After a prolonged hiatus of roughly six years since his last studio album, the Drake of country music is back, and the wait was more than worth it. 

Before Sam Hunt rose to mainstream fame in 2014, the country music scene had not experienced a seasoned country singer-songwriter comparable to Hunt. Hunt had undeniably updated the traditional standards of country music by proving that modernization to the business was indeed possible with the incorporation of some hip-hop and R&B. 

Hunt’s debut album, Montavello, had not one but four No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Songs like these were what helped shape and define Hunt as a country artist who incorporated spoken word, rap and hip-hop within his music. By doing this, Hunt strategically set himself apart from familiar country artists. 

With the release of SOUTHSIDE, Hunt has remained true to his reputation by reciting authentic lyrics against backbeats that have a fair mix of country, hip-hop and R&B. However, Hunt strays from this stature by opening with a ballad that is recognizably classic country. Titled “2016,” the ballad is more vulnerable than arguably any of his other tracks from his first and latest album. 

“2016” is an adequate track to use as an opener, considering it serves as a transition from Montavello as well as an explanation for his hiatus. Hunt had left his longtime girlfriend, Hannah Lee Fowler, in pursuit of fame, partying and one-night stands, yet was left unsatisfied as he realized nothing could compare to his love for her. In “2016,” Hunt sings about wanting to take back all of the pain he caused her and give her back the year she spent heartbroken. This realization led Hunt to beg for Fowler back, resulting in the two marrying in 2017. 

Knowing that the meaning behind these lyrics is a true story of regret and forgiveness makes the track all the more convincing and diplomatically placed, as it feels as if a past affair has been resolved. Although choosing “2016” as the opener for a country album could seem risky, it was a risk well-worth taking as it sets the tone for an album full of genuine and nostalgic storytelling.

The album encompasses a balance of fun, enjoyable tracks and ones that are about heartbreak and honesty. As far as upbeat tracks go, Hunt placed older songs on the new album that listeners are familiar with, such as the notorious “Body Like a Backroad,” “Kinfolks” and “Downtown’s Dead.” Though all three of these songs are still about love and relationships, they carry a more mindless beat that is easy to sing along and dance to. By including these well-known songs, Hunt is creating an album that’s his own and one he can look back on and feel as if it encompasses him as an artist and an individual. Nonetheless, these three tracks were necessary for Hunt to complete his sophomore album.

Tracks such as “Hard to Forget,” “Young Once” and “Let It Down” are three other refreshing tracks that will have listeners wanting to drive on some old backroads with the windows down while blaring the songs. The tracks incorporate the perfect blend of deep-rooted country and modern R&B, hip-hop and electronic dance music. 

Nevertheless, Hunt doesn’t dare deviate from the norms of country music by continuing to sing about breaking up, making up and being in love, which is more than evident in his softer songs that embody a stronger influence of R&B. “Nothing Lasts Forever” is a beautifully crafted track about falling out of love and being unable to make a relationship work. The track is arguably barely country with its R&B domination, making it a standout on the country album. 

“That Ain’t Beautiful,” “Breaking Up Was Easy in the 90’s” and “Drinkin’ Too Much” are tracks that the country music business was in desperate need for, due to them being modern, relatable and straightforward. Hunt utilizes his rap component in all three tracks to make sure his lyrics are heard loud and clear, as they carry a lot of truth and passion about what it means to be in a relationship amid the social media era, how millennials cope with breakup and trying to impress their interests and lastly, the regret of breaking someone’s heart. 

SOUTHSIDE displays Hunt’s maturity and personal growth since Montavello through content with deeper lyrics and enjoyable, passive and rapid beats. The album tells Hunt’s story of soul-searching and realizing what is most important in a life full of fame, allowing listeners to feel attached to Hunt and his art. SOUTHSIDE is comprised of tracks that will have listeners not only dancing, but reflecting, making for a pleasantly profound sophomore album.