Securing a spot on a Beyoncé album is impressive in of itself for an up-and-coming artist. Shaboozey did it twice. On the Cowboy Carter highlights “SPAGHETTII” and “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’,” the Virginia-born country singer and rapper paints pictures of a Black cowboyhood spent traversing claustrophobic concrete and endless fields of wild grass. “I’ve always been on a real mission to bridge the gap between cultures, whether that’s hip hop and country or just urban and rural,” Shaboozey tells GQ.

The 28-year old began his career during the SoundCloud-rap boom, a period that continues to inspire his less rigid creative process. “I don’t have a traditional music background. I am definitely influenced by a lot of the DMV [D.C., Maryland, Virginia], believe it or not. It’s a big hip hop, big rap scene,” he says. “We have a certain attitude and presence, and a way we go about making music, and just being innovators, in whatever space we’re in.”

Shaboozey felt free to stay true to his unique sound on Cowboy Carter. “Hearing the records, at first I was like, I got to do something that Beyoncé is going to like,” he remembers. “And they’re like, ‘No, bro—do what you would do.’ It was really cool to fully be able to do me. That was really awesome. She’s a creative creator and so am. I really respect her artistry, her visions.”

On the heels of his features on Cowboy Carter, Shaboozey chatted with GQ about the movies that inspired his verses, the Linda Martell film he wants to make, and his upcoming third album Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going, due out May 31.

GQ: Your parents are Nigerian but you grew up in Virginia. How did you come into country music instead of pursuing other genres?

Shaboozey: I think it’s growing up in Virginia, my birthplace. My dad, being an immigrant, just loved the culture honestly. When he came here, he moved to Texas and maybe picked up on some things. It’s cool to go back and see pictures of my dad dressed up in Wranglers and military camo. And before I could even walk, that was his style. In Virginia, everyone’s always outdoors. There’s lakes and bodies of water where people go to fish and hike and camp. But then Nigeria as well. I lived there for two years and it’s also the same. Agriculture is a big thing over there. There’s a lot of herdsmen. There’s a lot of people growing crops. A lot of your food is grown outside of where you live. You don’t go to a market and you get it. It’s you’re growing the stuff you eat. I definitely think there’s a connection there.

What country singers did you grow up listening to?

My dad was big on Kenny Rogers. That was one I heard a lot. “The Gambler,” I remember hearing that song a lot. And then Garth Brooks sometimes. My dad would go from playing Kenny Rogers or some of those country songs to then playing some traditional Nigerian songs. And then when I go home, Ja Rule, Usher, and Nelly are on TV. Honestly, music came to me very organically. There was never any point where there was a chase or anything. Being introduced to Prince, who was so eclectic with his music, taught me music is literally about finding yourself, and it’s okay to embrace the things that you like that people find odd and peculiar.

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