Nashville rap music is an oxymoron. It is a thriving, vibrant, and diverse scene in a city where anything other than typical western or rock music is ostracized. The Nashville media has largely ignored this budding art form because of the city being stuck in its old ways.
The new Nashville underground movement is not your father’s rap music. No longer does the city rap exclusively about the glorification of drugs and gratuitous violence, but rather something vastly more beautiful and relatable. These issues frequently are explored in the music, and rightly so, just in a more tasteful, and uplifting light. While there are still beautiful songs about struggle and darkness, the city has adopted a more positive and upbeat vibe, but has stayed true to the city’s historic soulful roots and aggressive support of civil rights.
Lightning 100 has worked wonders in Nashville to support independent and local music, saturated by the musings of Music Row and commercialized country. However, in all of the good the station has done for moving Nashville forward and into a new climate of diversity, it has failed to make Nashville rap more accessible and more popular to the general scene in the city.
This can be attributed to many ideas, withheld prejudices, and opinions towards hip-hop and what “traditional” Nashville music ought to be. Nashville rap artists like Mike Floss, Starlito, Brian Brown, and Chancellor Warhol have captured popularity nationwide, as well as a vice grip on the mid-south, but still aren’t acclaimed by their own community. Their music is more of an art form, not mindless, crass rhymes over 808s, and surely not anything typical. Stylistically, they are more reminiscent of boom bap slam or prose, than the current top 40 rap saturating the market. Culturally and artistically their music is far more important and relevant to the sentiments of Nashville than any folk or country.
Genius released a study, explicating rap’s new emergence as the country’s leading genre, only recently surpassing rock and roll. This is a monumental shift in our country’s music climate. Nashville traditionalists however will still turn a blind eye to the community’s budding and highly diverse hip-hop scene. Instead, the Nashville media, and Lightning 100 in particular continue the deluge of mediocre rock and indie-folk music, when there are tremendous rap acts sitting in their backyard.
This article is as much a defense of rap being a viable art form, as much as it is an argument for the style being included in Nashville’s indie radio and media domains. Rap is the country’s leading medium of artistic expression, and has been regarded as so for years. In my opinion, rap is the most pure form of emotional articulation since jazz.
In addition to being a true and respectable art form, Nashville’s rappers feature a diverse and well-rounded catalogue of sounds, with no one specific style being adopted by all of the city’s leading artists. In this day and age all rock ‘n roll as well as country comes off sounding the exact same, while the city’s diversity in rap styles and delivery is multi-faceted.
Artists such as Mike Floss utilize autotune and darker lyrics, in order to accurately convey his life and Nashville episodes, while Brian Brown’s lively delivery and jovial, upbeat nuance leads to a highly contrasting tone to a different take on his Nashville experiences. However, this jazzier style isn’t the whole of Nashville. Starlito tells vivid stories of street life and crime in the city, and BukuSteez supplies a soundcloud style catalogue of bangers and party soundtracks. The list goes on and on, and the assortment in hip-hop is rivaled by no other genres in the city.
Nonetheless, Lightning 100 chooses to play and play and play and play the typical tired rock that is oft heard and very rarely perfected or altered. This lack of variation has led to rock ‘n roll not only losing the ear of its listeners, but has totally dulled the genre as a whole, leading rap to drastically surpass it this year.
Other than the fact that rap is simply more artistically relevant and largely desired by the public, an element of prejudice against the rap scene as a whole is adopted by country purists and Nashville media and venues alike. Many venues in town still refuse to host rap shows, and if you look at articles published by other Nashville blogs and magazines, the ratio of rap selection is disparaging.
The moniker of “Music City” has birthed an elitism in the industry community, and results in the ostracizing of new styles. If it isn’t country, it isn’t allowed the resources to succeed and must build its own cult following before any foothold can be established.
But what does this have to do with Lightning 100?
Many people have asked them before to evaluate Nashville’s hip hop scene and place it on the local mainstream platform, and these numerous requests and suggestions have been denied.
Earlier this year I spoke with Nashville rapper Scotty Rockwell (below) and the two of us mused upon the possibility of rap acts performing at Live on the Green, Lightning 100’s incredible flagship music festival held annually downtown. Sheryl Crowe was the headliner this go around, and not a single rap artist was featured. Kids and young adults from all walks of life turned up together in front of the city’s courthouse to the early-2000s pop of a fading superstar. It was hard not to wonder how these young people would’ve reacted to a rap artist.
If you crowd-surfed to Sheryl Crowe, you could’ve flown to Starlito or Mike Floss. Point blank. The city is so primed to embrace rap as a whole, but the elitism of Nashville’s mainstream industry leaders make it next to impossible for rap to get its foot in the door.
If Lightning 100 could embrace this nuanced genre, holding the same independent spirit the station and their frequent artists adopt, our underground scene would spread across the city like wildfire, the exact same way that Starlito did as he began to sell CDs out of a backpack more than a decade ago. All Nashville’s hip-hop community needs is a vessel for exposure. I guarantee you that.