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BRELAND Keeps On Trucking

The rising country star with a flair for hip-hop and R&B continues to spread his genre-defiant “cross country” ethos to an impressive list of collaborators. 

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Jimmy Fontaine

You might have been able to guess from the R&B, hip-hop, and gospel influences that often find their way into his twangy tunes, but before breaking through into the Nashville scene as one of country’s biggest rising stars, BRELAND had already gone through an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows while dabbling in his many other sounds.

Starting out as a songwriter in his native New Jersey and participating in the always-bustling NYC hip-hop community, BRELAND began to distance himself from the scene after the murder of collaborator Chinx Drugz, who left a 2015 studio session between the two to perform a hometown show and never returned.

Since then, BRELAND has scored a couple of gold records working with artists like Trey Songz and YK Osiris while building up his social media and marketing acumen on Instagram – something he says he felt inspired to do after seeing the career of his parents – two ordained ministers who performed as a gospel duo and spread the love of the music to their son – not taking off as much as it could have because of a lack of understanding about ‘playing the game.’

The ear of an experienced songwriter is always aware of the latest trends, and this allowed him to blend some of his skills together into “My Truck,” a humorous country-trap hybrid about being fiercely protective of his ride released one month after the end of the record-setting #1 reign of “Old Town Road.” Becoming his first charting song as a solo artist, “My Truck” allowed BRELAND to get his foot in the door. But as a songwriter who fell in love with country due to the genre’s ability to tell compelling and heart-wrenching tales – and as someone who didn’t even own a truck at the time – BRELAND was looking for something a little bit more.

“I wouldn’t say it’s the most accurate representation of me as an artist,” he says. “I was just writing songs to pitch and posted a snippet of it on Instagram. It was just a catchy song, and I’m grateful to see the opportunities that it’s yielded. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser, so I’m always happy to perform it, but as far as my overall experience as a creative and as a writer, you would really have to listen to the whole album to get a clearer picture.”

BRELAND titled his debut album, released in September 2022, Cross Country – after the movement that he hopes to inspire when it comes to both audiences at country shows becoming more diverse, open-minded and accepting and the artists that he collaborates with being pulled out their own comfort zones into a world that might break away from typical country formulae in an exciting manner. For example, you won’t be able to hear Keith Urban on a complex trap beat (“Throw It Back”) or Thomas Rhett against blaring church organs (“Praise the Lord”) anywhere else. On the soulful end, BRELAND also takes the opportunity to show off some major vocal talent and dynamic runs.

“‘Cross country’ is my introduction to the public of what I consider to be a new subgenre of country music.”


“‘Cross country’ is my introduction to the public of what I consider to be a new subgenre of country music,” he says. “It’s really just anything that crosses between country and something else. I would argue that artists like Keith Urban or HARDY are cross country, but for me, I tend to bring some of those soulful elements and things more native to the Black experience. The mission statement is that it brings different types of people together and gives them something to root for in common where they might not have it otherwise.”

BRELAND attributes his first introduction to country music to his performances with a college a cappella group, The Phantoms, at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University, after the group decided to tackle Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather” as part of their repertoire. Initially quizzical at the group’s genre diversion, BRELAND was won over and emotionally captivated by the song’s touching take on a man shying away from romantic commitment. He ended up hoping to emulate the kind of vivid detail a good country song can touch on in his own work as a burgeoning songwriter.

“I think it’s a beautiful story, and it’s hard to find songs that can make people cry and still sound really good, even if you took the lyrics away,” he says. “It made me rethink some of the music that I was listening to. Of course, there are hip-hop songs and R&B songs that are really well-written, but there are a lot of very popular songs that aren’t really saying much of anything. As someone who’s really passionate about songwriting, I felt like I was growing more as I was listening to more country music, because they just get it. They understand how great songs get written.”

BRELAND’s social media success was a little bit ahead of the curve – the genre is the fastest-growing on streaming and attracting younger audiences every day, many of whom gravitate to rising stars’ presences on apps like TikTok and their optimization of the streaming formula by putting out songs with more than 20 tracks and seeing what sticks. 

At the time of our interview with BRELAND, two country songs – Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” and Luke Combs’ cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” – occupied the two top spots on the Billboard charts for the first time since 1981. As someone who has now seen both sides of online-fuelled success, BRELAND hopes that lasting quality is still able to rise to the top, rather than flashy trends and playing it safe.

“Social media is definitely an important tool when used correctly,” he says. “I also think that it can be a little dangerous sometimes because sometimes the industry capitulates to the need of one platform and there might be great songs that don’t get to come out because they aren’t viral. At the same time, I think it gives new artists and unsigned acts the opportunity to level the playing field with people who have more established marketing plans, giving everyone a chance. I just think we need a balance of what we choose to promote, and make sure we don’t just put stuff out because it’s catchy.”

As a Black creator in a genre that hasn’t always been welcoming to those who don’t fit the stereotypical mould of a country star, BRELAND has also spoken extensively about feeling the need to use his platform as a prominent songwriter to be able to give a voice to the voiceless and tell stories about underrepresented individuals and communities.

Before Cross Country came out, BRELAND released a three-track EP titled Rage & Sorrow in June 2020 that toasted to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and found him tackling both country and hip-hop while lyrically touching on the history of slavery and speaking out against police brutality. It was one of the early signs that the same artist who put out “My Truck” had quite a lot more depth to him than listeners may have anticipated.

Despite being relatively new to the country game, BRELAND has already racked up a truly impressive list of collaborators – from younger stars like Mickey Guyton and Blanco Brown, to established acts like Lady A and Dierks Bentley, even legends like Rascal Flatts’ Gary LeVox and Shania Twain – who he’s currently opening for on tour. He mostly accredits his collaborative spirit to the excitement that stems from finding the perfect collision between two musical worlds, but he’s still endlessly inspired to watch the processes of some of his peers.

“I had a chance to work with Sam Hunt early in my career, it was one of the first country rites that I was part of. He hopped on the ‘My Truck’ remix, but we ended up working on a bunch of other songs on that trip and seeing how much time and energy he puts into every single word and lyric – it’s almost surgical in a way,” he says. “He’ll go back in on a song that’s been finished for months and write a completely different hook or different verses, or tweak things relentlessly. He wrote six different verses and we had to just pick two of them. Seeing that attention to detail definitely shaped my experience.”

“It’s been great to watch people discover it in real time and develop or adjust their perspectives of what country music can look like.”

As BRELAND gets more comfortable stepping out from behind the scenes as a songwriter and taking to the stage himself, he’s set to embark on a tour that hits quite a few festival dates by the end of the year – including a stop at Ontario’s Boots and Hearts Music Festival on August 12. He’s excited to be able to draw the kinds of open-minded festivalgoers who are there for musical discovery first and foremost.

“It’s been great to watch people discover it in real time and develop or adjust their perspectives of what country music can look like, what it can sound like and how they can engage with it,” he says. “It’s been a really beautiful journey. And I’m grateful to be able to make music without the traditional boundaries and borders that people typically put around it.”