The Strange Story Behind Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’

The Strange Story Behind Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’


Wondering what the deal is with “Old Town
Road”? The country-rap song has taken the airwaves
– and TikTok – by storm. But where did viral sensation come from? And what’s the deal with Lil Nas X, the artist
behind it? Here’s how country music reacted to “Old Town
Road.” “Let’s do it, it’s my time, let’s make it
happen, and now I’m here with one of the biggest songs in the world.” Meet Lil Nas X The artist behind “Old Town Road” is known
as Lil Nas X. As Time reported, the man behind the name
is Montero Lamar Hill of Atlanta, Georgia. In 2018, Hill ignored the protests of his
parents and dropped out of college at 19 to see if he could carve out a career in music. “I literally had, you know, my dad paying
my phone bill, and a Twitter account. So it’s like I gotta make something shake.” However, according to New York Magazine, country
trap stardom was not Hill’s first rodeo, as he is an extremely savvy online influencer
who was a notorious internet presence even before he made it big with “Old Town Road.” “A lot of people like to say you know it’s
like a kid accidentally got it, like no, this is no accident, I’ve been pushing this hard.” The singer-rapper’s first foray to web fame
was on Twitter, where he operated as a popular engagement bait account that was nominally
about Nicki Minaj fandom. The account was suspended for spamming and
artificially inflating its stats in March 2018, but based on the current phase of his
career, Hill clearly still knows how to work the online crowd. Not enough country When the genre-busting “Old Town Road” debuted
at Number 19 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and also placed on the genre-blind
Hot 100, it was easy to predict that the song would ruffle a few feathers. “It got popular so fast that it didn’t have
like an official release, so radio djs were ripping the song from YouTube to play on the
airwaves.” Some of those ruffled feathers belonged to
Billboard itself. Rolling Stone reports that the chart keepers
stealthily removed “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs list soon after it first
charted, and they told Lil Nas X’s label, Columbia Records, that the song’s inclusion
was a mistake in the first place. Initially, Billboard tried to keep the removal
low-key, but Rolling Stone managed to get a statement that read: “When determining genres, a few factors are
examined, but first and foremost is musical composition. While ‘Old Town Road’ incorporates references
to country and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country
music to chart in its current version.” “After listening to other songs that’s actually
on that chart, it’s like wait a minute, something’s not right.” Billboard later clarified its position by
saying the specific grounds for the song’s country chart disqualification were its trap
beat, lack of country airplay, categorization issues and, quote, “no involvement by Sony
Music Nashville.” Shaking up the genre Determining a genre for something as decidedly
genre-bending as “Old Town Road” is difficult at the best of times. Even Billboard, which specifically dropped
the song from its Hot Country Songs chart, openly refers to it as a quote, “viral country
trap hit.” “I just knew it was gonna be something that
catches ears basically.” Rolling Stone suggests that the closest possible
label to “Old Town Road” is probably “contemporary country,” but points out that the rigid genres
Billboard still uses are more than a little outdated, and that artists have combined hip-hop
with country long before Lil Nas X. For instance, Jason Aldean’s rap-country song
“Dirt Road Anthem” had no problem making it to the top of the Hot Country Songs list in
2011. They also note that while Nashville seems
to consider “Old Town Road” as a pretty clear gimmick, it’s far from the first one they’ve
ever encountered. “I just go out there, do my thing, it’s all
good.” In 2018, a yodeling 11-year-old named Mason
Ramsey was propelled to country charts by a very similar viral sensation. Breaking those records “We’re talking about a rapper essentially,
but he is a marketing genius.” To put the massive success of “Old Town Road”
in context, consider this: In April 2019, the song was streamed more than 143 million
times in a single week. Apart from making the track a runaway success,
this absurd figure also broke a pretty significant record that was formerly held by none other
than Drake. CNN reports that the Canadian rapper had held
the record for most streams per week with his 2018 hit track “In My Feelings.” But the 116.2 million streams for that song
paled in comparison to “Old Town Road,” which crushed it by almost 27 million streams. Pitchfork noted that the version of “Old Town
Road” that broke the record was specifically the Billy Ray Cyrus remix which, in a way,
was also a record: It gave Cyrus the first Number 1 hit single of his career. Just another play to go viral Lil Nas X fully admits that he aimed for “Old
Town Road” to go viral, and that it wasn’t his first try. “I started as a meme page, like I’m still
posting memes and stuff.” He says his previous attempts included Facebook
comedy videos, Instagram influencing and, eventually, Twitter. For him, the third time was the charm. He told Rolling Stone, “That is where I really was a master. That was the first place where I could go
viral.” “I was pushing my music through the internet
like full time.” Eventually, he decided to jump into music,
but the banjo-filled song-rap of “Old Town Road” didn’t immediately come to him. First he tried to take a more typical musical
road that resulted in, quote, “middle-of-the-road Soundcloud rap.” Even when Lil Nas X ultimately landed on his
now-famous country trap tune, it was far from an overnight sensation. “I pushed the song with the Red Dead Redemption
gameplay because I knew I wasn’t gonna be able to afford an actual music video.” As Stereogum describes, the artist embarked
on a tireless social media promotion cycle to turn his song into a meme, and ultimately
lucked out on the video app, TikTok. Enter Billy Ray Cyrus When most people were still trying to figure
out what to make of “Old Town Road,” country legend Billy Ray Cyrus had already made up
his mind. As NBC News reports, Cyrus says he decided
from the beginning that the song ticked every box of a good country tune. He later tweeted: “It was so obvious to me after hearing the
song just one time. It’s honest, humble, and has an infectious
hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?” “I actually stood up out of my chair. I stood up and go God I love that, that dude
