One of the most exciting things in the music industry is watching new artists have a moment where their song becomes not just well-known, but the talk of the town. Whether the reaction is positive, like iLoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday,” or negative, like Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” the publicity is outstanding.
It’s undeniable that we’re in the middle of another one of those iconic moments with country trap artist Lil Nas X. When Billboard decided to remove his wildly popular song “Old Town Road” from its Hot Country Songs chart, outcry and controversy ensued, bringing up questions of race and industry stagnation.
Lil Nas X hails from Atlanta, the place where trap music was invented. The 19-year-old dropped out of college last year to pursue rap, and it seems like he made the right decision. As of now, “Old Town Road” has logged 54 million plays on Spotify and more than 20 million on its Red Dead Redemption 2-inspired music video.
The song has TikTok, a social media video platform, to thank for its exponential growth in popularity. Users took the song and ran with it, making videos of themselves dancing along to the “yee-haw” hip-hop song, most of them cringe-inducing.
Regarding his TikTok popularity, Lil Nas X told Time, “When I became a trending topic on there, it was a crazy moment for me. A lot of people will try to downplay it, but I saw it as something bigger.”
“Something bigger” definitely rang true as “Old Town Road” began to rise up the charts. Its current position at number 15 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and number seven on the Hot Hip-Hop and R&B Songs chart is largely a result of what happened next. Billboard pulled the song from its Hot Country Songs chart, where it debuted at No. 19, and elaborated in a statement to Rolling Stone that the song “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music chart in its current version.”
Billboard immediately received criticism. Was it really about the song, or did Lil Nas X’s label as a rapper — or even his race — play a factor? While Billboard categorically denied that race had something to do with the decision, that didn’t stop Twitter users from flooding its mentions.
Lil Nas X isn’t the only one who seems to be experimenting with this concept of country trap music. DaBaby, Lil Tracy and other artists have put out songs with similar cowboy imagery, sometimes facing questions of whether they’re engaging in parody — something Lil Nas X, needless to say, is dealing with.
Young Thug’s mixtape Beautiful Thugger Girls has songs containing country music elements, but his status as an established rapper allowed him to bypass claims of parody. Perhaps people are skeptical because a rap-meets-country-music crossover seems like an odd match, but it was bound to happen eventually. Hip-hop has already successfully paired with so many other genres — it feels like country is its final frontier.
As for Lil Nas X himself, he doesn’t believe the decision to remove the song was racial. Though he acknowledges he didn’t create country trap — giving the crown to Young Thug — he said, “Whenever you’re trying something new, it’s always going to get some kind of bad reception.”
He’s not wrong: The first one through the wall always gets bloody. Hopefully, we’ll see more willingness from artists to ignore the stranglehold of genres and make creative music from here on out.