“Old Town Road” is more than just another internet hit, it raises real questions in the world of music today and in some part about minorities in music.
First some context: Lil Nas X initially gained notoriety with of all things, a Nicki Minaj fan page. His viral tweets and memes found him a small fame. Sometime in 2018, the singer (rapper?) Lil Nas X dropped out of college to pursue a musical career. He moved in with his sister who, with his parents according to the recent Genius interview, was an inspiration for this song. Lil Nas X began writing “Old Town Road” after he felt like he was out of options saying his sister and parents putting his music career down inspired the song’s chorus.
Lil Nas X meant for the old town road to be a symbol of success. In his words, he wrote the song as a triumph and imagined a hard-working man working toward his dreams no matter what.
The song released on Dec. 3, 2018 and was slow to gain traction at first. I recall it was early 2019 that I saw the tune start popping up on my Instagram feed with videos such as the “YeeHaw Challenge” which honestly is starting to make me think we are making challenges on anything these days. It was on dancing apps such as TikTok and Instagram that the song began to climb to the top.
After all the attention “Old Town Road” received, it earned spot 19 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. Despite this, the media brand pulled the song. Billboard announced, “Upon further review, it was determined that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard’s country charts. When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is a 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”
And in a way, they are right.
When asked if the song was a country song, Lil Nas X replied it cannot be put into a single category. He said that it is a mix of country-rap or country trap, a genre first pioneered with Young Thug 2017’s “Beautiful Thugger Girls” which experimented with country tones but was released under the rap genre. “Old Town Road”, like Billboard mentions, did contain country imagery like tractors and cowboy hats but it’s presented in a parody attitude. At one point, a country producer suggested that perhaps Lil Nas X released the song under the country genre as it would be easier to rise to the top with less competition. Ironically, Old Town Road is now top on Hip-Hop/R&B charts as well.
The song just doesn’t have country vibes to it. “Old Town Road’s” classification is currently being compared to the fact that the top country songs are similar to pop. Although this is true, if you listen to the top hits in country and put them against the top hits in pop right now, you can clearly tell the differences.
Things looked up for Lil Nas X when country star Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on a remix. Cyrus is a legendary country singer. He is multi-platinum, has scored a total of eight top-ten singles on the Billboard chart and his most successful album to date “Some Give All” has been certified 9× Multi-Platinum in the United States and was the longest time spent by a debut artist at number one on the Billboard charts.
To have one of the greats work with a 20-year old African American from Atlanta, especially on a country-trap song, is probably the greatest collaboration to happen to hip-hop and country. Cyrus said he interpreted the old town road to be Old Town Bridge in Argillite, Kentucky that he used to play on as a kid. He tweeted support for Lil Nas X and said the removal from the charts puts him with the greats of country like himself. Support for the song from such a renowned artist like Cyrus is extraordinary.
In conclusion, Old Town Road is not a country song. From Lil Nas X’s own words, it does not fall into one category and is instead a mix of both rap and country, creating a new emerging genre, Country Hip-Hop. It’s exciting to see people acknowledge something great just happened.