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The Country-Rap Song Taking Over Nashville? It Isn’t ‘Old Town Road’



The second most-viewed version of Blanco Brown’s “The Git Up” on YouTube — after the original, audio-only clip — is a video in which he teaches the country singer Lainey Wilson the song’s accompanying dance.

“The Git Up” is an instructional number: almost every lyric is a direction for where to place your foot, your arm, your cup. And it has been extremely popular on TikTok, the social-video sharing app. In the casual video, the two dance side by side in a parking lot, Wilson taking her cues from Brown, sashaying and spinning and doing the butterfly just a split second behind him. It’s all very amiable and inclusive — it would be hard to feel like you couldn’t be in that parking lot, too.

There is, however, one twist to this feel-good story. “The Git Up” has just arrived at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, an unexpected turn of fate given that the song is, well, if not exactly rapped, at least melodically spoken. And its performer is black, still a relative rarity in the country music industry.

And yet not even four months have passed since Billboard heaved Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” off the same chart, saying it “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.” (The remix with Billy Ray Cyrus, an actual onetime country star, fared no better, apart from spending 14 weeks and counting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.)

The apparent about-face shows that the country music industry isn’t strict in its dogma, only in its hypocrisy. It is historically cloistered, presenting significant roadblocks to outsiders — the charts reflect those pressures. (Just ask the women of country music.)

But there are several reasons “The Git Up” thrived where “Old Town Road” failed. Brown is signed to a country music record label (BBR Music Group). He deploys a country twang earned growing up spending summers in the rural South. He plays lap steel guitar.

The most crucial reason might be structural. “Old Town Road” didn’t arrive through Nashville’s front door. It rose up from the SoundCloud murk with an arched eyebrow, fortified by the language of memes. On TikTok, where young people transformed into cowboys to its theatrically comic country boom-bap, it was a shared idiom. It leapfrogged right over the country music industry to the pop world, leaving Nashville in the cold, and resentful.

“The Git Up,” on the other hand, is a direct invitation. You see it in the videos. The one in which Brown coaches Wilson is one of a few circulating online where he gamely demonstrates the dance for white people. In another, he suffers the rhythmlessness of the longtime radio and TV personality Storme Warren, who currently hosts a morning show on Sirius XM.

In the clip featuring the renegade syndicated morning radio host Bobby Bones and the singer Caylee Hammack, Brown appears mysteriously in the background about halfway through, like a curious judge, before joining in.

There’s at least one — and likely soon to be many more — of Brown demonstrating the dance for hapless radio D.J.s around the country (though credit goes to Otis Oshow of 94.9 The Bull in Atlanta, who appeared grateful to have an opportunity to show off his rhythm).

Where “Old Town Road” demanded engagement on its own flamboyant terms, “The Git Up” is an extended hand of camaraderie. These videos are testaments to cross-cultural understanding, and they are premised upon a fundamental lack of it. What Brown offers here is cachet, a little confidence, an opportunity to safely transgress while not fundamentally disrupting the genre’s power dynamic.

Brown, 34, has a career that predates “The Git Up,” working behind the scenes with both country and pop stars, including Fergie and Kane Brown. “The Git Up,” he’s said in interviews, is part of a sound he calls “trailertrap” — “country music with 808s, hi-hat snares, kick drums and beatboxing.”

Or in other words, the same country-rap framework that Lil Nas X was working with (albeit flecked with irony in his case), and which has been deployed in Nashville by country rappers like Colt Ford and crossover stars like Sam Hunt. For the most part, that sound has been held at bay by country tastemakers. “The Git Up” is still more of a viral concern than a radio presence in Nashville. Though it has received a smattering of spins on country radio, it hasn’t even appeared on Billboard’s country airplay chart.

So even if the song’s a little dim, “The Git Up” appearing on a country chart, and topping it, is significant. Whether the track is being included on the basis of its genre bona fides is dubious at best — it is the very definition of a novelty song.

“The Git Up” is the Hokey Pokey, the Hustle, the Macarena (which is not, in fact, about a dance, though it was popularized via a dance). It could have been a “Hee Haw” sketch. The lap steel — played by Brown — is just a touch fuzzy, as if plucked off some old 78 r.p.m. record. It is warm, welcoming shtick.

But while “The Git Up” is lighthearted fun, it doesn’t make much of a case for Brown as an artist. As a singer, he has an interesting, rich voice, as heard in a video of him singing a Chris Stapleton song backstage at the Grand Ole Opry a few days ago.

But he doesn’t rely on it in his music. Brown recently released an amiable but largely banal self-titled EP that features songs that feel ideologically half-cooked, stitching together genres but not hiding the seams (though it contains two songs — “Georgia Power” and “Tn Whiskey” — that more credibly fit in with contemporary country than “The Git Up”).

If “Old Town Road” was a provocation, politically and aesthetically, then “The Git Up” feels like a step backward. Its acceptance is a victory for excluding those who push hard against old tropes as much as for those who seek a toothless path to inclusion.

At the end of “The Git Up,” Brown raps, a few times, “That was not so bad, was it?” — a slyly pointed coda aimed at skeptical insiders who might be leery of a country-rap song, or a viral dance craze, or a black performer in the country music industry. Or maybe it’s just a metaphorical arm around the shoulder — an act not of defiance, but reassurance.

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Drawn From Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t.



“When I think about living how our grandparents did, it seems exhausting,” said Ms. Saila, heading to the freezer, where plastic bags of “country food” — caribou, seal, beluga — bumped up against frozen waffles and Cool Whip.