is original.” However, Cyrus didn’t just walk into the studio
one day and offer Lil Nas X a hand. X says he had been trying to reach the country
singer for a while during the promotion stage of “Old Town Road” in hopes that Cyrus might
retweet the song, but he wasn’t able to make the connection. When the rapper signed with Columbia Records,
he asked them to put him in touch with Cyrus, and to his delight, the country musician was
well aware of the Billboard situation of “Old Town Road” and was happy to collaborate. The two hit the studio and hit it off, and
the resulting remix of “Old Town Road” is now even more popular than the original. Topping the charts Much has been made about Billboard dropping
“Old Town Road” from its Hot Country Songs chart, but they didn’t exactly scrub the song
from their rolls. On April 8, 2019, “Old Town Road” was No.
1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the Streaming Songs chart, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs
chart, and Hot Rap Songs chart. “I consider myself a rapper, I consider myself
a country singer, I consider myself an artist overall.” The Billy Ray Cyrus version of the song continued
to dominate the Hot 100 for several weeks, and as of May 2019, may do so for a while
yet. The song was so unstoppable that it even made
it back on the country charts, at least in a fashion. As Taste of Country notes, “Old Town Road”
debuted at No. 53 on the Country Airplay chart on the week of April 13, mere weeks after
Billboard deemed it quote, “not country.” Mixed reviews “This is my life song at this point.” Regardless of where you personally rank “Old
Town Road,” plenty of famous folks have stepped forward to offer their two cents about it. In April 2019, a Billboard interviewer got
country stars Brothers Osborne to renounce the song, though their criticism mostly appears
to concern their feeling that Lil Nas X hasn’t paid his rightful dues in the industry. “Let’s turn the focus away from that…don’t
create controversy and expect that to give you a hall pass. We need great songs.” On the hip-hop side of things, the Source
reports that Harlem rapper Dave East has dissed “Old Town Road,” to the utter indifference
of Lil Nas X. “I have the number one song in the country,
I do not give a f— about what Dave East is saying.” On the other hand, Rolling Stone notes that
more open-minded country dudes such as Keith Urban clearly don’t mind the song. Urban covered it, and obviously Billy Ray
Cyrus, who featured on the remix, is on board. Other celebs with no horse in this particular
race – like Justin Bieber, Mark Ruffalo and Will Smith have also come out in support of
the track. History repeating? “A lot of country hip hop mixes either has
too much of one or too much of the other…but I feel like I was actually able to actually
do that.” As Paper points out, it says something about
country music that Lil Nas X was bluntly removed from the country charts, but when the Billy
Ray Cyrus’ remix of “Old Town Road” reached No. 1, a sign congratulating only Cyrus was
erected on Music Row in Nashville. Though this was probably the doings of Cyrus’
label or publisher – and he added a sign of his own – fans have to wonder; was the Billboard
rejection just a musical matter, or is there an underlying racial element? “Do you think there’s a racial element to
Old Town Road being removed from the country chart?” “If we allow this, who knows.” According to NBC News, the “Old Town Road”
incident is forcing country music – and Billboard – to face its murky past. Influential black country artists like Arthur
Alexander and O.B. McClinton have historically never charted
very well and have struggled to get airplay on country radio. Meanwhile, Billboard has been defining what
should and shouldn’t be “country” since the days it was still called quote, “hillbilly
music” and featured artists with a history of performing in blackface. With “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X challenged
the industry to review its rotten roots and, hopefully, work toward a more inclusive future. The producer behind the track Lil Nas X may seem like he came out of nowhere,
but he was putting in tons of effort to make his track a viral hit. On the other hand, the man behind the song’s
underlying beat didn’t see it coming, in the least. “Well, I’m from the Netherlands. I live in a small town outside of Amsterdam. This is where I make my beats.” According to Billboard, YoungKio is a 19-year-old
Dutch producer and online provider of so-called “type beats” – background tracks reminiscent
of a specific rapper’s sound. Lil Nas X bought the beat and because the
purchase doesn’t require the producer to be credited YoungKio had no idea he had become
part of the country trap revolution until it started gaining traction. The producer contacted Lil Nas X on Instagram,
offered to help with promotion, and asked if his name could be added to the song’s credits
as a producer. The rapper agreed, and these days, YoungKio’s
inbox is full of beat requests from artists big and small, including Lil Pump and Rico
Nasty. He’s also planning to continue his collaboration
with Lil Nas. Still, the producer probably doesn’t need
to work too hard to recreate his most famous beat. YoungKio has admitted that the “Old Town Road”
beat is a sample from a Nine Inch Nails song that he sped up to give it a trap vibe. “I’m definitely gonna milk the f— out of
Old Town Road.” The making of a name Lil Nas X might sound like a supergroup consisting
of Lil Wayne, Nas, and DMX, but Hill actually took the name from the same place that made
him a star: the internet. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he says
he first used “Nas” as his internet alias, and decided to add “Lil” because he found
it funny that so many rappers use that particular prefix. As he built his online fanbase, he was pretty
much stuck with the name, but couldn’t resist tinkering with it one last time when he added
the X – which he says is a representation of the ten years he estimates it will take
before he hits legendary status. “So you wanna be a legend in 10 years.” “Huge. Like something I can’t even imagine right
now.” Despite the fact that his stage name comes
from relatively innocent origins, Hill still fully recognizes its debt to the rap great
Nas, whom he says he considers a legend. In fact, XXL reports that Hill has considered
changing his artist name because he doesn’t want to disrespect Nas. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite
stars are coming soon. Subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit the
bell so you don’t miss a single one.

