Cowboy Troy's Latest... "Bland Content" Warning

Lester Feder

ADVISORY: Cowboy Troy's second attempt at fusing country and hip-hop contains references to minivans, grills, and strong images of suburbia that may numb office drones to the tedium of cubicle life. Discretion is advised.

Cowboy Troy

Black in the Saddle

US Release Date: 2007-06-05
UK Release Date: Available as import

Dear Warner Brothers and the Recording Industry Association of America,

I recently received the latest release from Cowboy Troy, Black in the Saddle. When I listened to it, I was appalled by the content and shocked that the record industry does not warn listeners about such objectionable material.

No, this recording contained no obscenity. In fact, obscenity might have been welcomed. Black in the Saddle is so corporately contrived that any edginess has been suffocated out of it. I am writing to suggest a "Bland Content" label be created along the lines of the "Explicit Content" label. Just as the "Explicit Context" label warns albums "may contain strong language or depictions of violence, sex or substance abuse" unsuitable for children, the "Bland Content" label would caution listeners that albums may contain "references to minivans, grills, and strong images of suburbia that may numb office drones to the tedium of cubicle life." This would allow listeners to keep a bottle of Tabasco sauce on hand to restore feeling to their heads when soul-crushing boredom makes them tempted to throw themselves in front of a train.

The songs on this album make it clear that Mr. Troy suffers from a persecution complex, so I can understand if Warner Brothers worries that such a warning might contribute to his psychological distress. I would suggest, however, that such a label might ameliorate Mr. Troy's situation. Mr. Troy feels the need to inject a gangsta flavor to his rap-country pastiche with embarrassing references to guns and bling. Since Mr. Troy so clearly fails to meet the criteria that earn hip-hop stars explicit content warnings, his rapper ego might be boosted if a separate warning label were to be created that he so clearly deserves.

Cowboy Troy may very well have hoed a hard row before the country duo Big & Rich vaulted him into the mainstream with an appearance on the 2004 Country Music Awards. But songs like "How Can You Hate Me" and "Take Your Best Shot Now" make it hard to listen to his complaints with a straight face. These tunes sound heavily influenced by Eminem's epics of persecution -- "Without Me" or "White America" (The Eminem Show, 2002) for example -- in which he takes on congressmen and parental decency groups. Mr. Troy sounds... well... silly when he borrows Eminem's techniques (lyrics that return repeatedly to the same word on line after line, cartoonish dialogue with himself) to attack his less-clearly identified enemies. From "How Can You Hate Me":

You know what, there's no way you coulda planned it.

The Buffalo [aka, Troy] is still here, the haters can't stand it.

Do fear me 'cause I'm larger than you?

Or 'cause I'm stronger or that I work harder than you?

Or that fact that I have the power to react and choose not to?

If my mouth is my tool, boom I got you.

People wanted to shut up Eminem because he sounds like a sociopath that threatens order and decency. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems Mr. Troy thinks he threatens other people because he's too orderly:

Do you fear my understanding of economic policy or the fact that I vote?

Be careful now don't choke.

Or the fact I can read in the first place?

Where Eminem gives the world the finger and keeps talking crazy, Mr. Troy wants to give everyone a hug. The sung chorus of "How Can You Hate Me":

How can you hate someone you just don't know

The more you hate the less love grows.

Mr. Warner and Mr. Warner (there are only two Warner Brothers, right?), please also tell Mr. Troy that his descriptions of bullet dodging don't help his credibility. The lyrics to the chorus of "Take Your Best Shot Now" are completely subverted by its music, which sounds like warmed-over, feel-good Big & Rich. (This isn't a surprise, since Big & Rich have been Cowboy Troy's biggest boosters since the beginning.)

Take your best shot now, 'cause I'm flying so high.

You'll run out of ammo before you touch the sky.

You think you're the first one to try and bring me down.

Buddy you don't know how long I've been around.

Take your best shot now.

But the rapping also makes the gun references ridiculous:

I never lived in the hood but I used to work there.

