The Beats Beer Bonfires Rapper of the Year Award is truly a first of its kind. No one has ever given a shit about this group of artists. No one gives a shit about Ryan Upchurch, Adam Calhoun, Struggle Jennings, Demun Jones, or anyone like that… right? Well, Church has 642K followers, on his backup account. Adam Calhoun has 733K, Struggle is sitting there with 357k. So again, I ask, does anyone care about rappers like this? This group is a little bit harder to identify. It used to be country rap, but it has evolved beyond that. Nashville rap? Doesn’t work. Southern rap? That could work. I’m not sure what to call it, but these guys deserve to get recognition. Did they ask for it? Absolutely not. But they are a major underground industry, and it deserves to shine.
I also completely fucked something up. Shoutout to Rick Lynn for making the semifinals for rapper of the year. Unfortunately, he isn’t a rapper. Again, my fuck up, so I won’t DQ him. I felt like it was best to leave this up to a top 3 to avoid further confusion about calling him a rapper. He’s very talented and you should go check him out though.
Now, we are down to our top three. Two of them are Nashville natives that didn’t want to just take the country music route. The third is from Chicago but runs in the circles of these Nashvillians. All three of them are also going down different future paths. One is giving up rap to go country, one is continuing to rap but also includes rock and country music on his albums. One releases different genre albums whenever the fuck he wants with no rhyme or reason. Who are these men? Let’s break it down.
Adam Calhoun is an absolute freight train. His music is polarizing because it is often very political. Some people love the symbolism of the state of politics in his music, others don’t. Regardless of where you stand on his music, there’s no denying his talent. He has teased two new projects this year. The first, “The Brave,” is a project he did with Tom MacDonald and is coming out in March. His final rap album will be out later in 2022. Both projects should be massive hits for Calhoun before he moves to country music. His latest video for the song “New World Order” has over 4 million views in 11 days. If you like Calhoun check out some of his older stuff like “Country” and “Die Tonight.”
Calhoun isn’t only a musician; he is a popular as a YouTube personality. His video about Carhartt got 442K views in 12 days. He is super outspoken about his political views and how he sees the world. I very much enjoy these videos, especially because of videos like the Carhartt one. I own about 90% Carhartt and I can’t afford to get rid of all my clothes, but Calhoun can, and he did. He also challenges lots of common themes in the world. He’s attacked racism, white privilege, and the double standards of free speech on social media. He isn’t crazy though; he’s calculated and uses a real-life example of things. I would very much enjoy seeing him in a debate with a lib because he would be very impressive and well-spoken.
Jelly Roll is going in a different direction than Calhoun. I would argue that he has done the most for his brand in the past few years and has come into his own. Jelly Roll came up as more of a rapper but lives in Nashville and often writes with country industry people. He also currently has a rock song “Dead Man Walking” climbing the charts. Unlike Upchurch though, he doesn’t release different albums for different genres. His album is a huge melting pot, a sign of genres dying. Jelly Roll has been a recurring guest on “Bussin’ with the Boys” and the “Just Being Ernest” podcasts. This has helped him reach new audiences. He is super raw and unfiltered, he doesn’t hide his inner struggles and on the mic, he talks effortlessly.
Back to the music, Jelly released “Ballads of the Broken” in 2021. The album has some smashes on it, “Walking” “Son of a Sinner” and “Over You” included. This album is becoming a game-changer for him, as it has taken him to the radio, the Grand Ole Opry, and on a major tour. Jelly Roll is coming, and if he doesn’t win this year, he should be in contention for years to come.
Ryan Upchurch is a force like Calhoun but for different reasons. Like Calhoun, he is a YouTube figure. Unlike Calhoun, he only dabbles in politics from time to time. Instead, he often talks about the music industry. He recognizes that the industry fucks over young artists and is on a mission to bring it down. Will he? Maybe, but either way, he has at least brought light to it. He is a little more of a personal blogger than Calhoun, so his other videos talk about some of the bullshit in his life he deals with.
As for the music, he crushed it last year. He released “Mud to Gold” in early 2021. The album had the songs “Mud to Gold,” “My Yard,” and “Gas” on it. He then released a very hyped country album in the summer. “Same Ol,” “Real Country,” and “Trade Gettin Drunk” are the biggest songs on that album. To finish off the year he released a remixed video for the song “Broadway Girls” with Chase Matthews. The song got released by Lil Durk and Morgan Wallen the week before. Upchurch was going to release the song anyway, but Wallen ignored Church one night on the town, so he released it sooner as a fuck you. The video has over 6 million views on it in about a month. At first, I wasn’t a huge fan. But after listening to it a few times, it might be better than the Wallen version.
Congratulations to Ryan Upchurch for winning the first-ever Beats Beer Bonfires rapper of the year award! Church is the first big name in country rap. Despite Calhoun and Jelly Roll coming on hot the past few years, they still haven’t surpassed Ryan. The coolest part of this award is the three guys are all friends. They all support each other, have much with each other, and won’t give a fuck that I even wrote this article. But I did anyway, and we are happy to announce Ryan Upchurch as the first-ever rapper of the year!