If ever an artist could be described as down to earth, it's North Carolina-born Lenny Cooper. Although he's a friendly, approachable guy, the down-to-earth label is mostly appropriate thanks to his mud-caked likeness, which graces the country performer's Mud Dynasty album cover. In just a few short years, Lenny has become Crown Prince of the Mud Diggers, thanks to his favorite hobby of mud-bogging, the practice of driving the vehicle of your choice into a mud-covered pit while spectators cheer -- and your vehicle. He's also one of the young purveyors of an increasingly popular subgenre of country music which incorporates rap lyrics and heavy beats, and has been championed by independent label Average Joes Entertainment. Cooper was recently highlighted in a major cover story in the “Arena” section of the Wall Street Journal explaining the new subgenre and Average Joes’ success. Mud-soaked though he may be, 24-year-old Lenny and his Average Joes colleagues have cleaned up pretty well, thanks to entertaining audiences with high-energy music well-suited to accompany any mud-bogging adventure.
Lenny Cooper was born in Jacksonville N.C. and first came to the attention of many fans while performing on Average Joes co-founder Colt Ford's Declaration of Independence tour. Although he didn't have a band or DJ on stage, he quickly connected with fans, who easily relate to such tunes as "Country Folks Anthem," a track on Mud Dynasty which features AJE labelmate Charlie Farley, and "Adrenaline," performed with Brian King of the duo the Lacs, also signed to the label. And although country-rap (or hick-hop, or whatever you choose to label this type of music) is gaining solid ground (in spite of all the mud) with countless fans through live events, recorded music and a regular presence on YouTube, it's nothing new to Cooper, who says that even though classic country music was a presence in his house while growing up, he first gravitated to rap songs at around 9 years old. He started writing at 11 and was recording by age 15. At just 17, Cooper recorded what would not only become an anthem for him but for the entire movement, "Mud Digger." The song has now spawned four compilations by that same title for Average Joes, and there's even been a holiday-themed collection called "Muddy Christmas." At the same time, more mainstream country artists are experimenting with the country-rap combination, including such superstars as Blake Shelton and duo Florida Georgia Line.
"I think it's cool," says Lenny. "Stuff like that I enjoy seeing because that's helping us for the future, giving us the door to open up and step in and make it easier for us. It's hard to get radio play because people don't know where to stick it. Is it country, is it rap, is it rock? What is it? We're not trying to change country music. The way I see it, this is just adding a little spice to country. When rednecks listen to rap, they're like, 'I don't understand what he's talkin' about.' But when they listen to our stuff they know exactly what we're talking about. They've lived that, they've done that."
Lenny's love for all things mud-related stretches back to his school days in Jacksonville, where he and his friends would sit in their trucks in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart and figure out where they were going to go mud digging. It wasn't long before his buddies made a special request of the talented teenager.
"My friends knew I liked to write music; it was kind of my hobby then, so they asked me if I would write a song about going muddin'," he recalls. "I went home that night and wrote it and recorded it and went back the next day and gave them about five CDs that I burned. They all loved it. I ended up sticking it on YouTube and tagged Colt Ford on the video. In four to six months, it went over two million views."
Thanks to that tag, it wasn't long before the clip caught Colt's attention. With his own albums beginning to burn up the country charts, Ford was on tour, which included a stop in Cooper's hometown. The pair met and talked at the show, where Colt suggested re-recording the tracks for Average Joes. Now on his third album for the label, Lenny says a solid work ethic has kept him focused, which is seemingly no small feat for someone continually surrounded by mud.
"Growing up, I made some wrong choices," he acknowledges. "I quit school at ninth grade. But when I quit, I wasn't going to be one of those people who was just going to be lazy. A week later I started working with a landscape company, then started working as with a construction company."
Just two years ago, having already signed with the label, Lenny quit the construction job to devote himself to his music career. "It was overwhelming at times to get off work, come home, write music and plan work in the studio. I was out doing shows to make enough money to where I could make a comfortable living and put my full 110 percent into my music."
That same kind of devotion seems to apply to the folks who hit the mud bogs with their various vehicles. "People spend their hard-earned money to build up a machine to come out there and just tear it up," Lenny notes. "Just to have fun and to show people what they're about. It's a way they can express their feelings about what they build, whether it's a truck, four-wheeler, mud buggy, golf cart or whatever. I've seen tanks before at mud bogs. You've got to pay to play. You can't just go out muddin' not thinking you're going to tear up something up, because you are. It's not cheap either! Sometimes you're talking thousands of dollars.
And just as they have with their mud-bogging machines, people have become devoted to the music that accompanies mud-bogging events.
"You give it to one person and they get addicted to it," Lenny says proudly. "People will pictures through Facebook of what they're doing, what they've built. Everyone is just like family."
One great big, happy -- muddy -- family.