Boasting 33 artists, a phalanx of songwriters and studio musicians and recorded across multiple studios, HARDY’s Hixtape: Vol. 2 is the newest installment in his Hixtape series, a unique kind of collaborative album that’s quickly snowballing into a phenomenon all its own.
“It’s become a really big operation,” HARDY tells Country Now. “We even have a guy at Big Loud [Records] now who’s strictly — he works for Hixtape, and that’s it. It’s become a really big thing, and there’s a lot going on.”
As big as it’s gotten, HARDY has kept close tabs on his brainchild duets project, maintaining final say of what does and doesn’t end up on a Hixtape and making it into many of the studio sessions, even for the songs on the record that don’t include his vocals or credit him as a writer. Even with the up-tick of artists who’ve got their fingerprints on Vol. 2, the singer-songwriter retains a very specific vision of what a Hixtape is and what songs it includes — and that vision started with the first Hixtape, in 2019.
“It’s a one-word answer: Lifestyle,” HARDY says, when asked what makes a Hixtape song a Hixtape song. “Or party….You know, stay away from love songs. It’s more about partying and being proud of where you’re from.”
Vol. 2 was in the works by the time HARDY’s first Hixtape had been out for six months. He says that it was his manager, Seth England, who first started pushing him to see the larger potential of the project, pointing out that HARDY could put out a Hixtape every year if he wanted to, and if he weren’t featured on every song, he’d still have time to put out his own albums.
“He pretty much said, ‘Something like this has never been done, where a collab could exist and it not be one person responsible,’” HARDY continues, explaining that the more he thought about it, the more he realized the project’s potential. “Maybe one day a different artist would wanna do their Hixtape. Or like, a Christmas thing — a Hixmas, or a Chixtape [ of all-female artists], I don’t know! There’s a ton of options.”
Part of assembling the jigsaw of a Hixtape meant that to a certain extent, HARDY played song matchmaker, pairing songs with the artists that would best suit them. Sometimes, that happened organically: For example, all three Midland members were co-writers on “Break Your Own Damn Heart,” the Midland feature, which leans a little more into the country trio’s signature retro, honky-tonk sound. Then, they added Marty Stuart — an artist not too far removed from Midland’s own musical style — as a collaborator on the track.
“I think it’s gotta be believable. If the fans aren’t gonna believe it, they’re not gonna be happy with it, and it’s not gonna be authentic,” HARDY reasons. “I definitely took some time to take every song and really think about, you know, ‘If this person’s on it, who else is in the same vein?’ Or, ‘Who’s gonna crush this song like this person would do?’ We definitely wanted it to all make sense.”
With “I Smoke Weed,” Ashland Craft — one of the featured artists — co-wrote the track, and HARDY was left with the tasking of finding an artist who could match her passion — so to speak — for the song’s subject matter. He settled on the Brothers Osborne. “You know, Brothers Osborne are on the trippy, progressive side of country, so they’re cool with singing a song about weed. Where like, you know, Josh Turner, for example, wouldn’t be such a good fit,” he notes.
For that matter, there are some country artists that HARDY respects a lot, but who wouldn’t be a good fit for Hixtape at all. It’s a specific type of song, told with a specific type of perspective, that makes it on to one of these collections. “Hixtape definitely fits a certain type of brand and certain type of person…there’s just some people that probably aren’t gonna be a good fit,” he admits.
Of the 33 guest artists, only two are female but it isn’t for lack of trying on his part.
“We asked plenty of girls,” he insists.
HARDY knows that some of the songs’ subject matter might be tailored more to a male perspective, but at its core, he says the Hixtape message is one of hometown pride and a love of partying, and that’s equally applicable to anyone.
In the future, he’d love to collaborate with artists like Miranda Lambert or RaeLynn, and he thinks the women who do have features on Vol. 2 — Lainey Wilson and Ashland Craft — are proof positive that female artists have just as much to bring to a Hixtape than their male counterparts.
As for his own personal favorites on the album, HARDY says he’s not necessarily partial to the songs he wrote, or the songs he sang on. “I Smoke Weed” and “Red Dirt Clouds” — two songs that don’t list his name either in the songwriters’ credits or as a vocalist — are among his favorites. He loved adding his voice to “Beer With My Buddies,” and he calls “Goin’ Nowhere,” his collaboration with Morgan Wallen and Chris Shiflett, “saving the best for last.”
“I think it’s gonna be the biggest reacting one,” he responds, when asked why that song came last in the 14-track weekly rollout.
Wallen has spent much of 2021 out of the spotlight, but his fan base is as passionate as ever, with robust sales numbers already rolling in on his planned tour next year (for which HARDY’s an opening act.) His verse on “Goin’ Nowhere” certainly leans into his salacious reputation a little bit, though HARDY thinks his fans will be most excited about the fact that they’re simply getting a new duet from a duo they haven’t heard from in a while.
“I think he and I doing songs together is kinda always in high demand, because everybody knows he and I are really tight, we’re really good friends,” HARDY explains.
As he expanded his vision of Hixtape, adding in more moving parts, collaborators, artists and ilks of party song, HARDY says his biggest fear turned out to be unfounded. “I was definitely a little worried about the fan response. I was worried they were gonna be confused,” he notes.
But his team pushed him to do it anyway, and “honestly, I have not seen one bad or confused comment about why I’m not on every song. People I think just kinda got it,” he says, adding that that response makes him hopeful for bigger, broader future Hixtapes. “Hopefully it’ll just continue to stick.”