Some casual fans might be surprised to learn that country superstar and ACM Awards nominee Jake Owen is a huge hip-hop fan. “I can remember every word to every rap song known to man,” he boasts while sitting down for an interview at New York’s Build Series studio — before spontaneously dropping a few verses of the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy.”
Owen, who says who reveals he’d love to work with Outkast someday, reveals that he just recorded a verse for a collaboration with Lil Nas X, the Atlanta rapper who generated flay within the purist country community over his track “Old Town Road.” The song, with combines hip-hop beats with country music elements, impressively debuted at No. 19 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs last month… before being removed from that chart for, basically, not being “country” enough. (Some pundits understandably cried racism over that decision.) This week, Lil Nas X released a new remix of the song featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, as heard below.
“It’s funny, because these days people say, ‘You sing country music, so why do you reference these other people all the time?’ I think you can pull a little bit of something from everyone. I love rap music. I love it,” says Owen. “I’m just at a place in life where I just don’t care what my audience thinks. I care that they’re pleased with what I’m doing, but outside of that, people that hate on music and have closed minds, I just don’t pay attention. Because there’s lots of folks that love country music, but they’ll say, ‘How can you possibly be country and you’re doing a rap song, or you’re doing this or that?’ Honestly, it brings me joy to be able to do things that are different.”
Owen also takes a moment to reflect on the shocking death this week of 33-year-old West Coast rap icon Nipsey Hussle, who was shot in front of his L.A. store, Marathon Clothing, last week. Owen, who was side-stage during Las Vegas’s Route 91 Harvest country music festival mass shooting and had to flee for his life, says, “It’s really sad to think that things like that are happening every day in our world, and have been for a very long time. It’s a bummer to lose somebody that’s influential to a lot of people.”
Owen’s musical tastes are all over the map (“I’ll listen to Drake one minute, but then I’ll listen to JD Crowe & The New South; t’s so weird, but I just love music”), so there’s a track on his brand-new album, Greetings From… Jake, titled, fittingly, “All Over the Map.” There’s also a single called “I Was Jack (You Were Diane),” an interpolation ofJohn Mellencamp’s 1982 hit “Jack & Diane” that got Mellencamp’s blessing. (Mellencamp was also given a co-writing credit.)
Much of Owen’s love of ‘80s music comes from his half-brother, Steve. “I don’t even think he realizes to this day how much he meant to me as a kid growing up,” says Owen. “I was 11. He was 11 years older than me, so he would have been 22. He was coming home from Florida State University, he had this blue and white, two-toned Chevy Blazer, and he had an amazing stereo system in it. He was introducing me to everybody from Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, Van Halen, all the way to like Run-D.M.C.
“He gave me the 1984 Van Halen album when I was like 12. I loved it because it had ‘Hot for Teacher’ on it. It had ‘Jump on it,’ ‘Panama,’ ‘Drop Dead Legs,’ I can name you all of them. My mom found that CD in my room and she broke it because she said, ‘You’re not going to listen to that devil music!’ I said, ‘Devil music?’ She’s like, ‘There’s an angel on the front of the album smoking a cigarette!’ Then David Lee Roth actually came out with an album on his own called A Little Ain’t Enough, and it had two devils facing the opposite on it, and I had that one too, and they broke it. Yeah, so whatever, that’s what parents do, right? But I just, I laugh thinking about that, that my mom was so naïve to think that. I mean, Van Halen is the farthest from Satan worshiping music possible.”
Still, that incident inspired a new song Owen is writing, so he’s getting the last laugh. “It’s called ‘Blame it on Van Halen,’” he reveals. “It’s about a girl and how wild she is, and the fact that it’s not her father’s fault, or it’s not anybody else’s fault, other than probably she ought to blame her wild ways on Van Halen.”
So, was Owen’s mom right all along? Are Van Halen a bad influence? “They’re a good influence. Just depends on what you’re being influenced to do,” he quips.
Watch Jake Owen’s full Build Series interview below.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
- Billy Ray Cyrus responds to country music controversy after joining Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’
- Lil Nas X speaks on Billboard removing ‘Old Town Road’ from the country chart
- Jake Owen releases new album with baby No. 2’s debut just weeks away: ‘I’m more calm this time’
- Jake Owen talks running from stage during Route 91 shooting: ‘It was chaotic’’
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