There are many things about Kane Brown that might surprise a new listener.
You might not expect the quiet guy covered in tattoos to open his mouth with a deep country croon. It’s hardly the norm for a young artist to sell out every single venue on his first headlining tour. Nor is it par for the course for an artist to develop a compassionate back-and-forth with fans of all stripes, sympathizing with their struggles and celebrating their successes alongside his own by fostering a close-knit online community of nearly 4 million social subscribers.
But to know Kane Brown is to learn that defying expectations and forging his own path is standard procedure.
Indeed, Brown is soaring on the strength of his full-length, self-titled debut, an RIAA Gold-certified collection that stands as country’s best-selling new-artist debut since 2014. Released in December of 2016 and helmed by three-time ACM Producer of the Year Dann Huff and Matthew McVaney, Kane Brown debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and Top 10 on the Billboard 200 all-genre chart with 51,000 units (45,000 in album sales) and would become the #4 best-selling new-artist album debut of 2016, in any genre.
In October 2017, he revisited the Country Albums summit with the release of Kane Brown Deluxe Edition—a 15-song edition of his self-titled album—debuting at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums and Top 5 on the Billboard 200. The singer/songwriter became the first artist ever to be #1 on all five of Billboard’s main country charts simultaneously, including Top Country Albums; Country Digital Song Sales (with the #1 debuting “Heaven”); and Country Airplay, Hot Country Songs, and Country Streaming Songs (with “What Ifs”).
To date, Brown’s self-titled album has notched five weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums (including three consecutive charts in January 2018), tying Chris Stapleton’s Traveller for the most weeks at #1 for an artist’s debut album (for the period commencing with Brown’s December 2016 debut).
Re-teaming with mega-producer Dann Huff for Deluxe Edition’s new tracks, Brown had a hand in writing three of the four songs, including the deliciously groove-laden “Setting the Night on Fire,” a co-write and duet with Brown’s hero and RCA labelmate Chris Young.
“This song, I think, was our second song we wrote together, and I really liked it,” Brown shares. When Young agreed to join him on vocals, Brown says that it “brought so much more energy to the song. He just made ‘Setting the Night on Fire.’”
Another album addition is Brown’s latest single, the already-Gold-certified 2018 chart-climber, “Heaven.” It’s a song that he thought would speak to his fiancée—and his fans. “‘Heaven’ is a song that I heard while Matt McGinn, Lindsay Rimes, and Shy Carter were still writing. As soon as I heard it, I knew I had to record it. It just fit me.”
The new tracks only add to the breakout success of Brown’s self-titled RCA Records/Zone 4 debut, which also launched the RIAA Double-Platinum blockbuster, “What Ifs.” Featuring Brown’s good friend and former choirmate Lauren Alaina, the song’s energy sparks as much from their vocal chemistry as it does from the urgency of the lyrical questions that challenge whether a love affair is really meant to last.
Brown says, “Everybody’s always asking, ‘What if?’ Like, ‘what if this happened,’ ‘what if that happened,’ ‘what if you find somebody else?’” The immediate relatability of those feelings caught on with fans in a big way, as “What Ifs” shot to #1 on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Sales chart in the summer of 2017 and would go on to top multiple charts, including Country Airplay. A 17-week #1 on the Nielsen On Demand Audio Core Country Streaming Chart, “What Ifs” remained a juggernaut into 2018, ranking as the year’s most-streamed country song as of mid-February. “What Ifs” has also vaulted Brown into the company of Sam Hunt as the two artists responsible for the Top 5 most-streamed country songs of all time from solo artist debut albums.
In less than two years, Brown’s impressive accomplishments have spanned sales, streaming, airplay, and touring—rightly propelling him to his first ACM award nomination as New Male Vocalist of the Year at the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards in 2017.
Since signing with Sony Music Nashville in early 2016, Brown released Chapter 1, which made history as the highest-debuting country EP of the Nielsen SoundScan era and featured the RIAA Platinum-certified “Used to Love You Sober.” In concert, he’s logged a summer on the road with Florida Georgia Line and was chosen by superstar Jason Aldean for his 2017 They Don’t Know Tour. Currently on tour with Chris Young, Brown has also been attracting sold-out crowds to his own shows, including his first-ever arena headlining concert, playing to more than 7,000 fans in December of 2017.
And while he’s become one of Nashville’s latest breakout success stories—on the radio, online, and on the road—Brown’s heart remains firmly fixed back home.
“My hometown—Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia—we ain’t got nothin’. There’s just fast food and banks,” Brown says, in a tone that suggests not a jab, but an appreciation for the simplicity of small-town life. “I try and go back every time I have a free day.”
Where he comes from is a huge part of who he is, but the idea of a hometown isn’t something Brown has ever taken for granted. Trouble at home kept his childhood life in limbo, frequently switching schools and shifting households.
“We didn’t have a lot of money, and we moved all the time. There were a bunch of family issues,” he says. Album track “Learning” goes in-depth on the struggles of those early years, detailing the child abuse, bullying, and racism he endured throughout his adolescence. But the takeaway of the song’s chorus—a mantra about forgiveness and letting go—is a much more familiar side of the soft-spoken and enthusiastically kind Kane Brown that fans have come to know.
“Growing up being bullied . . . I wouldn’t be the person I am today if that hadn’t happened,” he says. “I know not to treat people that way. It hurt, but it inspired me to write about it.”
While writing his own music was one feat for Brown, performing was another—though not for any want of vocal gifts. His rich delivery shines on cover songs he’s done by George Strait and Josh Turner, and anyone who’s heard his low, thick drawl can understand why he’s been compared to Chris Young. But for a long time, Brown was satisfied just being another voice in the choir.
“The only time I would sing was if I was in a big group of people,” he says. “Or in the shower.”
That anxiousness about performing in front of people is what led him to the steadfast fan base he now appreciates online. Encouragement from friends and family pushed him to perform in—and win—a school talent show with an uncanny performance of Young’s “Gettin’ You Home.” Soon, Brown began to conquer his fear of an audience by singing cover songs alone at home in front of his iPhone, and then posting the videos online.
“I would just sing and put them up on Facebook, not thinking that anything was going to happen,” he says. “One day, I just woke up and got lucky. I had 60,000 shares on a song.”
As his cover videos began to go viral—his rendition of Strait’s “Check Yes or No” racked up more than 7 million views—Brown began to take the idea of a music career seriously, tackling the challenge of writing his own music, too.
“It was a huge learning experience—finding my kind of writing and finding the artist that I want to be,” Brown says. He laughs about the steep learning curve, but early singles like “Don’t Go City on Me” and “Used to Love You Sober” resonated with his emphatic followers, many of whom already felt a personal connection with Brown from his transparent social media presence. To support his vulnerable leap into original material was, for many fans, akin to celebrating the success of a longtime buddy.
That passionate online following has continued to explode with a massive 325 million on-demand streams and more than 120 million YouTube and Vevo views to date.
Indeed, from his earliest Facebook videos to his current place as one of country music’s most compelling rising stars, Brown has had much of himself shared on the Internet, and he continues to see his fair share of harsh words and thoughtless comments. Now, though, he’s more concerned with using the medium to give bits of the love he gets from his followers back to them.
“My fans got me to where I am today,” he says. “When I take the time to comment back in 10 seconds, they always get excited, and it makes me feel happy, too. It makes me feel like I’m giving them something for where I’m at today. There’s just such a strong connection. They are the ones that got me started, and they are the ones who wanted to follow my journey and be a part of something. It’s an awesome connection, and it means the world to me—they know that it means the world to me.”