Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (2024)

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter made a point of featuring Black crossover artists on her latest album, "Act II: Cowboy Carter." She highlighted and propelled a world of Black artists into the limelight by doing so.

These artists include Willie Jones and Shaboozey, who have been fusing country and hip-hop since the inception of their careers.

Shaboozey, who is featured on two of Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter" album tracks, "Spaghettii" and "Sweet Honey Buckin'," says he's "making music for the modern cowboy, the modern outlaw, the modern person who stands on their own against insurmountable odds," he tells The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Shaboozey's skill as a rapper and singer adept at bridging cultures and genres has become his calling card over his decade-long career.

On "Spaghettii," he appears alongside groundbreaking 1970s-era Black female country performer Linda Martell. His voice also appears on the club-ready dance track "Sweet Honey Buckiin'."

The Woodbridge, Virginia, native born Collins Chibueze in 1995, is the son of Nigerian immigrants; his father is currently a chicken farmer.

"Being from Virginia, you've got acts like Pharrell, Missy, and Timbaland, who do come from hip-hop. And you also have that country history as well with Patsy Cline, the Carter Family and Emmylou Harris," Shaboozey says.

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (1)

Ask him to dive into why he's excited to be featured on Beyoncé's album, and the answers are as much informed by his long-term appreciation for Knowles-Carter's catalog as they are by getting to advocate for his own nature-loving and intellectual interests via the platform of a 32-time Grammy-winning artist.

"It's amazing in so many different ways. That's what we grew up on. I was born in '95. ... Early 2000s is my era of music. My first exposure to music was probably Beyoncé, Kanye, Jay(-Z and) all those people," he says. "I don't collaborate with too many people, and for this to be my first one is telling that all the hard work we put in … people have been paying attention."

Beyoncé's country music turn brings mainstream listeners to Shaboozey, Willie Jones after 'X Factor,' social media success

Shreveport, Louisiana, native Jones arrives at "Cowboy Carter" fame after fancying himself a soul-crooning rapper and being aware that his hometown was once the location of country's legendary, 1950s-era Louisiana Hayride barn-dance show.

His hip-hop freestyling and baritone voice have led to him having a viral moment every 18 months for the past 12 years on broadcast television and social media platforms dating back to Vine's birth in 2012. In 2020 and 2021, two of his singles, the anthemic ballad "American Dream" and summer party song "Down By The Riverside," achieved renown.

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (2)

When chronologically contextualized alongside Lil Nas X's near 20-times platinum-selling Billboard Hot 100 smash "Old Town Road," the work of performers like Jones and Shaboozey — as well as "Cowboy Carter" collaborators Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Reyna Roberts and Brittney Spencer — ultimately served as important tent-posts in tethering a small but growing mainstream-adjacent community of Black country artists and fans.

"By the time people started telling me about Lil Nas X and 'Old Town Road' (in late 2018), I was looking around at the culture and saw that we had so many country-themed artists ready for a huge moment," Jones says.

Jones' appearances on now-defunct social media app Vine followed his performance of Josh Turner's "Your Man" one month prior while auditioning for Season 2 of the American version of singing competition show "The X Factor" in 2013 (another TV hopeful: country superstar Kane Brown).

Though unsuccessful in winning the program, Brown's eventual series of iPhone-recorded Facebook videos of him singing covers of modern and traditional country songs led to viral success and his current status.

Two years later, he doubled down on his country music interests while touring with acts like Shawn Mendes and performing covers of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" and Darius Rucker's take on Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel."

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (3)

Willie Jones' Black country crossover preceded Lil Nas X's 'Old Town Road'

By the mid-2010s, Jones recalls country-tinged rap-leaning artists being courted by industry tastemakers like producer Polow da Don. He recalls artists like Mississippi's Fly Rich Double attempting to get noticed by rekindling Muzik Mafia and Cowboy Troy's early 2000s "Hick Hop" movement with tracks like "Big Boom."

The mention of "Big Boom" causes Jones to laugh.

"We were prepared about five years too early, though. Back then, we didn't know that chances (like working with labels, having platforms with marketing arms to support their work appearing on a 'Cowboy Carter'-type album) were even possible."

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (4)

2020 and 2021 saw artists like Breland and hip-hop-to-crossover veteran creator Blanco Brown achieve viral and chart-topping success via their respective tracks "My Truck" and "The Git Up."

Shaboozey joins Beyoncé, Linda Martell on 'Cowboy Carter': 'Full circle moment'

Shaboozey arrives as a "Cowboy Carter" contribution already conscious of cultural intersections: urban versus rural, geographic divides and, most importantly, country music's place amid other genres.

Dig back a decade, and he has a well-regarded 2014 track that namedrops NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, a 2018 debut album entitled "Lady Wrangler," and two albums that followed entitled "Cowboys Live Forever" and "Outlaws Never Die."

"Being from Virginia, I was inspired by the that were things around me, (by) the cultural landmarks and the things I would see. I saw all types of people, being in the South or the mid-Atlantic but also being in the (semi-)North. NASCAR was a big thing I took and put into my sound and agriculture … all the things were exposed to me I put in my music.

Ask him about his fellow emerging "Cowboy Carter" collaborators and he's "excited" to see the quartet of Black women on "Blackbiird." But when considering Willie Jones' appearance on "Just For Fun," he pauses dramatically.

"You know, back in 2012, I was still in high school and figuring out how I could combine all of my musical interests and Willie was out there on 'X Factor,'" he says. "Even though we've met in Los Angeles and still speak regularly, that makes 'Cowboy Carter' feel like a full circle moment."

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (5)

Shaboozey has a new album, "Where I've Been, isn't Where I'm Going," dropping May 31 via Empire Records, but right now he's celebrating Beyoncé's arrival to the country genre — and the impact she's created for those in the Black country scene.

"It's great to see us get our flowers and come together in celebration of being different and being unique."

Beyoncé collaborators Shaboozey, Willie Jones highlight Black country music on 'Cowboy Carter' (2024)


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