The “Power of Hybrids”

Posted in The Weekly on December 4, 2023 by

I’ve often heard music publishers, A&R reps, recording artists and record producers say, “Bring me something new—something fresh.” When they make this request, I am relatively certain they are not seeking an entirely new genre of music. They are looking for music that pushes the creative envelope while remaining consistent with current popular formats.

One of the best ways to create something “new” is to combine elements of multiple existing styles. A look back reveals that the hybridization of genres has resulted in countless iconic recordings and new sub-genres.

Jazz evolved as a hybrid of spiritual, blues, R&B, and other genres. Similarly, country music blended elements of folk with Appalachian fiddle music. The influences of African/American music, blues, Mexican ranchera, ragtime, and Irish music, as well as Hawaiian steel guitars can also be heard in some country songs.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s hybrid of spiritual music, blues, and R&B in the 1940s is often cited as a precursor to rock and roll. Elvis combined his Mississippi country roots with gospel and R & B music to create his “new” style of music.

Recordings by Patsy Cline, produced by Owen Bradley, added pop orchestrations to country music, creating “the Nashville Sound,” a pop/country sub-genre that found tremendous success on both the pop and country music charts. Similarly, collaborations by Shania Twain and Robert J. “Mutt” Lange, brought an unmistakable pop sensibility to country music. Selling more than 100 million records, Twain’s hybrid of pop and country made her the bestselling artist in country music history, earning her the title the “Queen of Country Pop” and opening doors for other artists to straddle the country and pop genres.

Country music and rap seemed like unlikely bedfellows. But Kid Rock’s 1999 recording of “Cowboy” (written by Kid Rock, Matthew Shafer, James Trombly, and John Travis) blazed a trail by creating a hybrid of hip-hop, country, Southern rock, and heavy metal. Combining rap with country music, Colt Ford and Keith Brantley created “Dirt Road Anthem.” Initially recorded by Colt Ford in 2008, Jason Aldean’s 2010 version of “Dirt Road Anthem” reached #1, making it the first country/rap hybrid hit single.

The most successful country/rap hybrid is Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road Remix,” which featured Billy Ray Cyrus (written by Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus, Jocelyn Donald, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Kiowa Roukema). Spending 19 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart, it became the longest running #1 single in U.S. history and sold more than 18 million records worldwide.

The fusion of country and rap is sometimes referred to as “hick hop,” “country rap,” “cowboy rap,” “outlaw rap,” and “Southern rap.”

Long before rap emerged as a musical genre, many songs featured lyrics spoken over music. Donna Fargo’s self-penned 1977 #1 country hit “That Was Yesterday” is an example of what is sometimes referred to as a “talking tune,” because the lyric is entirely spoken. The pop classic, “Leader of the Pack” (written by George “Shadow” Morton, Jeff Barry, and Ellie Greenwich; recorded by The Shangri-Las) famously featured a spoken bridge and intro. But these, and other songs with spoken lyrics, are differentiated from rap hybrids because their spoken sections do not employ the rhythms and internal rhymes typically associated with rap music.

Rap melded with rock in 1986 when hip-hop group Run-DMC covered Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” (written by Steven Tyler and Joe Perry) featuring Aerosmith. The recording found success at both rock and urban radio and became the first hip-hop single to enter the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Jelly Roll’s “Need a Favor” (written by Jelly Roll, Rob Ragosta, Joe Ragosta, and Austin Nivarel) infused country with rock, gospel, and soul music, delivering it to #1 on both the Billboard Country Airplay, Hot Rock, and Alternative charts. Linkin Park’s appropriately titled “Hybrid Theory” 2000 debut album served up a cocktail of heavy metal infused with rap, alternative rock, and pop, selling more than 12 million copies.

Hybrids of Latin music and pop have found huge success in hits including Camila Cabello’s breakthrough hit “Havana” featuring Young Thug (written by Camila Cabello, Adam Feeney, Kaan Gunesberk, Brian Lee, Alexandra Tamposi, Jeffrey Williams, and Andrew Wotman). “Havana,” which also incorporated rap, topped the Billboard Hot 200 chart and was the first song to be streamed more than 1 billion times on Spotify.

As its name implies, R&B/pop fuses rhythm & blues with pop. The confluence of R & B and pop can be heard in countless hits by artists such as Chris Brown, SZA, and H.E.R. Khalid’s “Location” (written by Khalid, Alfredo Gonzalez, Olatunji Ige, Samuel Jimenez, Bajram Kurti, Christopher McClenny, and Joshua Scruggs) is a strong example of a song that straddled R & B and pop to find success on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40, Hot R & B/Hip-Hop, and Hot 100 charts.

Rihanna’s debut single, “Pon de Replay” (written by Vada Nobles, Alisha “M’Jestie” Brooks, Carl Sturken and Evan Rogers) fused pop, R & B, reggae and dancehall (a genre of Jamaican pop music), establishing Rihanna as a star. Ed Sheeran’s mega-hit, “Shape of You” (written by Ed Sheeran, Kevin Briggs, Kandi Burruss, Tamika, Steve Mac, John McDaid) is a hybrid of reggaeton and pop, while Doja Cat’s “Say So” (Doja Cat, written Lydia Asrat, Dr. Luke, and David Sprecher) blends retro disco with pop.

Pop met jazz—sprinkled with a touch of R&B—in hits including Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love” (written by Baker and Gary Bias), Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” (written by Sade and Stuart Matthewman), and Toni Braxton’s “You’re Making Me High” (written by Braxton and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds).

By combining Afro beats with R & B, pop, and jazz elements, Nigerian artist Tems created genre-defying hits, including her self-written debut single, “Free Mind.”  A blend of pop and punk can be heard in Good Charlotte’s “Dance Floor Anthem (I Don’t Wanna Be In Love)” (written by Benjamin Madden, Joel Madden, and George Gilmore).

In summation, pop, R&B, rock, rap, reggae, dancehall, folk, country, Appalachian, reggaeton, heavy metal, jazz, gospel, disco, EDM, and punk are among the genres of music that have been combined with other styles to create hybrids that sound fresh and new. It’s likely that the next “new” thing will be a hybrid of two or more existing genres.

Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His latest book, Happy Tails—Life Lessons from Rescued Cats and Kittens (SPS/Blue Mountain Arts) combines his love of photography and cats. Jason’s songs are on Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. A guest lecturer at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney) and at the Berklee School of Music, he has been interviewed as a songwriting expert for CNN, NPR, the BBC, Rolling Stone, and the New York Times. To receive a free video, “3 Things You MUST Do for Success” and weekly tips to enhance creativity click on Join Songwriting With Jason Blume on Facebook for free events and song critiques. For information about his workshops, recorded lessons, webinars, additional articles, and more, visit

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