Since making his major label debut in 2016, Kane Brown has steadily established himself as an artist capable of crossing — and erasing — musical boundary lines, thanks to his smooth, versatile baritone, a keen sense for an irresistible groove, and a knack for crafting songs that resonate with music fans of all backgrounds.
In 2017, Brown made history on the Billboard country charts, becoming the first artist to reign atop all five of Billboard‘s main country charts simultaneously–dominating the Top Country Albums, Hot Country Songs, Country Airplay, Country Digital Song Sales and Country Streaming Songs rankings for the week dated Oct. 28, 2017.
Alongside his solo hits such as “Worldwide Beautiful” and “Heaven,” many of Brown’s popular songs have been collaborations, alongside artists like Lauren Alaina (“What Ifs”), Marshmello (“One Thing Right”), Swae Lee and Khalid (“Be Like That”) and blackbear (“Memory”). His most recent collab, the Chris Young teamup “Famous Friends,” topped Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart in July.
Today (Sept. 30), Brown teams with Grammy- and Oscar-winner H.E.R. for the uplifting anthem “Blessed & Free” — an ode to finding hope, rest and peace amid struggles and hard times.
Earlier this year, H.E.R. (an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed”) won a song of the year Grammy for her illuminating song “I Can’t Breathe,” written in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in May 2020. She also earned an Academy Award for best original song for “Fight For You,” from the film Judas and the Black Messiah this year, before releasing her debut LP Back of My Mind in June.
In video clips exclusive to Billboard, Brown and H.E.R. discuss their new song, the artistry behind collaborations, country radio, and H.E.R.’s early experiences with country music.
“When I think of this song and the meaning of it, you know, talking about some of those lows — it’s kind of just being grateful for the process, for the journey that is life,” H.E.R. says. “We’re always trying to get somewhere, but I think what makes it more special is the journey, and being grateful for strength, being grateful for still moving forward even in times where you’re in doubt… knowing no matter what happens, I’m still blessed and free.”
For Brown, the new collaboration reminds him of one silver lining to being off the road over the past year due to the pandemic — being able to spend time with his daughter Kingsley, who was born in October 2019.
“I got to hang out with her all year,” he says. “I got to really know her and see her grow and start walking, and I didn’t have to miss any of those moments… I’m so thankful now that she’s old enough that I can bring her on the bus. I still get to be with her all throughout my tour.”
This isn’t H.E.R.’s first foray into country music. Earlier this year, she teamed with another country hitmaker, Chris Stapleton, at the CMT Music Awards, where they performed H.E.R.’s “Hold On.” In another clip, she recalls her early music experience attending a Kenny Chesney concert.
“I went to a Kenny Chesney concert when I was really young, with my dad,” she says, adding, “It was just craziness, the energy was just wild. The loyalty of the fans — you just feel it, and how much fun people have at country music concerts. I was blown away, and it made me have a good time.”
She also remembers being drawn to the storytelling elements of country songs. “The songwriting is definitely inspiring — it gets very emotional, and I’m a big writer when it comes to emotions and jotting down what you feel and working out what you feel on paper and painting a picture,” she says. “I think you close your eyes and listen to a country song and you can see it. You can see exactly what that person is writing about, and what that person is feeling…that’s what I appreciate about country music.”
As a guitarist, H.E.R. also has a particular fondness for the genre’s use of six-strings. “I remember when I first got my first Martin acoustic guitar, I learned Rascal Flatts songs,” shesays. “Because it was easy to play — but also, all those open chords and those pretty chord progressions.”
For Brown, collaborating and experimenting musically with artists outside the country genre is simply part of his creative DNA, a way of expressing his artistry. But he stresses that country music is still his primary emphasis.
“It’s just been fun to do. We’re artists — why just put us in a box?” Brown says of his multi-genre collaborations. “We’ll do what we want to do. Me, I’m never going to leave country music. Like I’ll always have a country single out to radio before anything else. That’s just how I look at it.”