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Hip-Hop Fridays: ‘Rapabilly’ The Next Radio Wave? by K.O. Jackson

Legendary crooner Tony Bennett teamed up with legendary R&B vocalist Stevie Wonder. Their unlikely collaboration recently won them a Grammy Award.

Josh Groban, 25, not only sings operatic songs and ballads, but on his new album, “Awake,” he collaborated with artists ranging from jazz man Herbie Hancock to pop star Dave Matthews.

Now that so many musicians are crossing genres, it seems logical that two forms of music that are so much alike combine: hip-hop/rap and country music.

Call it rapabilly.

While still in its infancy, it’s a musical style that is gaining in popularity with musicians and mainstream radio.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, and in some form, those two styles of music cross lines and take on the same form,” says Dale Christopher, music director of the Fort Wayne country music station WBTU-FM – 93.3.

“A couple of years ago, (rapper) Nelly and (country music singer) Tim McGraw got together for a song. It didn’t appeal to the masses of either side, but there were people who liked it. The black rapper Cowboy Troy travels with the country act Big & Rich. What people may miss out on is, at the roots, both of these styles of music are the same.

“(Hip-hop and country music) come from similar backgrounds. They both talk about real life and relationships. Motown followed rock music, which came from Southern gospel, which is a part of country music. Time to time, I think we will find the two music styles coming together. We will have some people who will like it, but I don’t think it will appeal to the masses.”

Meshing two musical styles is not new in the music world: The success hinges on meshing the right styles of music, says a nationally known urban-music producer. Jim Jonsin looks like a biker rather than a producer of many of the hottest hip-hop songs being played today. He wears leather jeans to enhance his goatee and shaved head.

He was also recently honored as BMI’s Songwriter of the Year at the sixth annual Urban Awards ceremony in New York City and recognized as being the producer of many top urban artists, such as Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, Pretty Ricky and Trick Daddy.

Scratching and spinning records on a turntable in the ’90s, the 36-year-old Florida resident began making beats and started working with some of urban music’s top artists.

Now, Jonsin wants to expand upon what Nelly and McGraw touched upon with “Over & Over” in 2005.

“I know Trick Daddy has been messing with (the country rock song) ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ That song is played at every NASCAR race with more than 300,000 people singing to it. NASCAR is so huge. If we could get a rapper on that, to bridge the gap, it will open up a whole new world of music for everyone,” says Jonsin during a phone interview, adding that he grew up listening to his father’s classic rock and his mother’s old-school R&B, soul and disco music.

“I am a funny-looking white guy. I look like I should be on a skateboard or something. I like riding dirt bikes, Harleys and four-wheel ATVs. I don’t fit the hip-hop look. People who know me know this is the music I grew up with, and what I want to do is to produce good music.

“The kids into hip-hop today are all skateboarders and surfers, an entirely new audience for rap,” says Jonsin, a staff producer at Atlantic Records who has his own record label, Rebel Rock Entertainment. “What I want to do is bring hip-hop to the world of NASCAR and auto racing. Nobody has really done that yet.”

While merging different musical styles can work, the artists need to have a “great appeal to the public,” says Franklin Crooms III, owner of the Fort Wayne Slo-Flo Management.

“You are never going to be able to take one song and please everyone. I think what Nelly did with McGraw was wonderful. You had a unique combination. They both had their own audience. I even heard girls who were into hip-hop not singing Nelly’s lines, but they were singing McGraw’s lines. That’s wonderful crossover appeal,” Crooms says.

“The combination of mixing hip-hop and country music is strong. When you think of that song, it was played on BET, VH1 and MTV. That shows you a great song can make a good video, and that’s what any artist wants to do.

“Mixing any musical styles is a bold move, but if you can pull it off, it becomes a wonderful concept.”

Currently, Crooms is directing the career of Rudy, a Fort Wayne hip-hop artist who has toured with leading hip-hop acts and is featured on the lead track of “NBA 2K6,” the album complementing the video game.

Although Rudy, 23, doesn’t have plans to abandon his hip-hop style – which has led him on a national advertising campaign with the NBA album – he appreciates artists willing to “try something different.”

“I think (hip-hop performer) Ludacris could pull something like this off. Honestly, you don’t hear about this often. But if something has worked before, I expect others may follow and do it again.”

However, it doesn’t require musical performers or producers to support mixing musical styles. Sometimes, all that is needed is someone to let the music play.

Mark Fransen, 43, has been a DJ for more than 16 years. For the past nine years, he has operated Good Vibration DJ service.

Depending upon the festivity, the Fort Wayne DJ plays a variety of songs that appeal to his audience. As a result, he says, the bridge Jonsin talks about is “becoming more possible.”

“We have done a party where the kids want to hear hip-hop and the parents want to hear country, and they both like the type of music they are hearing,” Fransen says. “Five years ago, I would have never thought this could work, but you have a young hip-hop crowd that likes some country music. There could be a crossover appeal to rap and country. They may be on to something.”

Denise L. Bonner of New Haven thinks the best hip-hop/country collaboration should be the Dixie Chicks, Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

“It’s not about the music. For me, it’s about the words and how they move you. Many country ballads have been covered by R&B singers because they like the words. That’s what it’s all about to me, the words,” she says as she waited to enter 469 Sports and Spirits to hear a country band perform.

While the words might sound good, “Will people dance to a new musical form?” local DJ Jason Mueller wonders.

“Country music has really changed over the past 10 years. It has gotten away from the banjo twang and moved closer to pop music with a beat,” says Mueller, 26, of Sound Sensation DJ Service. “The newer style of country music may work in certain parts of the country. The main thing is going to be how you mix it.

“The dance clubs are going to always go for a pop/hip-hop sound. That’s where mixing old country with hip-hop music would not work. But the thing is other crossover songs worked that people never thought they would. No one thought Areosmith and Run-DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ would be a hit, and that video was shown on MTV and introduced more people to rap and some more people to rock ’n’ roll.

“If it’s done right, crossover can be really good. So the collaboration of hip-hop and country music can be good if it’s done right. I just don’t know who will do it.”

K.O. Jackson can be reached at This article was published in The Journal Gazette.

K.O. Jackson

Friday, March 2, 2007

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