Jimmie Allen didn’t technically release a new album in 2021, but his Rolodex still grew significantly: The country singer-songwriter welcomed Monica and Babyface on the deluxe edition of last year’s Bettie James album and teamed with Elton John on “Beauty in the Bones,” which was included on the pop legend’s The Lockdown Sessions. Allen also earned long-awaited awards recognition, winning new male artist of the year at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards and new artist of the year from the Country Music Association (CMA), as well as snagging a best new artist Grammy nom.
Although he has become one of the most exciting rising artists in the genre, music was just one of an array of creative ventures by him this year: He launched his Bettie James imprint through Sony Music Publishing, along with his own management and production company, JAB Entertainment; he executive-produced music for the Netflix series Titletown High; published a children’s book; and found time to compete on Dancing With the Stars. “When I was a kid, my dream was never to just be a musician,” says Allen. “It was to be an entertainer — and an entertainer covers all aspects.”
What do these awards mean to you personally?
Especially with the ACM and CMA, to me, those wins were about acceptance. Winning an award that’s voted on by the country music industry means they accept me as a creator and an artist. With the Grammy nomination, I was talking to a friend of mine, a writer in pop and R&B. He said, “This nomination is bigger than you because you are a Black man from Delaware having success in country music. Your Grammy nomination came from your success in country music, a genre of music that you don’t really associate Black people with too much. Win or lose, you have the ability here to inspire people that want to do something [similar], but they don’t see a lot of people who look like them.” That’s when it really hit me how big this nomination was.
After earning two No. 1s on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, you could score a third with the Brad Paisley collaboration “Freedom Was a Highway.” How did that pairing come about?
I wrote that song about growing up in my hometown and recorded it solo over a year before it was on [Bettie James]. I’ve been listening to Brad’s music for years, so I reached out and he said yes. To have him on this song means a lot to me, and shout out to country radio for playing it because in country music, without country radio, we don’t have a career. There wouldn’t be no Grammy nomination without country radio.
Whom else would you love to collaborate with?
Will Smith — I want to get Will back to rapping. I already have a song written that I need to get Drake on. Shania Twain, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder… a lot of artists are chasing down artists that are hot right now, but there’s something special about working with artists that inspired the artists we listen to today. Beyoncé and JAY-Z are definitely two people on my dream list. There were rumors about her wanting to do a country song or a country record. Listen, Beyoncé: I’m here. Let’s get cracking.
You recently launched a music publishing company plus a management and production company. What other business and creative goals do you have?
I signed a [management/production deal for] country duo Neon Union. I want to get my own imprint through a major label and sign them. I want to play Aaron Burr in Hamilton. I want to do sitcoms, movies, have my own talk show. So that, and keep touring and putting out music.