Toby Keith Wants You to Remember He Invented Country-Rap Back in 1998

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith speaks during the Songwriters Hall Of Fame 46th Annual Induction And Awards at Marriott Marquis Hotel on June 18, 2015 in New York City.

With two of its songs -- "Drunk Americans" and the title track -- already out as singles, Toby Keith is looking forward to the fall arrival of his 18th studio album, 35 MPH Town. But even though he says "we've got it done," Keith is reserving the right to make some changes between now and its planned October release.

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"There's a really good opportunity I may put another couple songs on it," the recent Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee tells Billboard. "Since I put that album together we've written a few more things. so I may go in this summer and cut two or three new things and peel two or three others off there. That could well happen."

Keith has been writing for the album with regular cohorts such as Bobby Pinson and Eddie Raven, while Brandy Clark, Bob DiPiero and Shane McAnally cooked up "Drunk Americans" for him. Keith was recently gratified to hear that track playing in the Los Angeles Dodgers' locker room following a game -- and in a one-two tandem with "Red Solo Cup." "(The songs) don't have to go to No. 1 anymore," he notes. "It comes out and your fans go get it."

The idea for the track "35 MPH Town," meanwhile, came from a phone call with Pinson. "He was coming back from Alabama or something, back to Nashville," Keith recalls. "He was on a little ol' two-lane highway. He called me up and said, 'I got an idea for a song...Every 20 miles I've got to slow down and go through one of those 35 miles per hour towns.' We started talking about it, and by the time I saw him he had a little piece of it put together, and I said, 'I want to talk about growing up in that little town and about how life has changed,' and we went from there."

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As for the rest of the album -- the follow-up to 2013's top 5 "Drinks After Work" Keith says, "it's very much the same thing you hear from me the whole way. It's real earthy. There's one acoustic song on there. There's some hard-driving stuff. Of course, my songs sound like songs 10, 20 years ago on the radio. They don't sound like songs today, so they're accepted a little differently now, but I'm not gonna go and do any hip-hop or country hip-hop or none of that stuff. I can do that; in fact, 1998 I had a song called 'Getcha Some' which was probably the first rap-country song on the radio. But I let the songs decide; I don't go in and say, 'Hey, I'm gonna do an acoustic album' or have a theme. I let the songs determine the tempos and the sound of the album, and then it's just like a picture album -- 'Here's the pictures I took since last time.' It's just a good songwriter album."

That's appropriate, of course, given Keith's Songwriters Hall of Fame induction last month in New York City. Keith has had his differences with various music industry award shows -- don't get him started unless you've got a lot of time to listen -- but this time he has no complaints. 

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"I've about boycotted all the music awards shows, but this is one I wouldn't miss for nothin'," Keith says. "This means the world to me because there's nothing crooked about this. You're voted in by your peers. You're voted in by your enemies, for that matter...people who might not like some of the things I've said or written about. But they just look at my numbers and said, 'Hey, I guess you get good enough numbers. We'll vote you in.' It's a vote of my peers, not by some membership or an organization or anything that can be corrupt. This is a big deal to me and the only thing I ever wanted. I can get this and I don't need to get anything else."