Yee Haw Culture

(Ia Balbuena-Nedrow/Emerald)

Tens of thousands of fans responded with a loud, resounding “haw” back at the figure on the massive stage yelling at them, “yee.”

A second later it happened again, even louder this time. “When I say yee, you say haw! Yee.”

“HAW!”

On the next repetition the crowd got ahead of themselves and yelled, “haw” too early. “I didn’t say fucking yee!”

The performer on stage during the perfectly lighted “golden hour” was Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves performing for Coachella’s nearly 100,000 attendees. Musgraves was breathing rare air as a country musician performing at arguably the most well-known music festival in the country — most performers are pop or hip-hop. This recognition is not unwarranted, however, as Musgraves is just coming off a Grammy win for best album. She took home the big, golden record player over the likes of Post Malone, Cardi B and Drake. 

The popularization of country music and its blending into mainstream hip-hop and popular culture has been a slow and steady infiltration. From Young Thug’s 2017 album “Beautiful Thugger Girls” to the sensation of Mason Ramsey and now the hit song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X, the country sound is more popular than ever. This movement of country in popular culture is often referred to as “Yee-Haw Culture.”

Young Thug has always been one to push boundaries. Whether it be cross-dressing, provocative music videos or his overall persona, he is assuredly not afraid to try new things. “Beautiful Thugger Girls” was released on April 26, 2017, and featured Thugger taking a more melodic singing approach. Some of the songs on the album included what almost sounded like a little country twang with an acoustic guitar in the background that allowed for the album to be labeled by many as a “country” album. On the track “Family Don’t Matter (Feat. Millie Go Lightly),” the most country-sounding song on the album, Young Thug even lets out a “yee-haw” as an adlib.

The next big instance of country breaking into the popular diaspora comes in March 2018 with the viral video of an 11-year-old boy dressed as a cowboy yodeling inside a Walmart. Mason Ramsey doing his best impression of Hank Williams inside of the superstore reached millions and quickly catapulted Ramsey to fame. Just a month later, popular DJ Whethan brought Ramsey out on stage at Coachella to perform the same song that made him viral. Shortly after this performance at Coachella, Ramsey released his first single “Famous,” which made it up to 64 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.

Then the hit song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X released in December 2018 and gained viral popularity in early 2019. It even went so far as to make it to No. 19 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song has gained even more popularity as of late when country singer Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on the track in a remix released in April 2019.

The song mixes both country vocals with rap lyrics, as well as rap vocals with country lyrics, all backed up by a trap-style beat accompanied by country instrumentals. Although the song is categorized as country-rap, the song didn’t last long on Billboard's Hot Country chart and was taken off due to it not matching up to the genre’s sound. This disqualification from the country charts led many to believe that Lis Nas X being a Black artist had an influence on the decision.

“Upon further review, it was determined that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard’s country charts,” Billboard said in a statement to Rolling Stone. “When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is musical composition. While ‘Old Town Road’ incorporates references to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

One line in particular from “Old Town Road” captures the country-western style oozing into not only music, but fashion too. Lil Nas X mentions in the song how there’s “Wrangler on my booty.” In the many recent popular songs and their videos, musicians are starting to wear chaps, cowboy hats and cowboy boots.

In Solange's recent short film for her new album “When I Get Home,” cowboys are dressed in full cowboy garb accompanied with lassos and horses to round out the imagery. In Cardi B’s music video for “Please Me,” the rapper can be seen in a pink rhine-stoned western get-up. And to go back to Young Thug’s song “Family Don’t Matter,” horses and a barn out in the country give the video a strong country-western tilt.

If Billboard Country Hot Country didn’t like Lil Nas X on their charts, they better get ready for a whole movement to turn country culture on its head.