Kane Brown is the most intriguing among the young stars of country music. Although nothing is exceptional about his rise to stardom, his popularity has been peppered with controversies. And, it all boils down to one thing – his color. It isn’t totally fair for him to fall victim to criticisms and worse, racism. The 25-year-old singer became the most recent subject of country music and race intersection. He’s facing the same difficult path that Charley Pride and Darius Rucker had gone through before cementing their reputation as celebrated artists of country music.
Brown first tasted the bitterness of being judged due to his color when he was a young boy, someone who doesn’t even recognize colors and unaware of what biracial means. With some thick skin, he was able to move past the criticisms. Now that Brown is increasingly gaining popularity in country music, it seems that the horror he experienced in his childhood is coming back. Unfortunately, the “Heaven” singer still faces racism up to the present. Probably, the most challenging part of being in his place is to be judged not for his music but for the color of his skin.
Since his breakout in mainstream country, many thought of Brown as a significant symbol of diversity in the genre. The truth of the matter is no one comes close to Brown being the artist in mainstream country who is most responsible in homogenizing the format. Because majority considered his music to be more of R&B and pop, many equated this to him creating diversity in country music. But that isn’t actually the case. The music of Brown, in fact, puts an end to diversity across all popular American music formats. Regardless of genre, everything splits into the same pop/R&B/EDM sound profile, after all.
A Brief Background of Kane Brown
Kane Brown was born to a white mother named Tabatha, and a part Cherokee, part black father. That made him a mixed-race one. His dad had been out of his life since birth. His mother raised him all by herself. He grew up in rural northwest Georgia and the Chattanooga, Tennessee area and life had been difficult for him. His family kept moving from one place to another, sometimes they were homeless.
Apparently, Brown’s childhood has been full of pain and hardships. He has a dark past which he isn’t ashamed of letting the world know. The inks on his body parts vividly tell it all. Despite his deprived circumstances, there’s one thing that brought life to his growing years – listening to country music. While he was attending high school in Georgia, Brown sang in a choir with his classmate and now fellow country singer Lauren Alaina.
His Early Music Career Journey
Winning a talent show in eleventh grade inspired him to follow a career in music. A performance of Chris Young’s “Getting’ You Home” became his winning piece. Also, he auditioned for ‘X Factor’ and successfully passed. Producers of the show tried putting Brown in a boy band causing him to leave the program shortly after but the singer opted to follow a solo career. Thus, he began covering some country songs and proudly shared these online.
His cover of George Strait’s “Check Yes or No” went viral amassing over 10 million views on his Facebook account. Well, you already know what happened next. He instantly turned into an online sensation, gaining a huge presence on social media. With that, he became country music’s first viral star. Capitalizing on this quick popularity, Brown released his first single “Used to Love You Sober” in 2015. That same year, he released an EP entitled ‘Closer.’ Then ‘Chapter 1’ followed in 2016.
Toward the end of 2016, the singer dropped his self-titled full-length album. Three of his singles from this album captured the audience’s attention, namely “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now,” “Thunder in the Rain,” and “What Ifs.” The last was a duet he performed with Lauren Alaina, his former classmate in high school. Moreover, aside from touring with and opening for Florida Georgia Line, he also held his own tour, Ain’t No Stopping Us Now Tour. This further propelled him to become one of country music’s hottest young male artists.
The Outcast King
Recently, Rolling Stone Country labeled Kane Brown as the new “Outcast King” of country music. This came after Brown’s increasing presence in the genre started to become unstoppable with time. But of course, it also has to do with a few of his personal circumstances. That includes the story of his troubled childhood, the difficult climb he faced to get to the top of mainstream country, and more significantly the fact that he’s a mixed race.
But prior to this, when Brown has not surfaced yet on the social media, the singer even thought of himself that way. He did not even think someone like him would fit into Nashville. Given the rocky road that he and his mom had gone through ever since he was young, Brown has somehow confined himself into such a small world. He’s a biracial and had lived a hard life with his mom in Tennessee and North Georgia.
“I got bullied so much growing up for being a different color in a majority white school,” he says. “I remember being chased through the woods being called the n-word [when] I was in middle school. The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘They’re gonna kill me.’”-Kane Brown
Still an Outcast Even Outside the Issue of Race
Even now that Brown has penetrated the Music City and his music is dominating the country music charts, the feeling of being an outcast still thrives in him. This time, it’s not only his race that’s causing him to hold such kind of feeling but also the unconventional way through which he became part of Nashville.
