As “Old Town Road” finishes its 11th week as the #1 song in the U.S. and Lil Nas X releases his debut EP (which most definitely isn’t a country record save its single), I’m reminded that back in 2005, I reviewed Cowboy Troy’s debut album for Stylus. Know your history, folx: Lil Nas X is by no means the first rapper of color to claim country. The difference is that whereas he’s made one arguably-country single, Cowboy Troy’s very much a country artist. Also remember that Loco Motive came out 3 years before Darius Rucker’s country debut, let alone Kane Brown or Jimmie Davis’s more recent success. Originally published at Stylus on 6/7/05.
When your debut album enters the Billboard Country Albums chart at #2, it doesn’t necessarily make you a star, but it does guarantee you some attention. Especially when you’re a 6’5” African-American who raps over country tracks, making what you call “hick hop.” Being part of the Muzik Mafia helps, too. As does having Big & Rich personally invested in your success. Oh, and did I mention you’ve also got guest spots from Tim McGraw and Larry the Cable Guy on your album?
By all rights, life should be very good for the highest-profile black artist in country music since Charley Pride right now. However, Cowboy Troy’s likely also feeling some pressure, since his success or failure will greatly impact not only his pals John Rich and Big Kenny’s new label, Raybaw Records, but the fate of any potential future black signings by Nashville labels, not to mention the likelihood of further cross-pollination between hip-hop and country musics (though Nelly may have something to say about that, natch). While the media attention thrown at Loco Motive helped it to a splashy first week of sales, Troy also played chicken with country radio with his first single, “I Play Chicken With the Train,” and lost (it peaked at a mere #48). Unsurprisingly, though, CMT loves him, as does every music writer in the country—I mean, really, the leads write themselves. But can Cowboy Troy back up his media coverage?
Big & Rich co-produced Loco Motive (with Paul Worley), and John Rich co-wrote nine of the album’s twelve tracks, in addition to making Troy the flagship artist of their label (and by the way, when’s the last time an artist got their own label after releasing one album?). That tells you a lot of what you need to know for starters; this is in many ways a Big & Rich album with someone else on lead vocals. For instance, “My Last Yee Haw,”—which features not only Rich excitedly saying “get freaky—somebody scare the sh– out of me right now!” but a chainsaw in its intro—is essentially this album’s “Save A Horse,” only with lyrics like “word to your mee-maw,” which is part of the problem (though Troy gets bonus points for putting “make it clap” in a semi-country song).
Cowboy Troy’s not much of a rapper, bottom line. Lines such as “knock the party off the meter when the bassline drops,” “she’s a cutie with a booty, a hottie with a body,” and the ever-tired “If you don’t know, better ask somebody, get on the floor and grab that hottie” make it clear that Troy, while likeable, apparently learned most of his skills from Wreckx-N-Effect records. His vocab is at times tedious, and he has no presence on the mic. But he’s no fool; stacking this album with guests helps its chances in the marketplace (you can only ride a gimmick so far), as do the ballads “If You Don’t Wanna Love Me” and especially “Somebody’s Smilin’ On Me,” the latter which has Big Kenny and McGraw on the chorus, and could be a hit with the proper promotional TLC.
“Whoop Whoop” (which features Muzik Mafia rookie James Otto), while fairly insipid lyrically, has a great fiddle riff in its chorus and an easy-going, laconic appeal, and Troy’s rapping in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German and Russian on closer “Wrap Around the World” is admittedly impressive. But the best songs here are without doubt the ones most clearly from Big & Rich. “I Play Chicken” is a ridiculously great single, a fine calling card for Troy even if it doesn’t give him much of his own identity. “Ain’t Broke Yet” (like “Yee Haw” and “Chicken,” featuring Big & Rich on the chorus) is a groover with mildly amusing lyrics and a sincerely clever conceit in its chorus (“He ain’t broke yet, but he’s sure ‘nuff bending”), while “Yee Haw” is just a party that does its job well. Without doubt, Big & Rich are both Cowboy Troy’s greatest asset and his Achilles’ heel, but on this album at least, they get him over. [B]