The story behind ‘Old Town Road’ and how Lil Nas X got his rapper name

I was driving home last week from work. With Philly traffic prolonging my commute, tuning into the radio has become sort of a “thing” for me. On this day, a song by the name of “Old Town Road” suddenly played on the radio. I thought to myself, “is this Lil Nas X kid really playing on the radio right now? The song isn’t even two minutes long? I thought this song was a joke?”

The next connecting thought came instantaneously: “Who exactly is Lil Nas X, anyway?”

The 19-year-old’s viral hit has come a long way from the dark corners of the internet and with the artist’s recent controversy with the Billboard’s Country Charts, I became curious to his story.

Lil Nas X recently sat down with Rolling Stone magazine to discuss his early internet hussle and how ‘Lil Nas X’ became his music moniker.

“I was doing Facebook comedy videos, then I moved over to Instagram, and then I hopped on Twitter,” the 19-year-old says. “That is where I really was a master. That was the first place where I could go viral.”

While doing comedy via social media channels, Lil Nas X, real name Montero Hill, had his hand dipped into the SoundCloud rap scene – his first song only posted 10 months ago. But curating “Old Town Road” to be the monster it is now took a little more than just uploading to SoundCloud. “I knew the way I was going to have to push the song to get it to hit more people’s ears,” he continues. “I run a meme type of account on Twitter; I know what my audience is looking for. So I put some potentially funny lines in there.”

“The plan was to put it in as many memes as possible until it catches on,” he says. “It took some time until it finally caught on in TikTok, but it worked.”

TikTok, originally created in China, is an app that allows users to create short music videos of 3-15 seconds and short looping videos of 3-60 seconds. In July 2018, the app had more than 500 million users globally.

Lil Nas X had a vision for this song and in this rare occasion, the plan was executed perfectly. But where does his rap name come from?

“Nas has been my internet alias for a minute now,” Hill says. “I had it just Lil Nas at first because every rapper has a ‘lil’ in front of his name, and that’s funny to me. But then I got stuck with it because I already built a fan base at that point. I added the X [when I was] a couple songs in as a representation of how long [10 years] it should be before I’m at a legendary level.”

Recently, Lil Nas’s single was removed off the Billboard country top hits which caused major controversy. While artists in the rap game came to Nas’s defense (claiming it was discrimination because of his skin color), the Billboards released a statement elaborating it was simply due to the music elements within the track.

“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 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. Billboard’s decision to take the song off of the country chart had absolutely nothing to do with the race of the artist,” they wrote in a follow-up statement to Genius.

At the moment, the track just reached Number 15 on the Hot 100 last week. And on Friday, April 5th, Lil Nas X released a remix with country star Billy Ray Cyrus. Yea, it’s high key fire.

Having a country artist like Cyrus feature on this song sent ripples throughout the country music industry. Will we see this song put back on the Billboards Country Charts with the inclusion of Cyrus? How does one categorize the essence of country music if artists like Florida Georgia Line and Kane Brown actively blur the lines of this genre? However country music fans decide to accept “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X is just glad his efforts paid off.

“My parents were disappointed in me for leaving school to do music, so it was like a loner cowboy [song]. ‘I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road/I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more’ — meaning, just keep riding, don’t stop. I felt like that cowboy lifestyle would definitely fit that song the best.”

He continued to describe how the song shifted in tone, “I changed the meaning so I thought that ‘Old Town Road’ would be that path where you just keep winning,” he says. “The horse would be not having much, but having something that you know you could use to help you get there.”

Will Lil Nas X be a one-hit wonder? If he can learn from fellow country star Mason Ramsey, another internet sensation turned legitimate musician, he might stick around for a little bit longer. With summer on the horizon, I expect I’m gonna ride this song ’til I can’t no more.

Andy Moran

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