Jimmie Allen on Being A Country Artist with a Hip-Hop Artist Mentality

Audio Description

As a platinum-selling Black country music singer, Jimmie Allen has had to work twice as hard for half the reward. But this doesn't stop his stride. In this episode of The Big Stage, Jimmie discusses his Milton, Delaware roots, the most valuable lesson learned from his mentor, country music legend Charley Pride, and how criticism motivates him.


00:08 - 01:00

Hey, everyone, and welcome back to The Big Stage podcast, where we talk to athletes, artists and entertainers of all kinds about their life and legacy. I'm your host, Adam Sansiveri, Bernstein Managing Director and Co-lead of sports and entertainment. Back with me today by popular demand is Bernstein advisor, Grammy nominee and former music manager Dan Weisman. Good to be back, thanks, Adam. Rolling Stone magazine named our next guest one of the top up and coming country music artists when he made history as the first African-American artist to launch a career with two consecutive number one hits on country radio and the Billboard charts for his first single Best Shot, which held the number one spot for three weeks and then followed by his second number one hit. Make Me Want To. It is my pleasure to welcome platinum selling recording artist Jimmie Allen. Jimmie, thanks so much for joining us on The Big Stage.

01:00 - 01:11

Hey, man, thanks for having me. Such an introduction. I felt like I am a throne's. You know, Jimmie Allen, first of his name. That's right. The Seven Kingdoms.

01:11 - 01:41

Well, we're really excited to have you here. I'm going to start with this, just in case anyone of our listeners is under the impression that somehow you're an overnight success. You, from what I've read, tried out for America's Got Talent. You didn't make it past the preliminary auditions. Then in 2011, you tried out for Season 10 of American Idol, but you were cut before the live voting rounds. Clearly, music and country music more specifically is your calling. We all know that now. But what kept you going through that type of rejection as you were building a career?

01:42 - 02:04

So I actually did. It was American Idol before. Shucks, I was in high school, I think. I did the […] something like that. And then I did Idol season 10. I don't know what kept me going, really is just knowing what I wanted to do. I had a bunch of other jobs. But I purposely never worked those jobs more than six months because I never wanted to get comfortable. So month five of every job, I would start to look for a new job.

02:04 - 02:06

So you always knew music was it for you.

02:07 - 03:02

Yeah. I didn't know when it would happen or how, but I always knew it would for some reason. And, you know, I'm like, what would you call a self-motivated person. So people are saying, who motivates you? What motivates you? It’s more me, honestly, because I feel like when it's your life, no one should want it more than you. And if there's something you want, you know, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything, relationships, food, a place to live. And when you want it that bad, you know, I feel like it'll happen for you. And then when people see how bad you want it, how much your risk, and then they're more likely willing to help you out when they say, hey, you're not just sitting back waiting for everybody else to throw money at you. You going to do what it takes to make it happen for yourself. And that's kind of what I did. Like my dad was like that, my favorite basketball player ever, Kobe Bryant had Mamba Mentality. And that's kind of how it is, especially when a Black guy from Delaware try to make it in country music… Bringing that mamba mentality. Hey, man, I tell people I'm a country artist with a Hip-Hop artist mentality, if that makes sense.

03:03 - 03:08

Well, Dan Weisman knows something about that hip hop mentality. So I know you had a question you want to jump in with.

03:09 - 03:33

Yeah, 2020 really highlighted the systemic inequity across America. And I imagine being a Black artist in virtually and exclusively White genre like country music, that's really the only genre still controlled by gatekeepers. It really comes with a large, seemingly insurmountable pyramid of challenges. It's hard enough becoming a successful artist, period. But how much harder was it to become a successful Black country artist?

03:33 - 04:20

Now, not a lot, it’s a lot harder, man. You know, I tell people…I feel like the country music fans are ready for it. But it was the people in the places that make decisions that really weren't. I had some labels in Nashville. I met with this one label, this guy, he was like, I like you, Jimmie, you know, say, I like you as a person, but I'm not sure how country music would feel about you people. Someone that looks like you. And I look at him, like, what? So I'm a straight shooter. I say, you know you are as racist as hell, right? And he was like, nah, I'm just saying. I said, listen, just say you don't understand it. You know what I mean? Just because you don't understand it, don't mean everybody else won’t. Because I said what you got to remember is, you're on a label, you're not the fanbase. You're not buying tickets to shows. You ain't buying music, you ain't buying merch. Every concert you go to is the break. And I mean, like you're not the fanbase.