Country music has a well-ordered world. Aspiring stars go through a Music Row boot camp where they spend nights at open mics and days selling songs to publishers. Before Brown even mastered playing the guitar, he mastered social media first. He shot covers of country songs on his phone and shared this via Facebook and Youtube and that worked well with him. In pop music, going from a social media sensation to a major-label artist has been common for over a decade. In the case of Brown, choosing to be in country music and skipping the Nashville boot camp marked him as country’s Justin Bieber.
“Nobody’s really done it in country music like that before,” he says, shrugging off the negativity.-Kane Brown
Moreover, the first impression people had on him was that he’s a rapper given his color, tattoos, and eye piercing.
Meanwhile, Brown has benefited from the prejudiced and inward-looking system of mainstream country music, as well as the political bias that permeates in all entertainment media more than any artist at the moment. And despite the media’s insistence on casting him as an outcast, an underdog, and the victim of oppression, Brown is becoming, perhaps, the hottest artist in all of “country” music.
On Being a Biracial
Kane Brown didn’t know he’s a biracial until he turned 7, although he’s experienced so much of it as a kid. In an interview with People Magazine, Brown recalls the moment he found out he’s biracial.
“I didn’t know that until I was 7 or 8 years old,” the singer says. “I thought I was full white, which honestly, I can’t even really say because I didn’t see colors.”
But even after he learned that he’s biracial, he didn’t pay much attention to it. Then, he started getting called the N-word.
“I didn’t even know what it meant, [and the moment] I learned what it meant, that’s when it started affecting me; I got in fights over it when I was little.”
He moved past the racism as time rolled by. But now that he’s already in Nashville and rising to fame in country music, Brown’s dark past seems to be repeating itself.
“When I first got into country, I started getting some of those comments like, ‘He’s an N-word.’ Stuff like that,” he explains. “I used to screenshot it and put it on Twitter, like, ‘There 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.”
Perhaps one of the good things that those criticisms and racism gave Brown was that it allowed him to know himself better. It likewise taught him to widen his understanding about the reality that some people are just always going to be hateful.
The Battle Against Racism and Overcoming Depression
It seems that Brown’s life is a continuous journey of facing and letting go of bitterness. The singer explained this in his single “Learning.” A track from his 2016 self-titled debut album, this song addressed everything from a brutal beating from a stepdad for wetting the bed at age six, to the racism he’d experienced at school, to losing friends, to guns and overdoses.
At a young age, Brown learned to overcome the challenges he faced particularly those that concern his race. Although the bullying crushed him too often, he never let it ruin his life. Instead, he tried putting them under his feet and became his stepping stone to success. And it made him stronger than ever. With his success, he stands as a good example to other biracial kids. He also wants to inspire them to become stronger just like him.
“They just made me stronger. I guess it was God. Hopefully, I can help kids and they can end up being stronger in the long run, too.”
The next time someone would bully him for his skin color or call him the N-word, his straightforward reply will be,
“Now you can call me whatever you want. It just brushes off of me.”
In addition, having experienced pain and sorrows in life, Brown turned out to be the emotional type of a person. Yes, he breaks down more often than you think he does. However, throughout the course of his life, he discovered another way to overcome depression. That is to surround himself with good people.
“I found out how to cope with it is just always being surrounded by people,” Brown says, describing the depression that’s common in his family. “I used to isolate myself and be in my room by myself all the time. So that’s why I’d be emotional.”
Brown’s Most Successful Experiment
While Brown is well dignified for mainstream prominence, he tried blending more traditional sounds into his mix in his second album. The project was partly a result of his trip to Texas where Brown was seen exchanging songs with local artists.
“I was playing ‘What Ifs’ and two fiddle players jumped in on it and just made me fall in love,” the singer shares.
So, he went on to do some experimentation on the tracks he was recording by incorporating fiddle and steel guitar. He thought these two instruments which formed a huge part of what traditional country is are going extinct in today’s country format.
“It’s new school with old-school country,” he says. “It’s an experiment.”
Hence, he named his sophomore album Experiment. It dropped last November 9 and hit No. 1 not only on Billboard 200 but also on Top Country Albums chart. Along with the commercial success that Brown’s latest record has achieved is the strong affirmation that he has succeeded in moving past the negativity that kept blocking his way from the very beginning.
As a newcomer, Brown struggled for acceptance in Nashville. Not to mention the strong racism that continues to proliferate even in the music world. As he has initially thought, he’ll never fit into it. But look at him now. It isn’t too long since his entry to Nashville and he’s already in the position to try to experiment with country music and even expand the genre. With the experimentation he did in his recent record, he strongly feels how far his music brought non-traditional listeners, including himself.
“If you come to my shows, there’s all kinds of different races, all kinds of different people. Now, I feel accepted. I still feel like an outcast on the inside, but it doesn’t bother me anymore, at all. It kind of feels cool to be the outsider.”