I’ve become obsessed recently with the weird and rarified microgenre of country music adaptatons of rap and alternative rock. So far I only know of two examples: The Gourds’ cover of Snoop Dogg’s Gin and Juice, and Johnny Cash’s recent covers of a surprising range of rock, especially–and most recently–of Hurt, originally by Nine Inch Nails….
The Gourds doing Snoop Dogg is a hoot. Perhaps black urban gangsta rap and white rural country music are not as far apart as we might think; is this because of the common poor Southern roots of both? The amoral hedonism (and casual misogyny) for which gangsta rap is so often condemned seems to fit perfectly into the ethos of outlaw country… The song is a hilarious sendup of the ways that white musicians have been appropriating (ripping off) black music for the last half century (I know, actually for longer than that). It also forces you to rethink BOTH the moralistic condemnation of gangsta rap (since when white folks do the same thing, it more transparently becomes a fiction, and the issues of negative role models, the commodification of the ghetto, etc, disappear–which points up how white skin privilege works) AND the romanticization of poverty-stricken ghetto life that has turned the image of the gangsta into one so widely imitated by both urban black, and suburban white youth.
As for Mr. Cash’s version of 9 Inch Nails, it doesn’t have any of the parodic or comic force of what The Gourds do. It is simply… perfect. The cry of pain, and awareness of mortality, that seemed overly theatricalized when NIN originally did the song are here entirely, beautifully, movingly justified in the context of Johnny Cash’s career and worldview. It’s entirely right for somebody now over seventy, and who’s had his share of pain and suffering, buth in his music and in real life, to be singing this instead of the much younger, and desparate-to-be-hip, Trent Reznor.