04:20 - 04:47

And I told him, I said, it's your job to find things that the fans will like. There's nobody that thinks that bands like that you'll never get. And he's like, well, I just don't know if it'll ever happen for you. Mind you, I played this guy Best shot, I played him Make Me Want To. My whole album was pretty much done before I got a record deal, and I played it to him, he said, said, yeah, cool songs. I don't really think anything will happen. And then I remember I got a deal about six months later, and then Best Shot when number one that next year, and he shot me e-mails.

04:47 - 05:30

Hey, man, congratulations, man. I always knew you'd make it. And that's like, that's all good. My thing is, I never have hard feelings. Just don't BS me. Just say, it's not for me. I don't want to take a chance on it. And I get it. You know, there’s things every day where I feel like…I tell people, as a Black artist in country music. Yes, I feel like I had to work twice as hard to get half the reward. It just is what it is. And I could…I got two choices. I could sit here and complain about the barriers and the boundaries and the obstacles, or I can put the work in. You know, and I tell other Black artists this all the time, you're not responsible for how the people feel. But that shouldn't control the quality of music you put out. It shouldn't control the effort that you put in, you know, when it's something you really want.

05:31 - 06:03

The other day, I love reading comments like, well, like an article post some about me, like I love reading comments. I don’t know, it motivates me. The other day I did the Kennedy honors and I honored Garth Brooks.  And you gotta read…I got to read you what this dude said, this is funny. So CBS posted the thing that we honored Garth Brooks. And they said, what a joke. Who the H is this wannabe cowboy slash gangster with his bandana under his hat like a Compton native. Get a real CW star like George Strait to sing the song for Garth Brooks.

06:03 - 06:37

First of all, Garth Brooks didn't write Friends in Low Places. OK? Two, Compton. Really? I’ve worn this little redneck down in Delaware, and stuff like that is funny. And then I was telling a buddy of mine about it. He's a country artist, this White guy who's like, Jimmie, man, how often does that happen? I say, every day. He said, really? I say, yes. I feel like you got to have tough skin. Like if you get into this business to country music, when you're Black. That's where we are in the world right now. I think in 15 years will be good. But right now, it is what it is, and no one else's words should affect me.

06:37 - 06:47

So here's a question. You know, I used to manage Wale, and Wale loves reading the comments sections on stuff. Right? Yeah. What's more meaningful to you, the criticisms or the praise?

06:48 - 07:13

Actually, both. The praise is great for me to sit back and say, you know what? What I'm doing matters. The criticism is great for motivation. I love it because for me, it's like, man, this guy is really upset. It motivates me to be more successful, to make him more upset. Like throwing wood on the fire, I look forward to it. Like I can't wait. Like, you know, they said it. If they hate, let ‘em hate, watch the money pile up.

07:13 - 07:23

There is a great piece of advice in there. I want to make sure our listeners heard it. Just because you don't understand it, doesn't mean it doesn't make sense. So that's good, Jimmie. And I think people can take that to heart.

07:23 - 07:51

You know, speaking of country music and honoring legends, in December 2020, country music lost a legend in Charley Pride, who between 1966 and 1987 had 52 top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country charts, 30 of which made it to number one. You personally knew him, right? Yes. And he was a mentor, from what I've heard. And you often talk about how much you learned from him. So would you mind sharing what you believe was the most valuable lesson you learned from Charley Pride?

07:52 - 08:33

Man, the most valuable lesson I learned from Mr. Pride was be yourself. He said, you make music you love for people who love it, not the people who don't, don't worry about them. And then Charley, you know, we talked from the time we met two years before he died, till he died. We talked every other Sunday on the phone for like an hour and a half, two hours. He just told me so many stories about, you know, singing country music in the 60s, bro. They were still hanging Black people and Black people down in the streets. And, you know, I mean, he found a way to stay focused on who he was and what he wanted to do. He didn't run from the nonsense. You know, he would address it sometimes and he never hid and just hid back in the corner and played music, no, he felt like what he was doing was bigger than him.

