Whether you like the song or not, we all know the lyrics to Lil Nas X’s breakout hit “Old Town Road” — it’s that catchy. Fans, and even critics, couldn’t help but admire the viral rapper, who hit the scene two years ago, repping for Black cowboys all over the nation. “Old Town Road” would go on to break records as it spent nineteen weeks on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart — but there was a ton of controversy surrounding the song’s treatment by Billboard when it was removed from the Hot Country Songs chart in March 2019.
Back then, Billboard told Rolling Stone of its problematic decision:
“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 a 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.”
So many people disagreed. In fact, Country music legend Billy Ray Cyrus backed Lil Nas X at the time and hopped on the remix of “Old Town Road” to really drive his point home.
“@LilNasX Been watching everything going on with OTR. 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!,” Cyrus tweeted initially, with Lil Nas X later adding “a year ago today i was in college for some sh*t i knew i didn’t want to do in life but today i have the biggest song in the world with billy f*ckin ray cyrus. life can change quick!!! this sh*t really insane.”
While Billboard insisted its decision had nothing to do with race, removing a song that so clearly blends Country and Rap seemed pretty racist and intolerant — and Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus alluded to that in their hilarious “Old Town Road” music video, starring Chris Rock, Rico Nasty, Vince Staples, and more. Watch below.
“Old Town Road” went on to win several awards, including two Grammys. Lil Nas X’s reign couldn’t be stopped or topped, but the discussion of non-white artists being celebrated for their contributions to Country music remains a contentious topic. As a matter of fact, just this year, Mickey Guyton became the FIRST Black woman nominated in the Grammy’s ‘Best Country Solo’ category.
Join us in saluting Lil Nas X and all those who’ve supported him.