Some music fans and critics describe Lil Nas X's viral, Billboard-topping hit "Old Town Road" as "country trap" or even "hick hock."
Whatever your descriptor, one sentiment the general public seems to agree on is that Lil Nas X has ushered in a new, genre-melding sound that listeners can't seem to get out of their head. Not only that, but the untraditional ditty has sparked a conversation about music—and whether a track that blends hip-hop beats and R&B vocal stylings with banjo twanging and cowboys lyrics can truly be considered an authentic country song.
The music phenom is reaping the benefits of the controversy, including a number 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this week, aided by the legendary Billy Ray Cyrus on the remix of "Old Town Road"—and a rumored collaboration with Beyoncé, at least according to a tweet he recently posted with the message "ready to tell them @beyonce!?"
Though few and far between, Lil Nas X now joins a small circle of Black male artists like Darius Rucker, Charley Pride, Jimmie Allen, and Aaron Neville who not only challenged the country musical landscape, but reinvented themselves in the process. Here are eight questions answered that you may want answered about the up-and-comer making music headlines.
Where is Lil Nas X from?
Lil Nas X's real name is Montero Hill. The 20-year-old rapper was born in Atlanta, GA, on April 9, 1999. He dropped out of college to pursue a career in music—a decision his parents didn't agree with at the time. So much so, Lil Nas X ended up staying at his sister's house for a few days until his parents came around to the idea of him becoming an artist.
"My dad initially was like, 'there’s a million rappers in this industry,'" Lil Nas X revealed to TIME. "They wanted me to go back to school."
How did Lil Nas X become famous?
Before he became Lil Nas X, he was known in the Twitter-verse as "NasMaraj (@NasMaraj), which blended the names of the two prominent Queens-based rappers, Nasir "Nas" Jones and Onika Tanya Maraj (a.k.a. Nicki Minaj). The account, which has since been suspended, was primarily used for Lil Nas X to post engaging "scenario threads" about surviving school shootings. Lil Nas X also tweeted from two other accounts under the alias "FactsAboutNM" and "ViewsFromNas." Building a solid fan base on Twitter gave the young rapper the confidence to start creating and posting his music online.
How did "Old Town Road" go viral?
Lil Nas X first released the smash hit "Old Town Road" in December 2018 on the music sharing app, SoundCloud. He labeled the track as "country music" on both SoundCloud and iTunes to increase the song's visibility when userswere searching. But it was really the "Yeehaw Challenge" that helped "Old Town Road" rise to viral status.
Taking the line, I got the horses in the back, from the "Old Town Road" song, users of the social video app, TikTok, would upload memes of themselves dressed in cowboy gear and drinking "Yee Yee Juice" with Lil Nas X's debut tune playing in the background. It's what the Internet, today, collectively refers to as the "Yeehaw Challenge." The response to both the challenge and the song was enough to land "Old Town Road" a coveted spot on the Billboard chart.
Why did "Old Town Road" start Billboard Country controversy?
"Old Town Road" entered Billboard's Hot Country chart in early 2019, peaking at number 15. It also reached number 7 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts. However, in March 2019, the music and sales reporting brand announced that it was removing the song from its chart because it didn't embrace key "elements" of the genre. Clearly, the Southern twang and banjo-assisted instrumentation wasn't enough to sway Billboard.
"Upon further review, it was determined that 'Old Town Road' by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard's country charts," the publication wrote in a statement to Rolling Stone. "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."
Fans immediately took to Twitter to express their disappointment about the move being potentially discriminatory and the erasure of a Black artist from a white-dominated music genre.
Why did Billy Ray Cyrus support "Old Town Road?"
After news spread of Billboard's decision, Lil Nas X received a supportive response from Cyrus on Twitter.
"Been watching everything going on with 'OTR,'" Cyrus wrote on April 3. "When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me, 'Take this as a compliment,' means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club!"
How did Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus end up doing an "Old Town Road" remix?
Cyrus then followed up his message of encouragement by recording a remix of "Old Town Road" with Lil Nas X, which the pair released on April 5. That same day, Cyrus broke down how the remix of the song came to be on Twitter, and why he decided to work with the up-and-comer.
Is Lil Nas X signed to a record label?
"I saw this guy’s picture on Instagram, and something told me to scroll back down," Lil Nas X explained in the TIME interview. "I didn’t know who he was at the time, and I wanted to see his hair in the picture, for some reason. Then I read the message and found out it was Ron Perry (CEO of Columbia Records). I got on a call with him and told him about why I didn’t want to sign [to any label]. He told me his vision for me and he pretty much saw everything how I saw it, in a way. It was a surreal moment. I was allowed creative control, too."
In addition to "Old Town Road" and its remix, Lil Nas X has six songs under his western belt, including "Carry On," "No Love," and "Donald Trump."
Is Lil Nas X really working with Beyoncé?
Along with Cyrus, Lil Nas X has received the support of Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Reba McEntire, and Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley.
"Country music has always been very diversified," McEntire said backstage at the ACM Awards on Sunday, April 7. "One time it'll be very traditional then it'll be very contemporary then it'll all go with the girls then it'll all go with the boys and then everything changes up."
And it's possible the newcomer can count Texas native Beyoncé among his celebrity fans as well. On April 9, Lil Nas X posted a cryptic tweet, implying that he may have collaborated—or might be collaborating with—the superstar singer.
It could be wishful thinking, but we'd love to hear another remix of Beyoncé's "Daddy Lessons," the soul and folk-inspired song from her 2016 Lemonade album. Better yet, we'll take Lil Nas X, Cyrus, and Beyoncé on a second remix of "Old Town Road."