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K. Michelle Says She's 'Trying To Change The Color' Of Country Music

"Black women charting within this genre is just very unheard [of]. It's not done. And I think that's sad," she said on ESSENCE's Yes, Girl! podcast.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 23: K. Michelle performs at the BET Music Showcase at City Market Social House on January 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for BET) Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images for BET
By Essence · February 19, 2020

A country music album from singer K. Michelle may finally be on the way.

The singer spoke with ESSENCE’s Cori Murray and Charli Penn on a recent episode of the Yes, Girl! podcast where she shared her thoughts on country music’s changing sound, explaining why it’s taking her so long to release a project.

It’s because country music, as a genre, hasn’t been the most welcoming. She’s had to prove herself and K. understands that.

“I do respect country music’s stance on some things, which we should take the same stance on in our music and R&B. We just let anybody in,” she said. “Anybody can rap. Country is not going to play with you like that. You’re going to pay your dues. You’re going to know how to write. You’re going to know how to sing. “

“It’s something that I’ve done forever,” the singer said about singing country music. “This isn’t a Lil Nas X thing for me.”

K. Michelle points to how country music treated Lil Nas X as an example of just how hard it can be for a Black artist to play around in the genre. His mega hit song, “Old Town Road,” hit a speed bump when Billboard took the song off the country music charts because it did not have enough “country elements” in it. In open defiance, Billy Ray Cyrus joined the song for the remix, and the song was back on the charts. The song would go onto win two Grammy Awards.

“When it came down to the Lil Nas X record…I agreed [with country music]. You had half racist people, but you also had people who just didn’t want their genre to change into an 808 in the back of country. That’s not country music,” the singer explained.

K. Michelle said she hates when people try to compare what she’s trying to do with X “because I’m not trying to do no hip-hop country. I’m not changing the sound of the genre. I’m trying to change the color of the genre. It was ours anyway. If you want to do hip-hop, go do hip-hop. You know what I’m saying? If you want to do country, sing country.”

K. Michelle pointed to acts such as Ray Charles, Charlie Pride and Darius Rucker as inspiration, Black men who’ve topped the country music charts.

However, the singer added that being a Black woman in the space has been difficult due to the genre-blending songs of stars, including Lil Nas X.

“They automatically assume because I’m Black, that I’m about to start rapping or making fun,” she said. “They considered it making fun of their genre because think about it: if we had someone of another ethnicity come in, which we do, come in and try to sound just like us mimicking us, we would be in an uproar. Right? We already are in an uproar about some of these [rappers].”

K. said although she respects wanting to protect your genre “what I don’t respect in country is they are hogging it for themselves. Once you get in country though, you can sing it for the rest of your life.”

She continued, “But Black women charting within this genre is just very unheard [of]. It’s not done. And I think that’s sad. It shouldn’t be like that. I’m straight Memphis, Tennessee. [I’ve] Yodel[ed] through college. This is who I am and what I do. ”