Like many teenagers, 17-year old Hamilton, Georgia native Jonathan Gabriel Horne is the product of proud parents. “I think my dad literally only plays my unreleased music around the house these days,” says Horne, aka Kidd G, the latest signee to Geffen Records’ Rebel Music imprint. Unreleased music for Kidd G these days comes in the wake of viral digital-era smash “Dirt Road.” The song — similar to Lil Nas X's “Old Town Road,” Blanco Brown's “The Get Up,” and Breland's “My Truck” — continues a recent trend of, regardless of genre, emo-style trap rap emerging as a streaming era favorite.
“I can’t think of a way to define the space I occupy between rap and country,” Kidd G notes in a Zoom chat with CMT. “I’m just trying to think of the best thing that a song can be. For ‘Dirt Road,’ I was just expressing how I feel, as a 17-year-old teenage boy, out in the country, living life. Everybody’s been a teenager at some point, so I hope they relate to this song in some way.”
In a genre defined by “three chords and the truth,” trap’s take on country involves discussions of Roland 808 synthesizers, rap beats from independent music portals like Soundclick. A complex-seeming marketing strategy for relatively quickly-produced tracks involves not radio but rather streaming portals like TikTok and Soundcloud. It's there where Kidd G’s single established itself as a rising hit.
Intriguingly though, to long-tail Kidd G’s career's success, mapping his viral acclaim to more traditional country measures of success is necessary. Thus, following a well-received video clip featuring some mud-strewn off-road racing through the woods of Horne’s Georgia community, he’s picked up a guitar to strum out an acoustic version of his hit single that sounds and feels like it’s a comfortable fit on country radio between Luke Bryan and Luke Combs.
In this conversation, something of the person behind the streaming screen emerges. Less influenced by Kane Brown and Luke Combs and more inspired by Soundcloud rappers like SpotemGottem and traditional-style country artists like Justin Moore, Kidd G’s sound may be emerging, but his perspective certainly demands respect.
Marcus K. Dowling, CMT.com: So, you’ve now decided to create an acoustic version of “Dirt Road.” Did you have prior experience with a guitar? If so, how did it benefit this version?
Kidd G: I needed to switch it up and see what the song could become! We do everything naturally now. All of my new songs are guitar-driven. I’m a little bit of a guitarist because one of my uncles played bass in Fleetwood Mac. When he’d play it, and I’d hear him play as a little kid, I called [the guitar] “the boom boom.”
CMT: As far as the viral streaming boom your song achieved on the way to all of your recent success, can you take me into what it looks like when you fall asleep one night and then wake up to people creating thousands of clips -- using your song -- for TikTok videos? Also, how does that work for you? Are you just making music and testing it out with the streaming? To gauge interest?
KG: There are so many platforms available now to show people what I’m doing and how I like to do it. Snapchat, Soundcloud, TikTok, Instagram, Triller, Youtube it’s all important as far as getting people to appreciate my work. When it dropped on TikTok, my friends could not stop playing it. Once the numbers really exploded, I knew I had to drop it as a single. I was freaking out! I couldn’t mess this up. I realized what I had in my hands, so it made the next step [obvious].
CMT: I like to look at the landscape of this “country trap” movement and see it as a spectrum from “Old Town Road” and “The Get Up” to now “My Truck” and “Dirt Road.” Your thoughts about this idea?
KG: Those are three great songs by three great artists. [Similarly,] when I made “Dirt Road,” it wasn’t planned. I’ve never made a song like it. I woke up, sat down, and put the best form of my emotions that expressed myself in that song.
CMT: What’s going into your playlist of inspirations these days? I presume it’s incredibly diverse.
KG: I’m listening to Justin Moore, Colt Ford, and rappers like Fredo Bang and SpotemGottem, [clearly] I love everything. Whenever I hear good music, [regardless of the genre] I love it.
CMT: Amazing. So, if you were going to suggest that a drill rapper and a country star listen to each other’s music, how would you go about making that happen?
KG: That’s the thing. Not every country artist or drill artist is going to listen to the other genre. I’m different because I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere where our tastes are defined by listening to -- and respecting -- everything.
CMT: While I have you here, I had to ask you about the video for “Dirt Road.” It’s amazing. How did that come together?
KG: We didn’t plan the video at all! Our director, DrewFimedIt, said, “I’ve never shot a video like this!” My manager/A & R said, “take him out for a ride.” ‘Round here, we don’t live in Miami where we can go to the beach or somewhere. Instead, we’re either going to the lake or into the woods. We’re just kids trying to stay out of trouble, doing what we do. He’d been in an off-road vehicle before but never like that. He got the idea very quickly about what goes on around here. He’s a really cool guy.
CMT: So, with “Dirt Road,” you’ve achieved a hit. What are you taking from this experience and carrying with you into songwriting and production for future projects?
KG: If you write to make a hit, you’re not going to make a hit. At the end of the day, being on Billboard’s charts is an accomplishment, but it’s not why I make music. I do this because I love it. I’m not over-thinking my process because when you over-think your process, that’s when things go bad.
CMT: You may know more about music at 17 than many others twice your age! Related, some people say that country music is all about “three chords and the truth.” I feel like your music is similar but also different from this idea. Your thoughts? What motivates you as a musician?
KG: I respect everyone for what they have going on and how they make what they make. At the end of the day, the money and the views don’t matter, but the songs do. If I’m hanging with [pop stars] in Miami, rappers in Atlanta, or [with country artists] in Nashville, I just hope I’m hanging around with really artistic people I can develop friendships with based on music.