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KANE BROWN: AGENT OF CHANGE

Interview by Holly Gleason

Kane Brown has hit #1 at Country radio five times (with “What Ifs,” “Heaven,” “Lose It,” “Good as You” and “Homesick”). He’s also seen massive streaming hits that work beyond Country radio, including “Be Like That” featuring Swae Lee & Khalid and “Last Time I Say Sorry” with John Legend, and performed his come-together anthem “Worldwide Beautiful” at the BET Awards from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, among other hallmarks of stardom. But hearing his 2020 EP, Mixtape Vol. 1 (Sony Music Nashville), announced as a nominee for ACM Album of the Year was a whole other rush for the 27-year-old from Chattanooga, Tenn.

As the diversity of the above would suggest, Brown has an unconventional career. He’s philosophical about it.

Were you surprised to be nominated for Album?
Over the top. I’ve never been nominated for a whole project. This album was something we decided to do for the fans because we were going into quarantine. These are all songs that had huge streaming success. With this record, we brought them together, then sequenced it to make it something special; we tried to put it in an order so you can hear the different genres and how much I love all kinds of music. 

This may be a first for country.
We have stuff for Country radio, and we have things that are for streaming and social media. But Country radio now knows what we send them will work on Country radio, and they know I’ll always be there for them; I’ll never have a Pop single without having a single for Country radio.

You mean something like “Be Like That?”
When I heard that song, I knew it was a hit. But I wanted it to be more than just me. Khalid had been on a remix of mine; Swae Lee knew one of the writers. We knew we didn’t want to push it to Country radio, but I wanted to make that record.

Do people ever say, “You’re not country?”
Sure. I knew they’d say, “He ain’t country” because there are people who say it about everybody in country music. Every day, all kinds of people decide about all kinds of artists—and they hardly ever agree.

I’m thinking of “BFE.”
I was remembering when I was a kid on my stepfather’s dairy farm in Ringgold, Ga. I knew that song might never make the album, might never get on the radio, but that’s just exactly how it was: backwoods. And I didn’t have anything to do. You’d get up at 6, help milk the cows, run around in the grass, throw rocks at each other, go down to the stream and fish. It was simple and doesn’t sound like much, but it was funand it was country.

Is it strange straddling genres, being country and being—do you call yourself “Black?”
I’m biracial. We have to work the hardest because we don’t get seen as either. Black people see my skin and see me as white; white people see my skin and think I’m Black. So I fit nowhere but everywhere at the same time.

Do you feel a responsibility to speak out at a time when the world needs to come together?
I feel all the responsibility in the world. People like me, Darius [Rucker], Jimmie Allen, Blanco [Brown], we’re all in this to help broaden who’s playing this music. But let’s be fair: If racism ever ends, it’s not because one person does it; it’s because a lot of people did what they could over time.

A song like “Worldwide Beautiful”
is an invitation, though, more than telling people.
When you come at somebody in the face—putting it in front of them three, four, eight times—they’re gonna turn off and start hating on the message. So I’d rather put it in my music and let that do the talking.

But the message is important.
Absolutely. And I didn’t feel like it would even connect with a lot of young people because they don’t need it. But I think some of the older people need it. And if they are 18 and racist, absolutely. I wanted it to be on the radio and have the mother or the father hear it, then their kids ask them what the song’s about. You should definitely be shown, and nobody is better at showing you than your parents or your loved ones.

But maybe someone you don’t know, like an artist you really like, can open the door for the conversations that need to be had. When I write, it’s from the bottom of my heart; I’m filled with love—I hate seeing and hearing bad things. Love is what I want to put out. People hopefully will hear it, then spread the word. It’s on them at a point. 

The “Worldwide Beautiful” video is nominated for Video of the Year. It stops you in your tracks.
If you look at the message, it really starts with kids. That was the jumping-off point, but my boy [director Alex] Alvga crushed it and made it come to life. When I got to the set, there were all these cars flipped over and stuff, but what caught me first were all these kids, different ethnicities, running around and playing together. They were the song. So I was pumped and really excited to see kids in this video. Then to have my child being biracial, all the other children from all their worlds and everybody else coming in—that’s my vision and hope for us all. 

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