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By Charleston, West Virginia-born country rapper-turned-singer David Morris' admission, roughly 100 times fewer people attended his debut Nashville headlining show at the Basement East on April 14 than Luke Combs' massive concert a mile down the road at Nissan Stadium.
However, that's more than okay.
The artist is just over a decade into his career. But, as a performer who's spent roughly half of that time attempting to evolve indie hip-hop credibility into mainstream country superstardom, he knows that two things matter more than faith, family and fun to country music artists' fanbases -- hugging necks and telling stories.
Related, using the same math that says that 100 times fewer people attended his show than ended up at the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year's world tour event, Morris spent roughly two minutes in conversation while signing merchandise and snapping selfies afterward with literally every person who purchased a ticket to his concert.
Now, use logic instead of math.
It's entirely possible to expect that -- because he's on a 20-city nationwide tour -- that the artist behind the virally mega-massive country rap anthem "Dutton Ranch Freestyle" and George Strait-sampling "Carrying Your Love" will use the fact that, by likely physically meeting 50% of his current number of Twitter followers, alone, face to face and have literally touched their hands and hearts simultaneously.
Blend that level of connection with how his two previously mentioned breakout singles have soundtracked over three million TikTok videos. Then, merge that with the 20 million hits he achieved on his YouTube page in the past two years. Couple that with the 100 million plays his top-ten tracks have accrued on Spotify alone.
In this case, numbers don't lie.
Fully expecting from arena to stadium status as a headlining act within the same five-year window that Combs has taken to reach superstar status is entirely possible.
In an Oct. 2022 Tennessean feature, Morris noted that he occupied a "left-of-center lane" whereby leaning into his inability to credibly perform at a level similar to Combs, Morgan Wallen, or Kendrick Lamar, he's "using the talent [he's] blessed with as a songwriter to create [his] style."
Morris rapped and sang 20 songs in 90 minutes. If he were a virtuoso singer asking his voice to croon "Sand In My Boots" and blast through "Beer Never Broke My Heart" but also say, rapping Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" and "We Cry Together," there's absolutely no way he'd have the strength or wind left to greet a packed Basement East afterward.
Think it's a far stretch to call Morris the type of artist who has unknown mainstream songs commensurate to the quartet of songs mentioned?
Ask the artist about how Russell Dickerson -- yes, the mainstream country chart-topper behind songs like 2021-released R&B-styled "She Likes It" -- could, if Morris spotted him "Don't want a Porsche, don't want Ferrari / I want a Grizzly, I want a Harley / I want a 440, 6.7 Powerstroke diesel / F-250 with a lift kit on it (woo)," respond by reciting the rest of his 2021-released "F350 Freestyle."
At the Basement East on Friday night, hearing a crowd of young country fanatics, mainly under the age of 30, scream other "F350 Freestyle" bars like "All of the people who told me I'm wack / Roll in my high school reunion I'm wearing all black cowboy boots and a camo hat (woo) / Whole lot of jewelry on (boss), whole lot of Grey Poupon (sauce)" back in Morris' face confirmed something significant.
For a century, country music's star-making culture has been driven by telling the genre's fans to stare up in the rafters, high into the marquee's lights and up over the brims of cowboy hats. Instead, the genre's young fans stare down while holding country music's future in their cell phone-loving hands and engage with it best when walking down the street.
When the performer who reigns over their down-casted eyes, in their hands and on their streets reaches the stage, the impact achieves a level of rock-star massive explosion similar to when Elvis Presley emerged because country fans walking to record stores saw him gyrating his hips on television and then on stages.
This isn't to say Morris will ever break into a dance routine during his set. However, when he jumps down from the stage to close the night and rap "Dutton Ranch Freestyle," the frat house college party energy feels like the first time that something looking like the Beastie Boys' 1987 video for "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" has emerged in a venue vaguely similar to a Lower Broadway honky-tonk.
The super-sizing of Morris' delivery as a star artist actually comes from his inability to croon at a level similar to Wallen.
Instead, with an acoustic guitar in his hand, singing his latest single, "I Hate This Job," or his track "Hot Beer In Hell," he becomes ultra-approachable. He's every guy in every coffee shop, fraternity house, or Music City guitar pull, nervously working his way through yearningly attempting to lyrically and melodically connect his authentic thoughts to your hard-lived existence.
Without the acoustic and singing over more beat-driven material like "Smalltown Queen," the melancholy tale of losing a dear friend "Where The Backroad Ends," or the previously-mentioned "Carrying Your Love," he's Drake-lite. However, fascinatingly enough, the Toronto artist's dependence on creating unapproachably isolated, libertine self-expression and icy spirituality don't work in a place where three chords and the truth are meant to draw soft, warm tears from hard, stoic faces.
Thus, Morris occupies a wholly unique artistic realm where if he were less seasoned as an artist, aware as a songwriter and gifted as a conversationalist, he'd be guilty of making terrible music. But, instead, he's been making music for over a decade, as adept at rhyming couplets as he is at delivering hooks, and able to authentically relate himself -- as much as his music -- to his people.
In short, Morris' concert offered a glimpse into an incredibly catchy and unprecedented Southern pop window opening fast.
He's not a "Kentucky Bluebird" with the coolest rap friends like Morgan Wallen.
Nor is he an indie rap godfather merging gangster rap, trap and Joe Cocker-style rock vocals with country's stylings like Jelly Roll, nor blithely winking under a cowboy hat while gliding between 808s, love and heartbreak while sipping a whiskey sour like Kane Brown.
Instead, Morris is his own man sharing space with few others in a new lane.
As "real hip-hop" as country and rap music can allow a white man from Charleston, West Virginia, to be, Morris is precisely that.
The streets of Charleston, Nashville, or John Dutton's back 300,000 Montana acres aren't the South Bronx, Chi-raq, or Los Angeles. But the beats that currently drive them and most roads -- country or otherwise -- anywhere in the world are now the same and are increasingly being viewed through a diverse plethora of unprecedented lenses.
A few bars of the previously-mentioned "Dutton Ranch Freestyle" best highlight the most significant takeaway from Morris' concert and highlight his greatest value as a leading contributor to the broad base of what country best offers when merged with hip-hop and pop music evolves in its most intriguing manner to date.
"Don't ask me for my opinion, I don't want y'all to get offended / Everybody's just so sensitive, it's crazy it's ruined so many friendships / Okay, I'ma come back later, why would I care about my haters? / All I care about's my friends, my family, and my Lord and Savior / I'm back now on the track now / West Virginia's finally on the map now / I just do my thing, let my guitar sing / Like, ay, ay, ay, ay."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: David Morris headlines Basement East, showcases country's best hip-hop defined future