08:33 - 08:53

And I think he knew at some point there would be a Darius Rucker, that would be a Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown and Mickey Guyton, Breland, Willie Jones, Brittany Spencer, Tiera, Tony Jackson, the Cowboy Troy, Coffey Anderson. He knew one day those people would come, but it took him kind of taken the brunt of everything in the beginning to kind of paint a path.

08:53 - 09:25

And I told him, I said, I don't think you realize how you were attacking racism and spreading love by just creating music, because you got to think, in the 60s, whatever, he sold over 70 million records. That means that these White people had to go to the store, not his first album, his first album didn't have his face on it, but they had to go to the store, have second, third, fourth, fifth album, and walk out with a record with a picture of a Black man on it. That took courage in itself, because back then people couldn't order or download music in the privacy of their own home from a cell phone. They had to be seen holding this. And I can only imagine some of the backlash that some of them people got.

09:25 - 10:22

There's this radio station, San Jose. This guy was talking to me and saying he was a huge fan of Charley. And Charley was the reason why his dad stopped being racist. So I called Charley and said, hey, you mind doing this interview with me with this guy? So the guy said, yes. The guy told Charley the story, broke down crying because his dad, he was racist and he said it straight up. You know, he heard Charley Pride’s music. He fell in love with Charley Pride and most of his songs. Then he saw a picture of Charley, and seeing his picture changed his view on what he thought Black people were. And I said, that's the power of music. That's the power that Charley Pride had. And I'm glad he got to see it. I'm glad he got to see all these other artists come after him. I'm glad to see them and honored him. I mean, I was reaching out to BET for years, like, yo, you need to honor Charlie Pride, man, because BET stands for Black Entertainment Television. Not Hip-Hop, not R&B, be Black Entertainment Television. So if you're Black and you're entertainer, you should have a home there, because I'm like, we want to teach our kids. We tell them you can be whatever you want.

10:22 - 10:44

But the only thing we're highlighting on, BET, is the stereotype that the rest of the world is pushing on us, that we're only good for basketball, football. Rap. And R&B. And we're following in their footsteps by not highlighting anything else on BET, we're doing our generations a disservice. It sucks that they didn’t honor him while he was alive. Hopefully they’ll honor him in the next couple of years or something, but I feel like he deserves it.

10:44 - 10:57

Well said. Let's go back to Milton, Delaware, where you were born and raised. I think we can all agree that Delaware is not the south, which is what most people think of when they think of country music. So what was it about Milton, Delaware, that inspired your country roots?

10:57 - 11:22

I saw my dad listen it. The town I grew up in was like 650 people. You know, when I was a younger, man, we had a sheriff, deputy. Milton right now has four cops. Our grocery store used to be this place called King Cole Farm. We went to a farm to get our groceries. But in Delaware, all my dad listened to was country, all my mom listened to was Christian music. And we hung fish. You know, the whole night, we ate booze, cheap tobacco, all that stuff.

11:22 - 12:11

The one thing I realized, too, traveling. Every state has a rural area, a country area. I've been places in California. I'm like, where the hell am I at? Like Upstate New York. Every state has it. And shucks! Where I'm from in Delaware, I took my manager there. He's from Jackson, Tennessee. He’s like, dude, this place is more country than where I'm from. I took my bass player, he is with Georgia, Dalton, Georgia. You can fit Milton in Dalton, Georgia, like 40 times. It's so funny that people, you know, when they think country, they just think Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana certain areas. But country is everywhere, for like you are who you are. And I didn't realize we were a country folk till I started traveling. I used to go back home, you know, because our days in Delaware, we fish all day. And we go to a moose lodge and drink beer for 75 cent. You can get drunk and fool on about ten dollars. Yeah.

