmie, did that make you mad?” I said, “Why would I give that person power over my life?” I look at my life that I’ve worked for and that I’ve been blessed with — a family, a nice house, a way to support my family, money in the bank — you think I’m going to let a tweet or a Facebook comment from this person with no teeth in the middle of nowhere bother my day? Heck no, bro! I’m not thinking about them. That’s why I don’t get mad. People be like, “Jimmie, you need to tweet more when people say something racist.” Why? Why would I do that. Then, you become their puppet.
You know how people go away? You stop acting like they exist. Stop giving it attention. Real talk, we give too many racist people attention. That’s the problem. They don’t matter. They want attention. They’re in their mother’s trailer in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, stealing their neighbor’s electricity so they can tweet from their 1985 Macintosh computer. They don’t matter. I focus on the people that care. For every racist person, there’s a Dove, someone that’s making an effort. Why am I focusing on these negative squirrels in the middle of nowhere when you have a big corporation like Dove showing they care about Black dads?
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