Nineteen-year-old Atlanta native Lil Nas X, aka Montero Lamar Hill, never meant to make it big. An avid Tweeter, Hill spent his time making fan-boy accounts for Nicki Minaj and creating scenario threads on Twitter. But gradually, he garnered a large following, and his fans encouraged him to release his own music.
So in 2018, Lil Nas X released “Old Town Road” on SoundCloud. And earlier this year, the song went viral on the streaming app, TikTok. Now, “Old Town Road” is smashing streaming records even as Billy Ray Cyrus' guest presence on this remix stirs up country purists. In fact, as of July 31, 2019, this song's 17 consecutive weeks at No. 1 have made it the biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since the chart's inception in 1958.
The Untamed Old Town
For a song that in many ways breaks country molds, stylistically speaking, its lyrics definitely dip into country imagery. Billy Ray Cyrus opens with an Old West metaphor for chasingdreams: “Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road/I’m gonna ride ‘til I can’t no more.”
Lil Nas X joins in, bragging about how his getup and game (“I got horses in the back/Horse tack is attached/Hat is matte black/Got the boots that’s black to match”) are better than most (“Ridin’ on a horse, ha/You can whip your Porsche/I been in the valley/You ain’t been up off that porch, now”).
Next, we hear about a lifestyle that showcases the rapper's drinking and drug use (“Lean all in my bladder”), his infidelity (“Cheated on my baby/You can go and ask her”), his embrace of the high life (“My life is a movie/Bull ridin’ and boobies”) and his big spending (“Cowboy hat from Gucci/Wrangler on my booty”).
Not to be outdone, Cyrus brags about his bling, too: “Spent a lot of money on my brand new guitar/Baby’s got a habit, diamond rings and Fendi sports bras/Ridin’ down Rodeo in my Maserati sports car.” He concludes that it's all good: “Got no stress, I’ve been through all that/I’m like a Marlboro man so I kick on back.”
And a life that good doesn't have any space for haters, as Lil Nas X raps, “Can’t nobody tell me nothin’/You can’t tell me nothin’.”
What’s Billboard’s Problem?
Even though “Old Town Road” spent a few weeks on Billboard’s country singles chart, it wasn’t long before the hit was removed from it.
Why, you might ask? Well, according to Billboard, the song isn’t actually “country” enough. The music mag's chart folks said the track “does not embrace enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version."
Some have agreed. Some have disagreed. But the conversations that this song has unexpectedly stirred up have now driven it to the top slot on Billboard's mainstream Hot 100 singles chart—an unlikely outcome indeed for a young Atlanta rapper and a country singer whose previous career high was a quarter of a century ago.
For Billy Ray Cyrus, the winding road that's led him back to the top now with Lil Nas X has been a strange journey indeed.