If you haven't heard of "Old Town Road", the hit single by Lil Nas X (real name Montero Hill) that came out in early December, it's been sparking headlines for the controversial treatment it's received as a country trap piece. After becoming a viral sensation through the video application TikTok, “Old Town Road” has spread everywhere, rising to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and being celebrated throughout social media.
Old Town Road is particularly unique—trap drums repeat constantly throughout the piece, but are matched with banjos that would sound strange in most situations, but work well here. Hill’s singing meshes rap with a classic southern country drawl, celebrating the cowboy lifestyle while reflecting on displeasure with luxury and laziness. The song's visualizer takes footage from popular western–based video game Red Dead Redemption 2, which further emphasizes the song’s country ties—it’s a cross–genre blend that you can blast in the car.
The artist’s success comes just a few months after he dropped out of college to pursue music, during a time when he was sleeping little and having his decisions questioned by family members. Hill pushed back against the doubts, reflected in the song’s chorus of “Can’t nobody tell me nothing/You can’t tell me nothing.”
Despite its success, however, “Old Town Road” was recently removed from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart while remaining on the Hot 100 and Hot R&B/Hip–Hop Songs. According to Billboard, the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.”
Frankly, that's ridiculous. The song objectively includes various aforementioned aspects of country, from the instrumental, to the vocals, to the thematic content. Additionally, it’s worth noting that popular musicians such as Florida Georgia Line, Kacey Musgraves, and Sam Hunt have hybridized with other genres, yet they’ve maintained their status in the country sphere as white artists. It’s illogical to say that “Old Town Road” doesn’t belong.
Additionally, country trap itself has existed for a bit—just look at Young Thug’s “Family Don’t Matter,” which is replete with production and singing that merges styles and influences of both genres. The music video is even set in a farm environment. Going further back, Nelly and Tim McGraw collaborated back in 2004 with “Over And Over”, so it’s not as if this is anything new. Rather, “Old Town Road” symbolizes a new development that fully combines the genres in a manner that had yet to be perfected. You can’t pigeonhole the track into one side or the other.
As for Hill, he responded to the situation in the slickest way—dropping a remix featuring legendary country star Billy Ray Cyrus. With Cyrus providing a chorus and adding his own verse, it's a cosign that endorses that the track belongs in both of its intended fields. The superstar also added in an interview that he immediately felt Billboard's decision was incorrect, noting the honest content and use of a banjo.
Thanks to the media focus regarding these recent developments, the popularity of the original song has reached new heights, as it rose from the fifteenth spot to number one on Billboard's Hot 100 as of April 8. Given that "Old Town Road" is now the most prominent record the U.S., it's evident that its appeal extends far beyond fans of just one specific field.
With Cyrus jumping on the remix, perhaps Billboard can recognize the bona fide nature of “Old Town Road” as a piece that blends country and trap tropes. Perhaps that would allow it to return to the Hot Country Songs chart and reaffirm the growth of the genre.