Herrenvolk Beats: Country Rap, the Alt-Right, and [Not So] Creeping Fascism

Paul Robertson

Dates: Tuesday, Feb 22, 2022 – 


Paul Robertson, PhD, is an instructor in the VCU Department of English. His research interests are in Southern/Appalachian representation across literature and mass media. His focus is the Grit Lit genre and the late 20th century subcultural landscape in which it proliferated. Paul Robertson also works with Appalachian folklore, in primary-source and archival preservation contexts, and with comic arts publications. Some topics that frequently appear in his research and teaching are late Cold War-era dystopian imaginings, eschatological frameworks, constructions of American whiteness, ethno-regional identity, and documentary filmmaking in Appalachia. He teaches an array of courses in American literature, from surveys to upper-level courses in Southern and Appalachian regional literatures. Paul Robertson’s classes tend to have a strong interdisciplinary orientation, with an emphasis on historical and cultural contexts.


The genre of country rap (or its alternate designation “hick hop”) has from its inception in the late 1990s emphasized U.S. nationalism and standard tropes of American exceptionalism that appeal to its overwhelmingly white, rural-representing audience base. However, for much of the genre’s existence, both lyrical content and the visual representations of performers primarily concern a commodified recreation-as-identity, statements of a nebulous Southern regional identification, and extoling an individual personality in these contexts. In short, country rap could be (and was) easily dismissed as yet another vapid appropriation of hip hop culture by a white American media demographic. This talk examines the recent turn, corresponding to the rise of Donald Trump and the hyper-reactionary national impulses he inspires and facilitates, of country rap to unambiguously articulated right wing nationalism and extreme social conservatism, up to and including organized paramilitary violence. This talk will discuss both the overtly ideological content of lyrics, along with the stylized signification of the music videos that promote the tracks. Why, in 2020, might a heavily-armed young, white right-wing protestor enthusiastically describe himself as a “hip hop-head,” as a means to deflect accusations of racism? How are Black hip hop artists used as justification props, both referentially and physically, in country rap productions? It will chart how a cultural narrative shifts from relatively uncomplicated images of off-road vehicles, illegal liquor production, and quotidian rural “lifestyles” to detailed fantasies of detaining and executing leftist protestors. The talk will also compare the appropriation, by a right wing ideological extreme, of potentially liberatory (sub)cultures like hip hop, to punk rock and American folk music—two other music-related subcultures with fascist splinters persisting to the contemporary moment.

Event contact: Catherine Ingrassia, cingrass@vcu.edu