"Ain't you work at that shoe store?"

Yeah, I used to clerk there.

Rollin' through Dallas now they go berserk there.

These awkward allusions to hood life may be symptoms of Mr. Troy's much bigger musical disorder -- he seems totally cut off from modern hip hop. His first album was shaped entirely by foursquare rhymes that went out of fashion in the early '90s. (Ok, the Beastie Boys still rap that way, but that proves the point.) Mr. Troy clearly has worked hard to become a stronger wrapper since his first release, but he hasn't been studying his contemporaries. If Eminem is an inspiration, Cowboy Troy is only five years out of date, but his rapping style is overwhelmingly an awkward collage of different rapping styles from the '80s and early '90s.

This brings me to another complaint. There's very little country-hip hop fusion on this record. While he raps throughout, his music is most firmly rooted in rap metal, not hip hop. And the country elements are so far on the pop side of the country spectrum that they might better be labeled AAA. Perhaps that's why this album is billed as the "New Rock Yawlternative" rather than the "Hick-Hop" supposedly served up by Loco Motive. Country is represented by dobros and banjos on some rhythm tracks, but they're buried beneath heavily distorted guitars à la Limp Bizkit.

The only time he truly succeeds at injecting rap into country, to my ears, is the feel-good hanging-out song, "Cruise Control". In the spirit of carefree ditties like Keith Urban's "Who Wouldn't Want to Be Me", Mr. Troy's description of a "playground for adults [with] beertubs and grills" promising "clean fun... where topless mean[s] putting down your convertible" would sound perfectly at home on country radio:

Ice cold brews! Don't want to hear no news!

Just my favorite songs when I'm listening to the radio!

Good friends and good times!

Ain't worried about the reason or the rhymes!

After a week of work all I know!

I put my mind on cruise control!

Misters Warner, I will not be buying another Cowboy Troy record. This is not because the music is bad, exactly. In fact, the rhythm tracks on this album are much catchier than those on Loco Motive, and Mr. Troy's rapping is also much improved. I want to like his music, and I applaud the record industry for attempting to bring together country and hip-hop. (The record industry, after all, has profited from the segregation of pop music for decades.)

Mr. Troy's efforts to mix musical styles, however, are severely hampered by the musical influences upon which he draws. Cowboy Troy's music is a dystopian nightmare of what pop music would sound like if we were only left with the music on the air following the 1996 deregulation of radio ownership: the slickest, most callow rap; the blandest, cloying country; and corporatized "alternative" rock. (I will also be complaining to the FCC about their contribution to Cowboy Troy's mediocrity)

Though he doesn't do a terrible job of combining different strains of music, the strains he picks leave me horribly depressed about how the music industry has warped the sounds of popular music. If Mr. Troy began as a musical rebel, you have turned him into the perfect corporate product (which may be the reason you won't allow listeners to hear an entire track on his MySpace page without a purchase). You exploit the novelty of a musician who cites both Charlie Daniels and Lil John as inspiration while he makes music so dull that it offends no one (well, except me). If you insist on marketing such music, I would ask that you offer complimentary prescriptions for Prozac, because it leaves me deeply depressed.

In closing, I also recommend that you refrain from releasing any more Cowboy Troy albums in the month before or after June 10, the anniversary of Ray Charles's death. The album that solidified Mr. Charles's high esteem among white listeners included 1962's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. This was an inspired critique of musical segregation by an R&B singer taking on the whites-only world of country. It is inevitable that Cowboy Troy's nominal fusion of hip hop and country will be compared to Ray Charles's revolutionary work. The comparison is not favorable. Where Ray Charles was taking on the record industry, Mr. Troy has been co-opted by it. And where Ray Charles was making outstanding music, Mr. Troy's is abysmally mediocre.

There is still room for someone to interestingly combine country and hip-hop. I hope someone else steps up to the challenge. Otherwise, Mr. Troy will have a monopoly on that niche, reflecting poorly on both genres.


Lester Feder


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)

In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.