Billboard’s R&B and Hip-Hop charts can sometimes leave music lovers a bit confused at how consistent they are with defining what makes a certain type of music fit into a specific category. These days if you take a glance at the charts, the list may or may not contain the year’s best-selling acts, and it may even contain what’s technically defined as pop.
Controversy on the Country Charts
America’s soundtrack has largely defined rhythm and blues and hip-hop music as tunes not exclusively, but created by, aimed at and consumed by African American music fans. There have been many instances where “Blue-eyed soul” has crossed over onto the charts, and almost filling out the Top 10 from Justin Timberlake to Robin Thicke. There have been many instances where Bruno Mars has crossed over from pop to the R&B charts because his music is heavily influenced by the New Jack Swing era. The issue flared its ugly head this year when an African American artist crossed over onto the country charts.
Late in March, Billboard decided to remove Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road,” from its Top Country 100 list, claiming it removed the song because it lacked “elements of today’s country music in its current version.” There was never a clear explanation as to what elements were missing since the song contains banjo instrumentation and bass, but it’s not shocking to see that the historical implications of the country industry with Lil Nas X finding it hard to be accepted into a world of mainstream country artists when influential artists found it difficult to get airplay on country radio. However in an interview with Time Magazine, Lil Nas X says the song is country trap and belongs on both country and hip hop charts. But he says, it’s not shocking that the removal from the country charts happened. “I believe whenever you’re trying something new, it’s always going to get some kind of bad reception. For example, when rap started, or when rock and roll began. But with country trap, I in no way want to take credit for that. I believe Young Thug would be one of the biggest pioneers in that,” Lil Nas X explained.After the initial fall out, Lil Nas X remixed the single with country veteran Billy Ray Cyrus, which was embraced, especially on Twitter by audiences of all races.
Cyrus summed it up in a tweet, “It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time,” Cyrus wrote. “It’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?” The song continues climbing the Billboard Hot 100 across all genres and getting lots of radio airplay with more remixes with other artists in the works.
Black Artists Find Success on Country Charts
Interestingly enough, in 1969, Linda Martell’s song “Color Him Father” from her debut album, Color Me Country made the Top 25 on the Billboard Hot Country Charts.
Most recently, newcomer African American country artists Jimmie Allen’s single “Best Shot” made history in November as the first black artist to have his debut single reach number one on Billboard’s country airplay chart, the same week as Kane Brown who had the top country album. Allen’s song was the longest leading debut on the chart by a solo male artist since 2001.
Brown’s sophomore album, Experiment debuted at number one on Billboard’s 200 albums, which features pop songs, and hitting number one on the country albums charts.
History Making Awards
At this year’s Billboard Music Awards, rap artist Drake surpassed Taylor Swift by coming the top award recipient in the award show’s history. He won 12 awards brining it to a career total of 27 while Swift has 23. Drake’s awards include top artist and top Billboard 200 Album. Ella Mai made history by being the third woman to win in the top R&B artist category since the award show relaunched in 2011. The first two were Rihanna and Beyoncé.
In 2018, the BBMA’s recognized the legendary Janet Jackson, making her the first Black woman to win the Icon Award. She’s also the first woman to record five straight number one albums.
With the recent controversy of some artists making music that embodies various genres, perhaps Billboard will start re-defining the way music is charted by properly disclosing what genre elements are present in the song or album.