All the Yeehaws Aren’t Enough for the Black Artists on ‘Cowboy Carter’

No disrespect to Dolly P, Post, and Willie but they've already been given their due.

All the Yeehaws Aren’t Enough for the Black Artists on ‘Cowboy Carter’

Tiera Kennedy, Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, and Brittany Spencer. Photo: Instagram.

On Friday, Beyoncé released Cowboy Carter, her eighth studio album but the first in her catalog that’s both indisputably “I didn’t say fuckin’ yee” country and individual in the ways only a Beyoncé work really can be. It’s not a roaring reclamation of  American country music as some have written, but rather a reminder that the genre’s roots have been (and always will be) Black. And it’s high time for the practitioners of profitable bigotry bops and odes to tractors, tequila, and transphobes to die on the vine. Honky Tonk should be left on its Badonkadonk. You get it.

As is the response for almost everything Beyoncé does, Cowboy Carter‘s reviews have been overwhelmingly sublime. Rolling Stone called it “a college dissertation of an album,” Variety declared it “pretty magnificent,” and even Pitchfork capitulated to its power. (Jezebel also loved it except for that “Jolene” cover.) The whole of the internet, too, announced its endorsements over the weekend. But Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé reminded us, was not made alone. Among her most famous collaborators are Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton (two of the industry’s most redeeming elders), and genre-bending (or borrowing, depending on who you ask) peers, Miley Cyrus and Post Malone. Frankly though—and I write this as someone who collects Dolly Parton records—they’re the least compelling credits.

To start, there’s Shaboozey, a Nigerian-American rapper and singer heard on the swag-heavy “Spaghettii” and Patsy Cline-interpolated “Sweet Honey Buckin.” And on “Just For Fun,” there’s Willie Jones, a Louisiana native who got his start on The X Factor in 2012 and quickly became known to Nashville for his signature blend of Hip Hop and Americana. But perhaps the most poignant of Beyoncé’s partners on Cowboy Carter are the Black women to whom she’s offered a more mainstream platform.

In addition to multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens’ feature on “Texas Hold ‘Em,” four flourishing artists, Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, Tiera Kennedy, and Brittney Spencer, lend a heavenly chorus to “Blackbiird.” The song is a stirring cover written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon that the former wrote of observing the civil rights movement in the sixties-era south. In recent years, all four women—as USA Today noted—have “released nearly a dozen albums or mixtapes between them that received critical and viral acclaim.” None of them would be considered unknown, but by no means are they as commercially successful in the industry as say, a white man whining about small towns. These particular artists’ presence on this particular track—one of optimism and arrival—in a time when country radio largely refuses to play Black female artists and a Black woman’s song is offered new life only after a white man sings it is, well, historical.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Spencer saw a 170 percent increase in first-time listeners on Spotify, while Roberts and Adell both went up 125 percent, and Kennedy’s first-time listens spiked by 110 percent.

The inclusion of Linda Martell on “Spaghettii” and “The Linda Martell Show” also asks listeners who the genre has actually represented all these years. For those who don’t know, Linda Martell was the first Black female solo artist to play the Grand Ole Opry and, as Rolling Stone put it in 2020, is “Country’s Lost Pioneer.” How she was “lost” is due to one of the many sins of the industry. Martell released one LP, Color Me Country, which made it to Number 40 on the country chart, but she never recorded another. After a series of hardships (detailed here), Martell opted to sing in clubs and worked as a bus driver. That Martell—and her ruminations on the constrictions of a music genre—are featured prominently on Cowboy Carter, are, again, historical.

With this album—which set a Spotify record for the most streamed album in a single day this year—Beyoncé is not only paying needful (and long overdue) homage to those who came before her but validating the plights of those navigating the industry in the present. Here’s hoping both serve as a warning for the good old boys to get the hell out of the way of all those who’ve yet to arise.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin