"I think of myself as a pretty unique dude," self-styled "hick-hop" rapper Cowboy Troy told Josh Tyrangiel of Time. And he was right to think so–except for superstar Charley Pride, blacks have been rare in country music. But Cowboy Troy set out to change that with his major-label debut, Loco Motive, released in the spring of 2005. With rapped vocal lines accompanied by live country instrumentalists rather than an electronics-wielding DJ, Cowboy Troy's music was a true hybrid that raised interest, as well as some eyebrows. When he appeared on the televised Country Music Association Awards program in 2004 with his mentors, Big & Rich, he was only the second African-American artist (after Pride) to appear on the show.
Cowboy Troy was born Troy Coleman in the heavily Latino populated town of Victoria, Texas, on December 18, 1970. He raps in Spanish as well as English and can speak at least bits of four other languages, including Russian and Mandarin Chinese. His education in country music started at home; his parents were part of an often-underestimated demographic of African Americans who were fans of the music. The family moved to Fort Worth and then to Dallas, where Coleman graduated in 1989 from Skyline High School, an institution that also produced country stars Deryl Dodd and Steve Holy.
Wrote Plays in High
While the six-foot five-inch Coleman played basketball in high school, he had a stronger orientation toward books. "I spent all my time reading when I wasn't working on plays and things like that," he told Mario Tarradell of the Dallas Morning News. Like many other young people in the late 1980s, he enjoyed both rock bands, such as ZZ Top and Foreigner, and the first generation of mainstream rap stars, such as LL Cool J and Run DMC, in addition to country music. He experimented with rapping himself, rewinding rhythm-track passages of cassette tapes while wearing headphones at home and delivering the raps himself. Occasionally he performed for other students, but his main focus was his education.
A psychology major at the University of Texas, Coleman looked toward a career in the human resources field. While he pursued his degree, Coleman continued to experiment with music and with putting together the separate genres he enjoyed. Coleman also kept in touch with his high school basketball coach, J.D. Mayo, a country fan. "He was really focused on achieving different goals and when he was at UT he told me about this country and rap music," Mayo recalled to Tarradell. "I teased him about that but he assured me it was about country themes." Although Coleman found a job with the city of Dallas after he earned his degree, he never lost his love of music.
The first step in Coleman's transformation into Cowboy Troy came in 1992 or 1993 when he met John Rich, then a member of a band called Texasee that later evolved into the chart-topping vocal group Lonestar. Rich, relaxing at a nightclub, saw "a 6-ft. 5-in. black guy in a cowboy hat, starched Wranglers, and a giant belt buckle two-stepping his [rear end] off," he told Tyrangiel. The two became friends, and Coleman started delivering his country raps as a novelty at local bars from time to time. Dreaming of something more, he traveled several times to Nashville and pitched his music to country labels. But he returned empty-handed to his wife, Laura, and his human resources job in Dallas, which he held for nine years.
Performed at MuzikMafia Shows
Around 2001, Rich joined forces with Kenny Alphin, known as Big Kenny, to form Big & Rich. Rich introduced Coleman to Alphin, and Coleman began performing as Cowboy Troy, often participating in concerts mounted by Big & Rich's MuzikMafia, a collective of unconventional musicians in Nashville whose motto was "Music Without Prejudice." Cowboy Troy moved to Nashville in 2001 and took a job as manager of a Foot Locker store. The MuzikMafia concerts also included Gretchen Wilson of "Redneck Woman" fame. A Nashville buzz began to surround the unusual outfit with the tall rapping cowboy, prompting Cowboy Troy to risk borrowing $25,000 in order to record two independent albums and an EP (extended play).
The outlay brought big returns, however, as Big & Rich asked Cowboy Troy to write a rap for insertion into their "Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich)" on their breakout debut album, Horse of a Different Color (2004). Cowboy Troy's multilingual rap became a fixture of the Big & Rich touring show, and Cowboy Troy's fortunes improved even more when he was chosen to open for country superstar Tim McGraw on McGraw's 2004 tour. Wearing a Superman T-shirt, he also performed with McGraw on the song "She's My Kind of Rain." Recalling that his last gig before leaving Dallas had drawn only 25 people, Cowboy Troy told Cathalena E. Burch of the Arizona Daily Star that "going from 25 to 25,000 is pretty cool for me."
A good deal of publicity surrounded the release of the Cowboy Troy's label debut album, Loco Motive, in 2005. The album also the debut album of the record label, Raybaw (Red and Yellow, Black and White), a Big & Rich-controlled imprint of the Warner Bros. conglomerate. It featured Big & Rich and McGraw as guest artists, and Cowboy Troy and Big & Rich, with input from Warner Bros. executive Paul Worley, wrote much of the material. "There were a lot of question marks above people's heads," Cowboy Troy admitted to Jack Leaver of the Grand Rapids Press. "Some people were shrinking away." He pointed out, however, that country and rap tunes often followed each other in the set lists of nightclub disc jockeys.
Video Airplay Stronger than Radio
Loco Motive met with mixed success. Its leadoff single, "I Play Chicken with the Train," was featured on progressive country radio stations like KTYS in Dallas, but radio airplay through much of the country was spotty. The song was featured in rotation on the CMT and VH1 Country cable television channel, however. Some of the strongest criticism of Loco Motive came from hip-hop-oriented critics like Stephen Thomas Erlewine of the All Music Guide, who opined that "it sounds like Cowboy Troy hasn't listened to any rap since Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em."
At a Glance …
Born Troy Coleman on December 18, 1970, in Victoria, TX; son of Dr. Troy Coleman and Myra Jo Coleman; one sister; raised in Fort Worth and Dallas, TX; married; wife's name Laura. Education: University of Texas, B.A., psychology.
City of Dallas, TX, human resources administrator, 1990s; MuzikMafia musicians' collective participant, 2001–; solo artist, 2005–.
Label—Raybaw Records, c/o Warner Brothers Nashville, 20 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203. Web—www.cowboytroy.com.
Some racist attacks on the artist surfaced from country fans on the Internet, but Rich told Tyrangiel that "It's K.K.K. b——-, and at some point, you just can't believe it's still out there. But you've got to confront it." Many country listeners greeted the album with curiosity, and "I Play Chicken with the Train" topped country sales in the ranking maintained by Apple Computer's iTunes electronic download program. Loco Motive sold 50,000 copies in its first week of release, and Cowboy Troy toured widely in the summer of 2005. "I'm enjoying myself; so far, I don't have too many people telling me that they're using (the CD) for beer coasters," he told Leaver. Preferring the term "black" to "African-American," he interacted easily with country fans and even agreed to sign Confederate flags when they were presented to him for autographs. With his mentors Big & Rich dominating the country scene that summer, Cowboy Troy seemed to have the opportunity to fine-tune his innovative country-rap fusion and find a wider audience.
Hick-Hop Hysteria (EP), Bull Rush, 2001.
Beginner's Luck, Bull Rush, 2002.
Vintage, Bull Rush, 2003.
Loco Motive, Raybaw, 2005.
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), April 14, 2005, p. F25.
Dallas Morning News, April 17, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, May 20, 2005, p. 74.
Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), June 17, 2005, p. D1.
Orlando Sentinel, May 26, 2005.
People, May 30, 2005, p. 43.
Time, May 30, 2005, p. 66.
"Cowboy Troy," All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (August 7, 2005).
"Cowboy Troy Brings 'Hick-Hop' to Audiences," MSNBC.com,http://msnbc.msn.com/id/7981296 (August 7, 2005).
—James M. Manheim
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