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Hick-Hop: Hip-Hop Meets the Hollow

Hill Hop rapper Delivery and fiddler Beverly May rehearse on the porch at Appalshop.
Photo by Petra Mayer, NPR /
Hill Hop rapper Delivery and fiddler Beverly May rehearse on the porch at Appalshop.

It began when prisoners from urban jails were moved to new "supermax" facilities in rural Appalachia. The racial tension between white corrections officers and black inmates could be felt throughout the community.

Amelia Kirby and Nick Szuberla of the Appalshop arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., were looking for a way to ease that tension and find common ground between the cultures. They came up with the idea to combine mountain music with hip-hop. The result is being called "hick-hop" or "hill-hop," a compelling mix of uniquely American -- and disparate -- musical genres.

NPR's Howard Berkes heard about Appalshop's "Holler 2 the Hood," a weekly hip-hop radio show that caters to the nascent hick-hop scene. He went to Whitesburg, where he met Delivery (a.k.a. Mike Shepherd) and The Kuntry Killaz as they worked on lyrics with African-American poet Ren Pegues.

The Killaz follow in the footsteps of Dirk Powell, a renowned mountain music fiddler, and Virginia hip-hop artist DanjaMowf. The two collaborated on the first hick-hop project at Appalshop two years ago, blending beat box rhythms with a banjo and fiddle. And the mix was magical -- an oil-and-water mystery that held together in spite of the perceived differences.

Something similar is happening with the Kuntry Killaz as they work with Pegues in the Appalshop studio.

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Howard Berkes
Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.