12:12 - 12:37

Speaking of being full, I read about a moment of kindness during what seemed like a hard time in your life. And I think it was 2007. You just moved to Nashville. You were homeless, sleeping in your car a few months after you arrived, and a stranger gave you a dollar, and you bought a sandwich and you ripped in half. So you'd have something to eat the next day. And you think about that act of kindness with a lot of passion. How do you give back today? And what charities, foundations are important to you now that you've really manifested a success for yourself?

12:38 - 13:11

Well, one thing I do is always keep cash on me, at least five dollars. By the end of the week, I try to give it away because, you know, I know how much a dollar can change somebody’s life. And I challenge people at every show, I say it on stage, you know, give someone that needs money, give them a dollar, because something that might be so minute to us is so powerful to someone else. And I say, when you give it to them, don't just throw at them and keep it moving. You know, ask them their name, you know, they are humans just like we are. There's power in your name. You never know. You just taking the time to ask someone their name, how that can motivate them to remind them who they are. And you never know. That could be the one thing that triggers them to get them back on their grind.

13:12 - 14:03

You know what I mean? I'm involved with this charity from Delaware called Duffy’s Hope. Man, they give so much to inner-city kids, and Wilmington, Delaware is right out of Philly. Yeah. They give back computers, you know, give scholarships away. They buy books and stuff like that. Like everything I do for charity, I give it to Duffy’s Hope because I know where the money's going, you know what I’m saying, I know they actually using it. I do a thing in Delaware every Christmas. I go home and I play a free show. I have to then pay my band and the tour buses and stuff to get there. But I won't charge any money. And then we do it at the same venue every year. And we pick a school in lower Delaware first, and we raise 20,000 thousand dollars for each school. But the money's used to help kids that can't afford lunch. If you see kids that need new shoes, buy them. You see kids in need a new book bag, buy them. You know, you see kids and the clothes, you buy them. And that's what that money for. So that's what we're doing. That's great.

14:03 - 14:36

I started a festival in my home state of Delaware, called Betty James. I named it after my dad and my grandma. I wanted their legacy to keep living, even though they're gone and we're doing a festival. So it creates a lot of income for lower Delaware. Next year, we're going to make it bigger. We gonna have different charities coming out to try and raise money. We're doing this talent show in it to where people pay like $30 admission to do the talent show. We're gonna take it up to a hundred people and all that money's going to go to Duffy’s Hope. So just trying to find ways to, you know, use the gift that I've been given and the opportunities to help other people.

14:36 - 14:40

Really awesome to hear all that. And Jimmie, let me know. I want to come into myself in that talent show.

14:40 - 14:49

You know, Hudson Fields and Milton, Delaware, Betty James fest, first annual. See you there.

14:49 - 14:57

I love it. So from homeless to a huge career, Jimmie, what is the best financial advice that you've ever received that you could share with our audience?

14:57 - 15:41

There is this guy, older guy I met at this mason lodge in Nashville, and he had asked me what I was doing with my money, if I was investing or if I was doing any stock market, stuff like that. And I said, no, not really into stocks. You know what I mean? I'd like to take my chances at a casino than the stock market. Right. And he was like, why don't you start a couple of businesses in your hometown where you're famous? And I was like, that's genius. You know, so started a separate company, a transportation company that hauls dirt and gravel, and a construction company. And I reached out to people I went to high school with, and college with, and who are head of HOAs for apartment complexes, who run hotels, who run like homeowners associations and development.

15:41 - 16:13

So what I did was, I said, hey, this is my company, let's do this, let's do this. So we started getting contracts just from the relationships I built to where not only does it help my business financially, help me put money aside. You know, we were able to hire in 2022 during the pandemic, people lost their job, we would hire over 60 people. You know what I mean? So what that does is it just continues to grow and spread throughout the state. There's more people we can hire, there’s more jobs we can created. And it's not only making money for me, but it's finding ways to make money and help other people as well.

16:13 - 16:36

So that's kind of what I've been doing. You know, if I'm not sure about something or don't know much and haven't educated myself a lot on it, you know, I'm not just going to jump into it. I tell all these country artists I know now to, look, go back to your hometown where you're big. I say, if you got two or three number one's on country radio, you can go to your hometown and do a festival. You can start a business.

