A few years ago, country artists were hell-bent to prove the music they created was real country.
Today’s crop of young artists is embracing just how un-country they are.
And the act making perhaps the biggest impact on that statement right now is one of the newest — the duo Florida Georgia Line.
In addition to blazing rock guitars and the absence of a fiddle or steel guitar, FGL — Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley — has infused their blistering country rock with heavy doses of hip-hop.
With few exceptions during the pair’s 90-minute sold-out show at Casino del Sol’s AVA Sunday night, their music sounded more like hip-hop with a Southern accent. The pair opened the night with their rocking rap “It’z Just What We Do” then rapped the intro to the drinking song “Tip It Back,” waving plastic cups presumably filled with beer and swigging a bottle of what looked like whiskey.
The duo pulled out nearly every cut off their debut album “Here’s to the Good Times,” which is unapologetically pop country with hip-hop overtones. They also played a couple of their more country radio friendly songs — “Hell Raisin’ Heat of the Summer” and “Stay.” But the audience reaction was much bigger for the rap songs, especially “Cruise,” the pair’s history-making debut single that was released late last year. The song has been atop the Billboard country charts for more than 21 weeks and the crossover version with the rapper Nelly has been flirting with the top 5 of Billboard’s pop charts for weeks.
FGL is not the pioneers of spiking country with hip-hop. The early 2000s duo Big & Rich get that credit. But after a few hip-hop-infused countrified ditties, John Rich and Big Kenny Alphin sounded more gimmicky than anything else.
Others like Colt Ford, Jason Aldean and Brantley Gilbert have had a more lasting impact on blurring the lines between country and rap. Today’s country can be better defined as pop music with twang. And that is not a bad thing. Country has become the top selling genre because of its willingness to embrace other pop styles in a way that is impossible for other genres. Can you picture Imagine Dragons (“Radioactive”) or Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis (“Thrift Store”) slipping in a George Strait cover during a live show? Their fans would likely react with confusion. But when FGL on Sunday night inserted the opening rap from “Thrift Store” into their rock-rap song “Country In My Soul,” the audience waved its hands in the air and rapped along.