Sam Hunt’s Latest Country Hit: A 1950s Honky-Tonk Classic + a Hip-Hop Beat

Webb Pierce, Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Garth Brooks … Kanye West?

Those four decade-spanning country music luminaries — plus West — were the unlikely hodgepodge of inspiration for “Hard to Forget,” the summer single by the Nashville boundary-pusher Sam Hunt, whose facility with hip-hop textures has defined his career as a hitmaker.

“Hard to Forget,” which became Hunt’s seventh No. 1 on Billboard’s country airplay chart and reached No. 26 on the all-genre Hot 100, begins not with Hunt’s own voice, but that of Pierce, a 1950s honky-tonk star known for his nasal warble and Nudie suits. The throwback track, deployed the way West famously uses soul and R&B samples, is “There Stands the Glass,” a fixture of the Grand Ole Opry from nearly 70 years ago. But by reaching so far into country music’s past, Hunt and his collaborators were able to create a thoroughly modern sound.

In the latest “Diary of a Song,” which dissects how music is made today, Hunt addresses his reputation for genre-bending while also remaining reverent to his country bona fides. Apart from the use of a sped-up sample and 808 drums borrowed from rap, Hunt included nods, vocally and lyrically, to his influences like Williams and Owens while targeting the sort of barroom singalong perfected by Brooks on 1990s smashes like “Friends in Low Places.”

“Hard to Forget” actually combined work from two all-star songwriting sessions in Nashville for Hunt’s second full-length album, “Southside,” which was released in April. The beat, fueled by “There Stands the Glass,” came from the writer and producer Luke Laird, who presented it to Hunt and Ashley Gorley, a writer who has had a hand in 50 country radio No. 1s since 2005. Hunt then brought in Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, with whom he’d landed on a hook — “she’s playing hard to forget” — that he thought would work perfectly over the Webb Pierce backing track. Rounding out the team was Hunt’s secret weapon, the producer Zach Crowell, who came up making Southern hip-hop beats.

In the video above, the six collaborators break down how “Hard to Forget” went from a left-field fragment of an idea to a country radio fixture with the help of a long-dead legend and a group of teenage girls.

“Diary of a Song” provides an up-close, behind-the-scenes look at how pop music is made today, using archival material — voice memos, demo versions, text messages, emails, interviews and more — to tell the story behind the track. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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