Breland blurs genre boundaries between country music, hip hop and pop
Aspiring singer-songwriter Breland begins his conversation with The Tennessean by noting that it’s been exactly four minutes since he walked through the front door of his Nashville home after a trip to Indianapolis.
This attention to detail has helped the 26-year-old New Jersey native rise from least-anticipated “My Truck” hitmaker to most-desired status in just under two years. Industry watchers say it takes ten years to achieve overnight success in Nashville. But thanks to his meticulous organization and vision, Breland has already achieved double fame in a quarter of the time.
At a time when the genre must quickly adapt to a plethora of sonic and cultural influences simultaneously sweeping the land, Breland helps direct the onslaught for a seamless transition.
This, of course, requires that he be quickly accepted as a visible contributor in country music’s most lauded realms. For example, the Burlington Township, NJ native debuted in two weeks in November 2021 — and ahead of a New Year’s Eve performance in front of a crowd of over 100,000 in downtown Nashville — with a “hat-trick” of standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry plus premiere performances at Ryman Auditorium and 2021 CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena.
Impressively, for both country music and the up-and-coming artist, it was less of an adjustment than expected.
“I opened at The Ryman for Deana Carter and the people who come to her are avid fans of ’90s country music [her beloved, 1996-released single] “Strawberry Wine” (which Breland covered in a Spotify-only release in September 2021). Given that the music I make sometimes has a fundamentally different inspiration, I thought her audience would be critical, but they weren’t,” he recalls.
Of course, Breland is an African American country music artist. But that’s not a crutch to rest your laurels on. It’s entirely possible — and it’s a notion the country music industry should embrace — that he’s just as talented beyond his race as advertised.
“[Above everything else] My talent has opened doors for me,” said Breland. “In Nashville, people value talent above many other things. I’m not in the position I’m in for a referendum on race. Rather, I think I really gain traction in my career because people connect to the uniqueness of my history as an artist, and it’s all rooted in my talent.”
Breland is a rare Nashville newcomer who has released as many charting collaborations as acclaimed original singles. His 2019 viral TikTok single “My Truck” was a launch and game changer. The platinum-certified track was a Billboard Hot 100 chart crossover.
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The snappy trap-style single blurred the lines between pop, hip-hop and bluegrass-style country alike, raising eyebrows and opening doors for the artist.
This unlikely success would be disheartening for an artist without a plan for what was to come next. However, Breland was endowed with what he describes as his “cross-country” musicianship. It aims to streamline what he calls a typically “messy” and “non-linear” creative approach into something far-reaching but aimed squarely at expanding the artistic, commercial, and unifying realm of country music.
He says: “I don’t want to be in a box. Artists, radio reps, and labels in country music often have no problem feeling comfortable. It works for some artists who know they have a bread-and-butter sound and style that works for them. But I’m always working on a variety of songs in different styles. However, I feel that they can all be part of the rural landscape.”
Over the past year, Breland has collaborated with Keith Urban on Lower Broadway nightlife-ready trap-country song “Throw It Back” and with HARDY and Dierks Bentley on pop-country ballad “Beers On Me.” Both songs achieved Top 40 country radio status. He worked on the soulful and autobiographical “Cross-Country” with Mickey Guyton, as well as the laid-back, party-groove “High Horse” with rap-to-country crossover icon Nelly and virally popular and self-proclaimed “Trailer Trap” performer Blanco Brown. He also appeared on releases for 2021 CMT Next Women of Country class member Tiera and a Christian-meets-Country solo EP by Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox.
At the start of 2022, Breland’s star is still on the rise.
“[In 2021], I dispelled doubts that I had and that others might have had. [The sustainability] my career in country music seemed impossible when I came to town two years ago. Now I realize that what I am doing is achievable.”
As for his next steps, he is ready to take bold leaps with the support of a host of creative giants whom he considers his inspiration.
“I want a career that will resonate for decades and inspire everyone,” he says.
He excitedly names his past collaborators, including Urban, Bentley, Guyton and Sam Hunt, as well as artists including Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, CMA 2021’s Best New Artist, and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. However, he does reserve one name for greater consideration: Garth Brooks.
Of the Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member, he says, “I respect people who have done something different. All the people I have contact with have done things differently than everyone else. When Garth debuted 30 years ago, they thought he was a college marketing major doing pop music. Now he has set the industry standard and sold out stadiums after doing so for nearly four decades.”
“We all have to get out of the boxes. The future of the country is so much [inspired by] Tradition as well as non-tradition, with as many people saying they don’t like country music as people coming to new understandings [the genre] enjoy it.”
Breland’s most poignant reflection on where he stands in the country’s current landscape comes during his comments on playing the Grand Ole Opry. There he was joined by Connie Smith, who has over five decades of experience and is easily one of country music’s most respected interpreters. The lessons learned from the incident resonated with him.
“[At the Opry], I sang “My Truck” in the same 3ft by 3ft circle that Connie Smith performed in. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, but it’s important to realize that there was room for both of us in the circle, metaphorically and in real life. I imagine if I perform “My Truck” in front of a newcomer in 50 years, they will call this song “Old School”. It’s true what they say. Music evolves like all things.”