Is It Country? Is It Hip Hop? 20 Ways to Tell

As any year’s Grammy awards can demonstrate, Americans love to slice and dice their music. Is a given song country, folk or Americana? Is it folk-rock, alt country or roots music? Is it neo-folk, country-punk or folkabilly?

This might not seem important, but it matters in the business end of “show business.” How music is pigeonholed determines which radio stations will play it, where record stores will stock it, which websites will review it, even where the artist’s live performances will or won’t be booked.

All too many songs fall into overlapping genres, though, and figuring out which is which can be difficult. In an era when white guys in cowboy hats rap and black guys in low-slung jeans sing hard rock, who’s to say what’s what?

We are, of course. As a public service, here is an all-but-infallible guide to distinguishing between two of today’s most popular genres, country and hip hop.

  1. If the singer is crying, it’s country. If his enemies are crying, it’s hip hop. If his girlfriend is crying, it’s pop.
  2. If the singer boasts of his sexual prowess, it’s hip hop. If he isn’t getting any, it’s country. If the singer is a woman boasting of her sexual prowess, it’s R&B.
  3. If the singer talks a lot and sings occasionally, it’s hip hop. If he sings a lot and talks occasionally, it’s country. If he sings and never talks, it’s opera. If he talks and never sings, it’s stand-up comedy.
  4. If the singer sings about a wedding ring, it’s country. If he sings about any other jewelry, it’s hip hop.
  5. If the singer has contempt for whiny losers, it’s hip hop. If the singer is a whiny loser, it’s country.
  6. If the singer sings about hanging with his crew, it’s hip hop. If he sings about being alone, it’s country.
  7. If the singer consumes controlled substances, it’s country. If he sells controlled substances, it’s hip hop.
  8. If the singer name-checks the finest branded vodka, it’s hip hop. If he name-checks home-made hooch in a fruit jar, it’s country. If he drinks wine, it’s opera.
  9. If the singer isn’t worthy of the woman he loves, it’s country. If there isn’t a woman in the world who’s worthy of the singer, it’s hip hop.
  10. If the singer gets around in “my ride,” it’s hip hop. If he gets around in “my truck,” it’s country. If he gets around on “my mule,” it’s classic country.
  11. If the singer snarls, it’s hip hop. If he yodels, it’s country.
  12. If the singer threatens others with a gun, it’s hip hop. If he threatens himself with a gun, it’s country.
  13. If the singer is obsessed with trains, it’s country. If he’s obsessed with money, it’s hip hop. If he’s obsessed with girls, it’s rock.
  14. If the singer lists all the things he has—cars, fancy clothes, a mansion etc.—it’s hip hop. If the singer lists all the things he doesn’t have—cars, fancy clothes, a mansion etc.—it’s country. If he lists all the things he doesn’t have now but will have someday, it’s Broadway.
  15. If the singer is in jail and thinks he belongs there, it’s country. If he doesn’t think he belongs there, it’s hip hop.
  16. If the singer marvels at nature, it’s country. If he’s unfamiliar with nature, it’s hip hop.
  17. If the world is full of women and all of them love the singer, it’s hip hop. If the world is full of women and none of them love him, it’s country.
  18. If the singer feels targeted, it’s hip hop. If he feels ignored, it’s country.
  19. If there’s only one woman for him and she treats him like dirt, it’s country. If there’s only one woman for him and he treats her like dirt, it’s hip hop. If there’s no woman for him, it’s the blues.
  20. If the singer calls his woman a term usually reserved for a dog, it’s hip hop. If he calls his dog a term usually reserved for a woman, it’s country. If the singer is a woman and calls a man a term usually reserved for a dog, it’s R&B.

(Full Disclosure: This guide is infallible except in one regard: It classifies Jimmie Rodgers as a hip-hop artist. See `Pistol-Packing Papa‘ and `T for Texas‘ for details.)

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One thought on “Is It Country? Is It Hip Hop? 20 Ways to Tell

  1. If the song makes poverty sound noble, glorifies manual labor, vilifies cerebral achievement, confuses America with heaven, and shoves Christianity down your throat like a fourteen-year-old tongue at a bottle party, it’s definitely country.

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