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Pass the cowboy hat, please. The music world is in the midst of a crossover craze bridging hip-hop and R&B with country music — and fans, for the most part, are loving it.

“I love country, so happy for her that she’s doing whatever SHE wants to do musically,” commented a fan on Beyonce’s YouTube post of her country “Texas Hold ’Em” single. “No matter what. Remove the labels and walls. Yessss!”

“Texas Hold ’Em” was a co-lead single of Beyonce’s country album, “Cowboy Carter,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album and country charts when it was released in March.

Conversely, country hit makers are enlisting hip-hop and R&B talent to appear on their records, including Morgan Wallen, who had a hit with “Broadway Girls in 2021 with Lil Durk, and Luke Combs, who released the single, “Nothing Like You,” with Rod Wave last year.

Combs’ Growin’ Up and Gettin’ Old Tour comes to MetLife Stadium on July 19 and 20. There will be plenty of cowboy hats in the audience, as there were last summer when Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour played the stadium.

“I just went to the Megan Thee Stallion show at Wells Fargo Center (in Philadelphia) and there were so many girls in pink cowboy hats,” said Sean Salm, creator of the Philly-based Sad & Boujee party, which merges hip-hop and emo rock. “Megan Thee Stallion doesn’t do any country songs, but her whole look and brand is country.”

In New Jersey, country music has hit the big time. Wallen played MetLife Stadium on May 17 and18, followed by George Strait with Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town on June 8. After the Luke Combs’ shows on July 19 and 20, Kenny Chesney plays MetLife on Saturday, Aug. 17.

“Country has gotten bigger and bigger (in New Jersey) every year,” said DJ Big Country, aka Christopher Smith of Jersey City, in a previous interview. “I’m glad it’s getting to the bigger stadiums like MetLife and Lincoln Financial in Philly. PNC (Bank Arts Center in Holmdel) was always the spot, even the Stone Pony in Asbury Park.”

The walk-up music before Wallen’s recent MetLife shows included tracks by hip-hop’s Kendrick Lamar and R&B’s Rihanna.

“I think that the public has been integrated in a good way where there’s nothing wrong, so to speak, and that’s a loose term, with being a Luke Bryan fan and knowing the words to his songs and being a fan of (American rapper) Waka Flocka Flame, or whatever the case may be,” said Philadelphia deejay legend DJ Deejay, aka David Cassidy.

Lil Nas X to Beyonce

The new wave of country and R&B and hip-hop crossover started, it can be argued, when Cardi B brought Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus on stage with her at the 2019 Summer Jam at MetLife Stadium. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” was a hit record, but Billboard removed the song from its country music chart, stating to Rolling Stone that although it “incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

“We’re going to put our mother(blanking) cowboy hats on,” said Cardi B as Little Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, who sings the chorus, came out on stage. “Where’s my mother(blanking) cowboy hat at! We got a legend coming to the stage!”

 Cardi B and her backup dancers broke into saddle shuffle dance moves while Lil Nas X roamed the stage and Cyrus crooned into his microphone.

The country crossover explosion came in March with the release of Beyonce’s “Cowboy Carter” album. The hitmaker, who’s mostly been associated with R&B to this point, had dabbled in the country genre with the song “Daddy Lessons” on the 2016 “Lemonade” album. She performed the track with the Dixie Chicks on the CMA Awards.

“The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me,” said Beyonce of “Cowboy Carter” on social media. “(The album) is a result of challenging myself, and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.”

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Beyonce’s conquest of the country charts seems to be opening doors. Shaboozey’s “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” followed Bey’s “Texas Hold ’Em” on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart, marking the first time two Black artists have held the position consecutively. 

Now there seems to be weekly updates in cross-genre news. The latest is hip-hop’s Post Malone teaming with Wallen for the county rap hip “I Had Some Help.”   

“I think that one of the good things to come from the streaming era is that people listen to so many different genres of music together so artists feel free to experiment,” said Rissi Palmer, whose 2007 single “Country Girl” broke a 20-year drought for Black women appearing on the country charts. Rissi currently hosts the Color Me Country podcast.

Crossover in the digital age

County and R&B music have been at the top of the charts for decades. In 1965, music fans heard both Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” on the WABC airwaves in the New York City area. The consumption of music in the digital age, where there is a greater emphasis on albums, has seemingly triggered the crossover experience.

“Once upon a time there was albums, and albums were created to be a time and a place,” DJ Deejay said. “Once you had Napster you began (to see) you saw a migration away from people being interested, and iTunes had a lot to do with this, in full albums.”

The emphasis on digital singles has broadened audiences, Salm said.   

“The crossover thing keeps things fresh and interesting, and it keeps the artists growing their brands — and it doesn’t keep them tight-casted to one audience,” Salm said. “If you want to be a pop star you have to cast a wide net.”

Some question how organic the crossover movement is.

“There’s a Black world that does not include country music,” said Leon Trent, an Asbury Park music legend who released several singles with the R&B vocal group the Broadways for MGM Records in the ’60s. “Country music became so inclusive in society because in the beginning it was nothing but white people and the Grand Ole Opry, where you didn’t have any Black people but maybe one or two, Charley Pride. The Black man with a guitar was not playing country music — he was playing soulful blues music.”

In addition to the big summer of country at MetLife, there are some outreaches of the scene in Asbury Park.

“Asbury will never claim Nashville’s title in country music, but we’ve seen lots of folk and Americana influences emerging in the Asbury scene, meshing with the local R&B,” said Joe Pomarico, founder of the city’s Telegraph Hill Records and a producer and engineer for Atlantic Records, via email. “Telegraph Hill’s annual What a Wonderful Year festival has become known as a showcase for a healthy mix of genres: hip hop, R&B, folk, and that good ole rockin’ Jersey sound.”

‘Bring people together’

Combs’ biggest hit so far is his cover of Tracy Chapman’s folksy 1988 song “Fast Car,” which was a hit on the pop and rock charts in 1988. Combs’ version was a 2023 hit on the country and pop charts. The two performed the song together at this year’s Grammy Awards.

It’s about breaking out of restraints, Palmer said.

“I think the biggest roadblock is an artist having a fan base or label that doesn’t allow them to grow and evolve musically,” Palmer said. “It’s very easy to get locked into what makes you popular but may not necessarily feed your creativity.” 

What’s next? Salm’s crew is working on a rodeo disco night.

“It’s bringing people of all colors, religions together so people can have an absolute blast together,” said Salm of the crossover movement. “Total strangers who have never met and I think that is so important when it comes to bring people together in music.”

Go: Luke Combs, 5:45 p.m. Friday, July 19, with Cody Jinks, Charles Wesley Godwin, Hailey Whitters, and Wilder Blue, and 5:45 p.m. Saturday, July 20, with Jordan Davis, Mitchell Tenpenny, Drew Parker, and Colby Acuff, MetLife Stadium, One MetLife Stadium Dr., East Rutherford, tickets start at $104.50; metlifestadium.com.

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Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA Today Network New Jersey. Contact him at [email protected].