Ms. Saila comes from a line of artists. Her great-grandfather, Pauta Saila, was an acclaimed carver, and her grandfather, Mikisiti Saila, followed his footsteps.

Mikisiti made enough money to buy a snowmobile, and on spring evenings he would hook it up to a qamutik — a homemade sled — and take his family to nearby lakes to ice-fish. In the summer, they would set out in his boat for weeks and pitch canvas tents on a rocky island, where Ms. Saila learned to pluck sea gull eggs, pick orange cloudberries and hunt.

The Inuit call this being “on the land.” Hunting and foraging are an essential part of their identity, even for those to whom it’s a distant memory.

“It was family time,” Ms. Saila said. “When you are out on the land, it’s peaceful.”

In 2008, her grandfather died of tuberculosis, leaving no savings for his family. (There are no banks in Cape Dorset.) Every one of his valuable carvings had been sold. His boat went to an uncle, Ms. Saila said. The snowmobile broke down, then disappeared.

The trips on the land became more infrequent.

When Ms. Saila was in the 11th grade, she became pregnant. She dropped out of school and got a job working at the co-op’s late-night convenience store. Residents still recount her confrontation with a drunk customer.

“I got mad — I head-butted her,” she said, giggling at the memory. She says she quit.

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J.D. Salinger, Unbound



When J.D. Salinger was 18, unpublished and spending long hours at his typewriter, he received an encouraging letter from an admirer.

“I accept your story. Consider it a masterpiece. Check for $1,000 in the mail. Curtis Publishing Co.”

It wasn’t really from a publisher — those notices wouldn’t arrive for years. It was from Salinger’s mother, who slipped it under his bedroom door one night when she heard him typing. He kept the note for 73 years, until his death in 2010.

The handwritten note is now on display at the New York Public Library, in the first public exhibition from Salinger’s personal archives.

The exhibit, which opened Friday and runs through Jan. 19, includes more than 200 items on loan from the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, including photographs from Salinger’s life; a meticulously hammered metal bowl he made when he was a boy; his correspondence with friends, family, fans and prominent writers and editors, including Ernest Hemingway and William Maxwell; and the original typescripts of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey,” with the author’s notes and revisions.

Some items give new insights into Salinger’s creative process. Others offer a rare window into his private life. There are notebooks where he jotted down passages from spiritual texts he was studying. There are shelves of books that he kept in his bedroom at the end of his life because he wanted them to be close at hand: titles about Eastern medicine and acupuncture; books by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Gilbert, Ivan Turgenev, Penelope Fitzgerald and Anton Chekhov; and spiritual tomes from Hindu, Taoist, Christian Science and Zen Buddhist traditions. There are photos of him beaming at his grandchildren, and heartfelt letters to his son Matt Salinger, who helped organize the exhibit.

J.D. Salinger, who was fiercely protective of his private life and abhorred the spotlight, would likely have objected to having aspects of personal life on display. But his son said he wanted to show sides of his father that have long been overlooked or misrepresented.

“It ended up being a little more personal than I thought it would be,” said Matt Salinger. During a tour, he explained what some of the items meant to his father and their family.

One of the items on display is an addendum for an affidavit from Salinger’s 1982 lawsuit against Steven Kunes, a con artist who attempted to sell People magazine a fake interview with Salinger. (It was never published.)

“It was important to me that I not only present the warm and fuzzy stuff,” his son said. “This shows his very principled, prickly nature. He could be prickly as hell with people, professionally. He was fiercely protective of his work. Having some letters like that was important, to have that balance.

“Each one of these entanglements took a toll on him. As much as spiritually he was detached from the world, these things would yank him back into it.”

Salinger detested representational cover art on his books and preferred plain, abstract designs. So he created his own minimalist one and sent it to his agent, Phyllis Westberg, and requested it be used for all four of his books.

“He sat down in his leather chair in the living room. I remember it was winter time. And he sketched it out. He was focused,” Matt Salinger said. “He writes about distrusting the word ‘creativity.’ He always thought it was a space you’re allowed to enter. You’re given things to share by whatever God you think is operative. There’s a release in that, and an ease. It’s not the tortured artist, pounding things out. That was not his affect at all when he was writing. There was joy in it.”

“I debated whether to include these for a while, just because it’s certainly something he would not have included,” Matt Salinger said. “But this exhibit is to show sides of him that have not been shown, or that have been misrepresented. I think the best way to do it was to present factual pieces. He was loving and humorous and thoughtful.”

“He always had a couple of these tucked away in his pocket. He kept passages from whatever spiritual text he was reading,” Matt Salinger said. “He’d write them in bed by hand and he’d then go back to them and highlight things that jumped out at him. He had about 20. I would love to do something with them one day. He thought they would be particularly useful in prisons where people can’t have a normal life, so where can they go, but inward.”

“One of the myths I read a lot is how he turned his back on his parents and wanted nothing to do with them,” Matt Salinger said. “This shows the feelings he had much later. It was in one of his notebooks.”

“This speaks volumes to me,” Matt Salinger said. “It says a lot about who he was as an artist, the meticulousness, and the care and the focus and the attention.”

“It’s not the image anyone has of my father,” Matt Salinger said. “It was the rare reader, the rare letter, that struck a chord. But if he felt their need, if he felt their authenticity, especially if he felt their distress, he would try to respond. It puts the lie to so much of what has been written about him. And look, he could be an S.O.B., but he more often than not he was not, and was a hugely thoughtful and sensitive and caring man.”

Produced by Erica Ackerberg.

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A Young God Steps Into His Light



Calvin Royal III takes on the lead role of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” at American Ballet Theater.

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