Gangstagrass is a bluegrass/hip-hop band that mixes elements of traditional bluegrass music with hip-hop beats to stress the thematic similarity of lyrics in both genres. In the band’s song Long Hard Times To Come, the following lyrics are recited by the guest hip-hop performer TONE-z: “Hook the car up–hit the bar up–clean the scars up–hey yo, the stars up / Hey this is the life of an outlaw / We ain’t promised tomorrow–I’m living now, dog” (“Long Hard Times To Come”). The thematic closeness of the two genres is evident in this quote, where the life of the outlaw is described in a fashion more common for hip-hop performers, but the overall mood of the description resembles the bluegrass’ and country music’s thematic unity about the life of an outlaw with his/her hardships, constant traveling, and hiding from the police.
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The importance of this quote to the topic is that it reflects both the life of outlaws in ghettos where hip-hop was born and anti-authoritarian mood of outlaw country and Appalachian music that was based on traditional outlaw songs originating from England, Ireland, Scotland, and other countries. The description of a lonely traveler who is responsible to God only is more common in country and bluegrass lyrics rather than in hip-hop music, although both genres often address the theme of God, repentance, and hard (or tough) life of an outlaw, who has the devil behind his/her back (another marker of a traditional music).
The author of the article also pinpoints the resemblance between the two genres: “For example, both have roots in West African music traditions, and both celebrate outlaw culture in their lyrics” (Long). Indeed, Appalachian and country music, as well as blues, grew out of traditional slave songs, where the themes of God and the Devil were also common, but traditional European folk songs with a similar thematic sequence also influenced the genre. The outlaw culture represented in country music and hip-hop may be perceived differently due to their geographic specifics, where country music reflects the rural life, while hip-hop is predominantly urban or suburban. However, the overarching themes, such as a dangerous life, relationships with God and faith, love, longing for (the lost) home, “walking through life” help the band masterfully combine the two seemingly different genres in one song, also using musical instruments and techniques common for both genres (such as guitars and beats). Thus, Long correctly points out that both the roots of the genres and their focus on particular themes make it easier for the band to combine them in their music, leading to an unexpected mix.
The identified thematic unity of the genres is “the outlaw life” that is mentioned in the lyrics. The first evidence is a direct reference to the theme, and no specific markers that would label the lyrics as either “country” or “hip-hop” music are intentionally used by the author of the song to stress the similarity of the genres. At the same time, the second evidence, i.e., Long’s notion about the roots and the culture reflected in country and hip-hop music demonstrates that thematic similarity is not accidental and goes back to the songs of slaves and West African music that influenced both genres despite their aesthetic differences. Thus, Gangstagrass use the culture reflected in both music genres to bring them together in their lyrics.
“Long Hard Times To Come.” YouTube, uploaded by Rench, 2015, Web.
Long, Kyle. “Gangstagrass Brings Hip-Hop and Hillbilly Tunes to the Hi-Fi.” Nuvo, 2018, Web.