Danny Hutson

100 thoughts on “The Strange Story Behind Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’

  1. I don't think race has much to do with it. Back in the Country-Western heyday, Black artists Charlie Pride & Ray Charles had country hits. Hell, even Lionel Richie had a couple country flavored hits in the 80's.

  2. I think the song is catchy as hell and the "Official" movie version of this song is enjoyable and funny as hell. Congrats Lil Nas X…let's see what else ya got.

  3. I just wanna point out though when a white person says I wanna rap. The racist remark is “but your white” so it’s on both sides. Don’t kid yourselves

  4. It's like when Donna Summer won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Song Female in 1979. She was a genre bender as well.

  5. It wasn’t because the song wasn’t country it’s because he is black🖕🏿🖕🏿🖕🏿 vile dumb demons 😂😂😂😂😂🖕🏿🖕🏿🖕🏿🖕🏿

  6. I love this song, screw the f**kin genre, keep doin what your doin, it's kick ass. If I had a radio station , I would play all the genres. That would really f**k up " billboard". Buck the system, that's my game😋

  7. His talents struggle transcends so many socioeconomic barriers that people should just shut up and enjoy having their eyes and ears tickled pink. It's heartening to see his infectious smile. It's easy for a lot of people to see themselves mirrored by his experiences.

  8. Let it be known, it was always because they wouldn't play it. It wasn't because we wouldn't listen. Thank you internet for making that obvious now.

  9. My kids were singing old town road and I was asking what are you guys singing and they showed me on YouTube. It's been my new favorite since.

