Cowboy Troy's hick-hop debut -- Does the genre-bending black artist deserve a break in country music

Cowboy Troy’s debut, Loco Motive, may be the best pop-rap record Will Smith never made, but with its inordinate amount of banjos and steel guitar amid the silly loquaciousness, it’s also a country time bomb, one that could sell millions and become the party album of the summer down South, at least. . .if the masses get to hear it.

”Are you ready for. . .hick-hop hysteria?” bellows Troy during a showcase at Nashville’s Country Radio Seminar, where he’s joining his mentors/co-producers, Big & Rich. The answer is seemingly yes, as 2,000 radio bigwigs throw their hands in the air and wave ’em like they just don’t care. But sobered up back home, all but a handful will opt out of adding the single, figuring listeners aren’t prepared. ”Talking to programmers,” admits Warner exec Paul Worley, ”I see them having a hard time wrapping their heads around the concept. But when I play the music, their eyes light up. They say, ‘I’d like to play that.”’ Adds John Rich, ”They’re not all playing Big & Rich, so how can you expect ’em all to play Troy? But country is so devoid of color that CMT and the ACM Awards are itching to put him on TV.”

Rich envisions Troy as the first black country superstar since Charley Pride. But that would be asking radio to cross hip-hop barriers, not just color lines. Troy insists audiences have made that leap: ”I know from being in [country] clubs that every time the band takes that break, the DJ puts on Nelly or Ludacris, and you see a sea of cowboy hats across the dance floor. Core country listeners like rap, too.” Get ready for the new bling: five-inch belt buckles.