Shaboozey: Country Music’s Newest Superstar

Photo Credit: Daniel Prakopcyk

Shaboozey is carving out his own lane. Building upon the success of his appearances on two of Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter tracks—“SPAGHETTII” and “SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN’”—the Virginia native earned a Billboard 100 top 10 hit with the country track, “A Bar Song (Tipsy).” The record blends sounds of hip-hop, country, and folk into a sonic melting pot that serves as a microcosm of Shaboozey’s sound as a whole. Amidst his newfound notoriety, he aims to take his music to the next level, while at the same highlighting all the Black talent that the country genre has to offer.

Born Collins Obinna Chibueze, Shaboozey grew up on an eclectic mix of music that encompassed everything from classic hip-hop and R&B to country icons like Kenny Rogers and Garth Brooks. “That whole melting pot, that’s where my sound came from,” he tells ESSENCE. “It comes from Virginia. It’s just Virginia to a T. Honestly, I just wanted to lay that groundwork for any other artists in the area that were confused about what this sound is and should be.” Although his childhood dream was to become a novelist, he started experimenting with making music in high school and soon joined a collective of local artists—and the rest as they say, was history.

Now, this singer, songwriter, filmmaker, and record producer of Nigerian descent is gearing up for his debut country album, Where I’ve Been Isn’t Where I’m Going. The upcoming project spotlights Shaboozey’s sharply detailed storytelling and soulful vocals. Songs such as “Let It Burn,” the haunting heartbreak track “Anabelle,” and most recently, “Vegas,” have been met with both critical and commercial acclaim, building anticipation for the star’s new body of work.

“This is some of the best music I’ve made in a long time,” Shaboozey says of the album. “I’m really excited about the collaborations I have on it; we’re getting them in slowly as we speak, and they’re sounding amazing. It’s cool to collaborate in this process, to be able to have access and conversations with some people that inspired me to even make this project, so I’m really grateful for that.”

With a set of chart-topping songs, newfound stardom, and endless creativity, Shaboozey has a long career ahead of him—and he wants to take the world along for the ride.

ESSENCE: Your artistry is very unique. Can you talk about your introduction to music and what was the first art form that you were exposed to as a child?

Shaboozey: I think everyone listens to music, especially at a young age. You’re exposed to everything, television, radio, what your parents play, just different events, weddings, cookouts. So I think we’re all introduced to music pretty early. It’s not probably the first day we were born, but for me, my parents migrated from Nigeria here. I was born in Virginia. My dad, who also went to college in Texas, then moved to Virginia after. He was exposed to country music too, so that also got thrown in the mix. So it’s a question that’s hard to answer, because I think music has always been around me.

In your earlier career your sound was a bit more trap and hip-hop inspired. Now it’s a heavier blend of country, folk-pop, and a lot of others. When did that transition happen in your music and what inspired that change in your sound?

I think growing up, obviously—I was a huge fan of hip hop. If I turned on MTV, or I turned on 106 & Park, I would see Ja Rule, Chingy, J Kwon, and others. This is why I know every hit song from ’99 to now—every hip-hop song. In high school, the girls loved Drake and Future, so we were bumping that. And then I think just at some point when it got to me making music, we were all rapping, because that was the thing you did. That was kind of what was around, what was being played by my friends and everything, and in the football locker room, you know what I mean? You’re not going to play Garth Brooks to get lit.

So, I think playing sports gave me a predisposed urge to go into the studio. And then I think when I started just trying to figure out, I asked myself, “what’s going to make me different? How am I going to stand out?” And then thinking about, “what do I want my message to be? Where am I from?” Hip-hop is very heavy on where you’re from. You got people like Goodie Mob in Atlanta, Future, etc. You’ve got your New York people, you’ve got your West Coast people, and the Midwest. So I asked, “what is that for Virginia? What is that for where I’m from?”

So I think that led me down on a mission to see what’s around me. What are some things about Virginia that are unique to this region that aren’t in other places? So then I started looking at outdoor stuff. We got Cabela’s. A lot of people do outdoor activities. We fish, we like to go to the bay, we go on trails, Shenandoah Valley. We also have the Richmond International Speedway, and NASCAR. We got some of these things as well. And then you’ve also got Pharrell, you’ve also got Missy, you’ve also got Timbaland, you’ve also got Patsy Klein, an old country singer. Beyonce clipped her personal pieces on “Sweet Honey Buckin.”

You spoke about Beyoncé in your previous answer. I wanted to ask you, how did y’all two connect on Cowboy Carter, and what was the experience like, the recording process when you were doing music with her?

Yeah, when I got into the space there wasn’t too much representation. You’ve obviously got Darius Rucker, Jimmy Allen, and Mickey Guyton, and Charlie Pride, all these people. But, that’s not a lot if you compare that pot of how many hip-hop artists there are, R&B artists.  You go to country music, it’s about four or five. And then as far as new ones go, it’s again not that many. So, I think when I went on that journey, I didn’t realize how tough it was going to be to get acceptance there, not only from white folk, but also black folks, and the industry as a whole.

When I did it, I saw it as an opportunity because people see that you’re in your own lane. So I think when Beyonce decided to venture into this and express this part of her artistry, it made sense. When you  think about this music and this genre and this style, my name gets brought up pretty frequently. So I think it made sense, honestly. A lot of fans were asking for it. A lot of fans were in her comments being like, “oh, you doing a country album? If you don’t get Shaboozey this is going to be a problem.” So the universe, man, a lot of people put their energy around wanting that to happen and manifest—I think made it come true.

You’ve had a successful career prior, but I know there are more eyes on you now, being on Cowboy Carter. In what ways has your life and career changed since you’ve been on the album?

Hell yeah. That’s one of the biggest artists of all time, the greatest artists of all time. Being black, a lot of my family members, especially the women in my life, are diehard fans. They go hard for her. So to see their cousin or their brother or their family member on something like that, for me, it’s a crazy flex. But it’s definitely changed. She had one of the most talked about projects and rollouts of the year. She made history. We made history or we’re making history. And it’s a blessing, man. My life has definitely changed as you’d expect. Folks taking pictures, and a lot of eyes on me, a lot of ears on me, people looking at what I’m going to say. I’ll say I ate turkey bacon this morning, it might make the news. It is cool though. It is great to have this large platform now, to be able to speak to more people and spread my message.

How do you feel about the new popularity regarding black artists in the country genre now?

I think it has been there, but I still think there’s a ways to go right now. We’re still in the early stages of it. I still think people are listening in and tuning in, but I still think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Even after it is all said and done, I still think it’s not that many of us. There’s other artists too that didn’t even get a check out, like Buffalo Kin, he’s a black country artist who sings more traditional, classic bluegrass Americana music. Kashus Culpepper, War and Treaty, all these people that are still really making the music I really like, the bluegrass Americana stuff. So I want to see more people speaking about those guys and what they’re doing, because they’re voices that are incredible that I feel like are still not getting the looks.

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