— NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Jason Brown came to Nashville to start his career as the country artist Colt Ford, he couldn't find songwriters who would write for his singing style.
No surprise. Ford was bringing an unlikely mix to town: country rap, combining hip-hop beats and rhythms with country-themed rap or spoken-word lyrics.
"You might have found a song that you could have altered or changed a little bit," Ford said, "but you wouldn't have been able to find a record in that style."
But after country star Jason Aldean tried his hand at rapping on one of Ford's songs and turned it into one of the biggest hits of Aldean's career, songwriters, producers and mainstream country artists are now eager to work with him to figure out the key to this hot new sound in country music.
Still, Ford has never had his own Top 40 radio hit, even as his last album in 2012 debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's country album chart.
That may soon change. His new album, "Thanks For Listening," released on July 1, features a very radio-friendly duet with Keith Urban called "She's Like."
"When I hear what's going on in mainstream radio, I go, 'Well, why can't you play me? You play the other stuff that is exactly what I do,'" Ford said. "That's frustrating to me."
The country radio format now leans heavily toward 18-35 year olds who grew up in the hip-hop boom of the late '80s through early '90s, says Clay Hunnicutt, Clear Channel's executive vice president of national programming and country brand manager.
It may be one thing for a country song to be remixed or for a country artist to dabble in hip hop, but "rap" still faces a bias.