16:36 - 16:39

There's a lot of business savvy in the remarks that you made, Jimmie.

16:39 - 17:23

Oh, man, thank you. And I appreciate that. I started a publishing company, I signed my first writer, I partnered with Sony ATV, and then I just started a production company. I got this dual Asaka called Union. And then I met this guy named Leo Brooks through Pitbull. He was Pitbull’s MD and bass player, last like nine years. He was Lauryn Hill’s bass player before that. So now what I'm doing is kind of like what they’re doing in the hip-hop world, I sign them and I take them on tour with me, you know, and instead of just sign them to a label like, nah, we want to do a JV deal, because I'm trying to, you know, again, create this empire, create this business to where it sets me up financially in the long run. But also I can employ other people. So I always try to look for ways to expand and incorporate others at the same time.

17:23 - 17:31

So Jimmie, we are coming to the end of our time, but I got a few other questions I just want to run through with you. What new projects are you working on right now?

17:31 - 18:16

Man, my new album, Betty James Gold Edition, that right now. I did this thing last year called Betty James, where I had collaborations with Nelly, Noah Cyrus, Mickey Guyton, Oak Ridge Boys, Rita Wilson, Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Tim McGraw. And I was like, my label's like, let's keep it going. So in this new one, I got a song with RB singer Monaco and Little Big Town on the same song, that song with Keith Urban. Got Low Cash on there, got Lindsey O, got Lanco, Babyface. Yeah, man, it's going to be fun. Got a kid's book coming out called My Voice Is a Trumpet through Penguin and Flamingo. Shout out to them. Awesome. And now we're working on a TV series. Working on a movie. Working on a standup special.

18:16 - 18:17

You are a busy man.

18:18 - 18:28

I like to be busy. There's no way. If I was just writing songs and playing shows, I would be bored out of my mind. I like to keep myself moving.

18:28 - 18:32

Jimmie Is there a stage you still dream of performing on that you haven't done so yet?

18:32 - 18:48

Red Rocks, for sure. I'm a small-town guy, so the stage I run to play, I've always wanted to play with Hudson Fields, where my festival is going to be at. But, you know, everybody wants to play in Madison Square Garden. I'm like, if I play it, I play. If I don't, I don't. But the only stage I haven’t played and I want to do is Red Rocks. What a great place.

18:48 - 18:57

I love it. Love it there. So last question for you, Jimmie. Thinking about what you envision for yourself, where do you see yourself 10 years from now. Hopefully alive.      

18:58 - 19:41

Man, I don’t know. Still playing shows, but hopefully I've had like, you know, three movies under my belt, a couple of Broadway shows, love theater. And I want to do a full-on album with a hip-hop artist or R&B artist. Because I've seen people, you know, doing the hip-hop where like you had R. Kelly and Jay-Z, best of both worlds. You had watched the throne with Kanye and Jay. But I've never seen a country artist and a hip-hop artist, or a country artist and an R&B artist do a full album together, like seven songs or more. So that's what I'm working on. I got a couple of people on my wish list I might just reach out to. I want to do that bad. You know, I want to do a couple of songs, a few Christian artists, pretty much every genre I want to work with. That's kind of what I want to do.

19:41 - 19:50

Well, I think it's clear 10 years from now you'll be running your empire. Yup! Plan! Jimmie, thanks so much for joining us. Dan, thanks so much for being here again.

19:50 - 19:53

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it a lot.

19:53 - 19:56

Thank you all for listening. This has been The Big Stage.

19:57 - 20:11

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Adam Sansiveri
Senior Managing Director

The information presented and opinions expressed are solely the views of the podcast host commentator and their guest speaker(s). AllianceBernstein L.P. or its affiliates makes no representations or warranties concerning the accuracy of any data. There is no guarantee that any projection, forecast or opinion in this material will be realized. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The views expressed here may change at any time after the date of this podcast. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. AllianceBernstein L.P. does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. It does not take an investor’s personal investment objectives or financial situation into account; investors should discuss their individual circumstances with appropriate professionals before making any decisions. This information should not be construed as sales or marketing material or an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sale of any financial instrument, product or service sponsored by AllianceBernstein or its affiliates.

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