  10. Hey he is both country and rap and rock and can we name it for what it is ?? And what is that might we all ask?? Well I have a thought it might just be American modern non Genre music and we can call it American music

  11. But Taylor swift is still country and charts that way? She's more pop than anything an billboard doesn't knock her down. Nelly an Tim McGraw same thing why wouldn't this be country

  12. Okay that's bullshit! look at Charlie pride and Ray Charles!!! It's bullshit what day did to homeboy, but to overlook those who came before him is stupid!

  13. I don't gove a rats ass about what any of these quote unquote people that think they can define a song in what genra they deem it should be in. Its simply a bad ass song HANDS DOWN. Yo. Both Little Naz and Billy Ray I give you mad quedoes.I love the song.

  14. I'm a white country boy that grew up on classic country music. If this is true, that Country music is keeping this guy down, I will march with you in the streets. That is absolute bull*sh*it.

  15. "Country Gatekeepers"? Again, another "underbelly" of the real America.

    If they aren't BIGOTS, they sure STUPID from the seemingly non-stop pretzel-like explanation. Stop BENDING pls pls pls, you will BREAK, Oh you BROKE!!!!

    It's really SAD, when the word "gatekeepers" used to mean "WISDOM" but now we'll ALL agree "Country Gatekeepers" COULD equate BIGOTS. What will their kids or great-grand kids, 20 yrs down the line think though? Dad/great-granddad is a Bigot?

  16. Call for people to tell country music radio to F*** off. They RUINED the Dixie Chicks and they’re trying to ruin Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X. Come on PEOPLE. The Dixie Chicks had an OPINION…. free speech in America. Lil Nas is gay? Who cares? PEOPLE SPEAK OUT. Lodie

  17. This should have broken records on country, you wouldn't believe how many song like this are on the charts in country. Look up katie noel its the same type of music

  18. Billboard straight up showed its BS, and how is air play a factor in a racist genre? They just don't want a black guy ruling country

  19. Brothers Osborn: Gives speech about country music

    Me: Who TF are you

    Lil Nas X: Gives speech

    Me: hell yeah! One of the best country artists I’ve heard in a long time!…. Show me what he said!

  20. I remember when Cyrus came out quick with Achy Breaky and there was so much controversy. Travis Tritt commented Billy Ray hasn't paid his dues to the Country Music Industry. Billboard gave it a hard time at where to place it. Anyway we know what happened next, #1 not just nation wide but, #1 world wide for months

  21. Well..he took his horse and rode it down that old town road alright…LOL.. the road is paved now, but seems like the same old road.

  22. They did the same thing to Jimmy Buffet & he has been laughing all the way to the bank every since. Go ahead Jimmy bring him on tour!

  23. I am way more country than I am anything else and YES this is absolutely country!!! Every bit as much as the more 70s 80s rock sounding country songs of today, including rap and rock country of singers like, Big Country, Kid Rock and Jason Aldean to name a few, not to mention all of the rock-a-billy country sounds of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and the like!!! Billboard better get off of their racist arses and change their ways and attitudes or face no backing from ALL music fans, and a great big hunk of the music industry!!! Nothing against Billy Ray's collaboration, it's cool and all, but he sings how many lines or is it only the verse at the end that he sings?? Or if he does sing more I couldn't tell!!

  24. mainstream country: "it's not country enough!"
    mainstream country: makes pop music

    it's alt country. it's great alt country. fight me.

  25. I don't even like country or rap for that matter but this song is Not country! It's just some young black kid wanting to make fun of the country genre and then wants the same country establishment to bow down to him!! He didn't get what he wanted and as always yells racist! People need to stop kissing these mf's asses when they don't get what they want handed to them on a Damn silver platter! This boy belongs over on BET black entertainment television..but that's not racist right??? What if whites had a white entertainment television??? Yeah that wouldn't be allowed cause it's racist!!! BS!!

  26. Let the younge guy enjoy the spotlight he deserves it and im sure achy breaky hart hit number 1 all over the world

  27. Reminds me of how Run DMC shook up the rock world with their version of rock rap back in the day. Point being young people, if you’re making the old folks uncomfortable, you’re doing something right. 😉

  28. yea i gonan take my yea witgh my yeay yea yea i gonna yea yea yea yea yea yea
    i gonna take my house to the oldtown road i gonna ride to i can,t no more

  29. Ele é o máximo pra mim é cmo se fosse o vento está em todo lugar estou curtindo muito 🥰😍🎧🎶🇧🇷em 🇵🇹

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *