Lil Durk, a 29-year-old rapper whose real name is Durk Derrick Banks, performed at the Martin Luther King Freedom Fest in Nashville, Tennesse on Saturday when he described Wallen, 28, as “genuine at heart.”
Seconds later, he welcomed Wallen on stage and declared to the audience, “Can’t nobody cancel s— without me saying.”
Wallen could be seen greeting Durk on stage with a handshake. “What’s up Nashville?!” Wallen yelled to the crowd.
Wallen’s return to the stage follows a year of controversy for the country singer. He made headlines last February after a video surfaced of him using the N-Word.
The public backlash was swift online and in the country music industry. Even though he was nominated for multiple Academy of Country Music Awards, Wallen was not included in the ceremony in any capacity. He was also dropped by his record label and his music was banned from iHeartRadio.
Wallen opened up about the video and his choice to use a racial slur months after the video surfaced in an interview with Michael Strahan.
“I was around some of my friends and we just, we say dumb stuff together. In our minds it’s playful. It sounds ignorant but that’s really where it came from, and it’s wrong,” Wallen said. “We were all clearly drunk and I was asking his girlfriend to take care of him because he was drunk and he was leaving. I didn’t mean it in any derogatory manner at all.”
Despite the backlash, Wallen’s music continues to be successful. He recently announced his 2022 tour dates.
Just days ago, the Grand Ole Opry came under fire for welcoming Wallen to the country music’s most historic and storied stage. He made an unannounced appearance on the Opry, which has been broadcasting for nearly 100 years, to sing with country artist ERNEST.
Performers ranging from Yola, Allison Russell, Rissi Palmer, Noelle Scaggs of Fitz and the Tantrums, Joy Oladokun, Chely Wright, as well as Grammy winners Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell, weighed in on how the Opry’s decision could have troubling consequences for artists of color in country music.
“Morgan Wallen’s thoughtless redemption tour is the nail in the coffin of me realizing these systems and this town is not really for us,” wrote Oladokun.
“It’s the idea of a young Black artist walking into that venue and wondering if ANYBODY is on their side,” wrote Isbell. “What a lot of us consider to be a grand ole honor can be terrifying for some.”
“They have figured out they can invite a few Black performers to the stage and give them debuts and that will quiet or calm people down for a little bit,” she told The Associated Press. “But if you look at the structural set up for the institution, nothing has changed. They have two Black members over the entire history of the institution.”
A publicist for the Opry did not return a request for comment from the AP, and Holly G said she also had not received a response to her letter as of last Tuesday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.