At first, I thought that using the word “disruptive” to label Kane Brown could bring too much of a negative connotation. It felt as if I were unfairly tagging the Chattanooga native as some sort of agitator or troublemaker when the reality is quite the opposite for a young and kind performer who chooses his words carefully in interviews and talks a lot about togetherness in his lyrics.
White churches, black churches
Different people, same hearses
It’s kinda hard to fight with each other
Laying down in the ground, six under
At every show I see my people
They ain’t the same but they’re all equal
One love, one God, one family
Lyrics for ‘Worldwide Beautiful’
But then, I checked out Collins Dictionary’s definition of “disruptive,” just to make sure.
ADJECTIVE. To be disruptive means to prevent something from continuing or operating in a normal way.
That helped me make up my mind. Because that’s exactly what Brown is doing for Country music, he’s creating a crack in the traditional market by introducing elements that mark a before and after for the genre. He is in fact, “preventing the genre from continuing in a normal way.”
His entire game is one of subversion of expectations. Here’s this tattoo-ridden guy wearing a baseball cap, his features a bit black, a bit latino. Light skin. Is he a rapper? Or maybe a reggaeton performer? Then he opens his mouth and tells you in this soft Georgia accent that his thing is Country music. “Everybody’s like, ‘You’re a musician? Do you rap?’ The world’s not used to it,” he told Billboard in 2016.
Brown’s whole body of work is as eclectic and undefinable as his persona.
His sound traverses across a myriad of genres and influences, refusing to settle since his very first album. With the same competence he’s capable of going from cinematic epics like ‘Baby Come Back to Me,’ to intimate tear-jerkers like ‘Granddaddy’s Chair.’ In one song he transforms into a smooth R&B serenader and in the next he adopts back a deep Country drawl. His lyrics can touch social issues, like ‘American Bad Dream,’ a commentary on school shootings and police violence, or can be unapologetically sentimental, like ‘Thank God,’ a heartful ode to his marriage with fellow singer and recent Berklee music management graduate Katelyn Jae Brown.
The one unifier of his whole oeuvre so far is a radio-friendly, luscious production that makes everything he does sound like a top 40 hit. Brown lives in unexplored territory, a land created by the unlikely intersection between the sound of Randy Travis and Drake.
“…when it comes to his music, he can do that low, cool, borderline-rapping thing, and then he sings and his vocal ability just blows you away.” — Darius Rucker.
When Kane Brown sings about poverty, he does it confidently, like someone who knows his subject well. His dad, an ephemeral figure in his life, was incarcerated in 1996. Growing up, his mom and him endured rough patches of homelessness, sometimes having to pass the night in their car. They could never settle in one place for long, forcing him to constantly jump between high schools, uncertainty being the only constant of his early years.
Son of a white mother and a father of African-American/Cherokee descent, in various interviews he has stated how he didn’t realise he was of mixed race until other kids started throwing racial slurs at him. “I got bullied so much growing up for being a different color in a majority white school,” he told Rolling Stone in 2018. “I remember being chased through the woods being called the n-word. I was in middle school. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘They’re gonna kill me.’”
Brown’s teenage years were characterised by scarcity, juggling between sports, retail jobs and school. “I’m used to having to worry every day,” he confesses, “especially when I wasn’t [living] with my mom anymore, I had to worry about my car payment or getting an overdraft fee because I got a $1 sandwich at McDonald’s.”
It turns out, Country singer Lauren Alaina, who would later become runner-up on the tenth season of American Idol and carry out a successful solo career, was a friend and choir mate of Brown in middle school. She encouraged and pushed him to sing, which led him to compete, and eventually win a talent show in 11th grade with a Chris Young cover.
“Our listeners identify with people like Kane,” with the benefit of hindsight, says Alaina about her friend, “He has had a life that was made for being shared.”
Despite the unexpected achievement, at the time life was throwing other ideas at him. He contemplated joining the army, turned down a basketball scholarship, and finally ended up landing a job at FedEx.
