Darius Rucker is country music's shining new star. The former frontman for the 1990s pop group Hootie & the Blowfish has become the first black artist to have a Top 10 country music hit since Charley Pride.
Watch Rucker's in-studio performance.
As Rucker told NPR's Farai Chideya, country music is an ingrained part of his Southern roots.
"I grew up in South Carolina," he said. "A lot of what I remember back in the day is AM radio. When I was a kid, you could hear Stevie Wonder and Buck Owens on the same station. All the walls and lines between music were taken down for me."
Rucker said his childhood dream of "being Al Green" was put on hold until he enrolled at the University of South Carolina.
"I got a little older and realized I had to have a real job, so I went to school for broadcast journalism and just happened to meet the guys in my band [Hootie & the Blowfish]."
From there, he and his bandmates were signed to Atlantic Records and released their 1994 debut album, Cracked Rear View. It became one of the best-selling albums in history.
'The Only African-American Person'
As Rucker's fan base grew largely among white audiences, he said he became accustomed to often being the only African-American in the crowd.
"It's something that I've gotten used to," he said. "But back when we really started taking off, it would be really strange to walk into a room of 20,000 people and you were the only African-American person. That happened a lot. I had to come to grips with it. Now it's just no big deal."
Though he enjoys success as a solo country artist, his previous solo release — the R&B album Back to Then — was not as well-received.
"I remember them playing my single, which I thought was an R&B song, and somebody used the world 'alternative' on R&B radio," Rucker said. "And I think it's the stigma of where I came from. It was R&B music; it's just that I came from Hootie & the Blowfish, and nobody wanted to hear that from me."
Country music is where Rucker says he'll stay: "I'm going to make country records back to back for a while — until country radio doesn't want me anymore or until I get my own theater in Branson — one of the two."