The most impressive thing about Cowboy Troy's major-label debut is what it took to make a black country-rapper feasible. Hip-hop, the great assimilationist art, had to become the dominant musical form. A long line of experiments, from Charlie Daniels' spoken-word songs to Timbaland's hoedowns with Bubba Sparxxx, had to lay the groundwork for this collision of marketing-savvy genres. It still might not work: Loco Motive won't be blasting on 125th Street in New York, and whether it makes the playlists at southern barbecues remains an open question.
But if the album doesn't cross over, it won't be for lack of sound-shaping savvy. Cowboy Troy's patrons and producers, Big & Rich, have overseen a great Kid Rock-gone-full-blown-hayseed effort, with prominent pedal steel soaring above the guitar crunch and Troy's good-natured, ready-to-party rhymes. The only disappointment is how seldom he uses a traditional country strength -- great storytelling -- to correct a current hip-hop deficiency. For all the sap "If You Don't Wanna Love Me" drips, its drama still offers the sturdiest bridge across a yawning cultural chasm.
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