His breakthrough into the industry was as unorthodox as everything else in his career. When he was off the clock, he started trying his luck auditioning for reality shows. Idol rejected him, but he did land a slot on The X Factor in 2013. His flirtation with the world of reality TV was a brief one, as he promptly quit after producers insisted on putting him in a boy band.
Circumventing all the traditional pathways into the industry, Kane Brown began to post zero-budget, phone-shot videos online of him singing Country covers from his bedroom. He built such an enthusiastic audience that in 2014 he could run a successful Kickstarter campaign to produce a six-song EP. By 2015, he had turned into a viral sensation with millions of followers across Facebook, Youtube and Spotify, with his self-released original track ‘Used to Love You Sober,’ hitting the No. 2 spot on Country Digital Songs. Soon, Brown had a deal with RCA Records Nashville.
Since then he became the first act ever to land simultaneous #1’s on all five major Country charts: Top Country Albums, Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, Country Digital Song Sales, and Country Streaming Songs. Among a plethora of accolades and nominations, he has earned five American Music Awards, two top songs in top 40 radio, nearly 12 billion worldwide streams, and the achievement of being the first Country artist ever to play in all 29 NBA arenas.
On top of it all, he was named by TIME as one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2021.”
“When I first got into Country, I started getting some of those comments like, ‘He’s an N-word.’ Stuff like that,” he told Billboard in a 2018 interview, “I used to screenshot it and put it on Twitter, like, ‘There’s still racism in the world.’ But I didn’t get into country music just to prove a point. I try to stay away from all negativity.”
Fast forward to 2022 and Brown is today a multi-Platinum record-breaking artist, married, and father of two children. On September 9th he released Different Man, his third studio release.
“I used to always be nervous about what people were going to think, and I was kind of scared — I didn’t want people to think that I was leaving country music because that’s my heart,” Brown says about his most recent release, “but now, it’s just to the point where it’s like, I’m a dad now, two kids; I care what they think. So I’m just not that scared kid anymore.”
“This song [Grand] is basically just about how life is grand. For me it’s talking about what I’m doing musically, being able to be on the road with my family and just being you know, super happy about life.”
Produced by Brown himself, along with Andrew Goldstein, Lindsay Rimes, Dann Huff and Ilya Toshinskiy, the 17 tracks travel across different sounds that go from hard-hitting Country — ‘Bury me in Georgia,’ ‘Like I Love Country Music,’— that feature steel guitar and shoutouts to mainstays like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, to bona fide contemporary R&B rompers like ‘Grand’ and the pop hit ‘See you Like I Do.’ The album goes from the overly grandiose and dramatic, — ‘Different Man’ and ‘Riot,’ — to delicate, intimate tracks like ‘Pop’s Last Name.’
I grew up without a father
He’s been locked up since ’96
But there’s another man, he ain’t here no more
That raised me as a kid
We used to ride out to the battlefield
And he’d tell me stories ’bout the past
He taught me the things he knew I’d need to know
And answered all the questions that I’d ask
I hope he’s smiling up there lookin’ down
And proud of this wild child that came around
Lyrics from ‘Pop’s Last Name.’
The single “Like I Love Country Music” reached #1 on the Country Radio charts last month, becoming Brown’s eighth chart-topping record on that listing. The song also managed to top the Australian and Canadian markets, marking Brown’s first seven week run at #1 in Canada.
Different Man shows a vocally and stylistically unhinged Kane Brown, an artist giving the middle finger to those who want to pigeonhole him in one style. Simply unclassifyable, he exemplifies well the unpredictable and ever-changing pace of our times.
In support of the album he kicked off the global Drunk or Dreaming Tour on September 17th, a tour which will take him for the very first time to Australia and New Zealand. It’s the perfect opportunity to see one of the essential voices of contemporary Country music.
Kane Brown Drunk Or Dreaming Tour 2022
SEPTEMBER 20 – SYDNEY, HORDERN PAVILION
SEPTEMBER 23 – WILLOWBANK, CMC ROCKS QLD 2022
SEPTEMBER 25 – AUCKLAND, SPARK ARENA
For more information and tickets, you can go HERE.