Darius Rucker: Kane Brown’s Success at Country Radio Is Important
Darius Rucker is rooting for Kane Brown. As one of just a handful of Black country singers with a hit on country radio, he recognizes that everyone who comes after him further opens the doors of opportunity.
Brown's mother is white and his father is Black and Cherokee. With "What Ifs" going to No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week he joins a very short list of non-white, non-Latino singers to have a chart-topping hit. Charley Pride is also on that list with several dozen hit songs in the 1970s and '80s. Ray Charles found country success singing with Willie Nelson, B.J. Thomas and more. The Pointer Sisters won a Grammy in a country category — this isn't an exhaustive list, but it's close. Brown's accomplishment is important.
"I think it’s really important," Rucker tells Taste of Country when asked about another singer of color finding success on the radio. "I think it’s something that should be championed. I’m happy for him and I’m hoping it’s gonna help more guys and gals get their shot."
This is something Rucker has been hoping for for quite awhile, actually. In a 2016 piece in the Dallas Observer, the "Wagon Wheel" hitmaker and Charley Pride talked about race and country music, both sharing anecdotes about how they've avoided negativity during their careers. Rucker got the benefit of the doubt having been the Hootie and the Blowfish frontman for so many years. He wasn't trying to prove a point by signing a country recording contract, but the lack of people of color in the genre is noticeable.
"I’m waiting for another African-American to break through in country and have a big thing," the "For the First Time" singer told the newspaper at the time. "I’ve never thought that it would change overnight — look, I’ve been here eight years, and it hasn’t changed in a big way. But an African-American singer who sends a demo CD to a label now might get a listen, rather than it being tossed in the trash."
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At the time Mickey Guyton's career seemed very promising, but after her critically-acclaimed debut single "Better Than You Left Me" peaked just inside the Top 40, the buzz around her quieted.
Other than that, in terms of widespread commercial success, it's been Brown — an artist who broke through with his third official radio single, a duet with Lauren Alaina.
One remarkable difference between Brown and Rucker and Pride is that the younger singer's style and appearance are less mainstream. His hip-hop influences can be heard on his debut album, and he does nothing to hide heavily-tattooed arms and chest. That's progress, Rucker says.
“I think it shows a lot about the audience, and country radio," he tells ToC. On October 20, Rucker will release his fifth country album When Was the Last Time. "Country radio is such a broad world right now (with) everything from traditional country to pop-country and bro country and everything in between all of that."
"Kane's part of that. His records have a different sound and I love it. It's a testament to the programmers and it's a testament to the audience," he adds.
Officially Brown is the No. 1 artist on five separate Billboard charts this week. The publication points out that he's the first to do that, but at least two of those charts are fairly new inventions. Still, having a top song and top country album in the same week is something any artist new or seasoned would celebrate.
Brown seems to be doing just that:
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