Who Exactly Is 'Old Town Road' Rapper Lil Nas X?
His single 'Old Town Road' has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the 12th week in a row -- but who on earth is self-described hip-hop cowboy, Lil Nas X?
There are very few artists who would be able to block Taylor Swift from debuting at number one on the charts -- but that's exactly what rapper Lil Nas X did -- twice.
With the rapper's monster hit "Old Country Road" sitting firmly at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 for its 12th consecutive week, the track managed to essentially block two of Swift's latest bops, "You Need to Calm Down," and "ME!" from debuting at number one, with both hitting the number two spot on the charts behind the "country-trap" hit.
In fact, "Old Town Road" has already blocked six songs from reaching the top spot since it first entered the charts in April -- the 20th single in the history to do so -- beating out massive artists like Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and Billie Eilish.
It's a testament to how modern music streaming, combined with the understanding the nuances social media and going viral, can catapult an unknown artist into a number one spot more effectively than a record label's carefully-planned publicity rollout ever could.
Who is Lil Nas X?
Born Montero Hill, the 20-year-old Atlanta native dropped out of college in order to pursue a career in music -- something his parents initially disagreed with.
"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."
After he was forced to stay on his sister's couch due to tension with his parents, he soon came up with lyrics that would eventually become a part of his unstoppable hit.
"She was pretty much fed up with me being there," he said. "That’s where the chorus lyric came from -- it was me saying, 'I want to leave everything behind.'"
OK, but how did "Old Town Road" become so popular?
Lil Nas X first uploaded "Old Town Road" to SoundCloud in December 2018, however, it was the app TikTok, where users create 15-second videos set to music, that the rapper's track really gained traction across social media.
Dubbed the "Yeehaw Challenge", TikTok users would upload videos of themselves dressed in cowboy gear with "Old Town Road" playing in the background, which caused to the rapper's streaming count on SoundCloud to skyrocket.
It soon caught the attention of country icon Billy Ray Cyrus, who sent a congratulatory message to Lil Nas X on Twitter.
"Been watching everything going on with OTR," he wrote. "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!"
Just days later, the pair teamed up and on April 5, they released a remix of the hit song.
Why was it controversial?
As the song gained popularity, fans became pissed when the single was removed from Billboard's Hot Country charts on March 5 as it apparently didn't contain enough key "elements" of country music.
"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."
It was a move that Lil Nas X, his fans, and Billy Ray Cyrus vehemently disagreed with.
"The song is country trap," Lil Nas X told TIME in April. "It’s not one, it’s not the other. It’s both. It should be on both."
Cyrus backed up his collaborative partner over Twitter, writing, "It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time. I was thinking, what’s not country about it?"
"What’s the rudimentary element of a country and western song? Then I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?" he added.
What's next for Lil Nas X?
With the star finding fans in everyone from North West to Justin Bieber, Lil Nas X's stardom continues to rise -- despite naysayers labelling the rapper as a "one-hit wonder" or a fleeting meme, which is something the artist himself has joked about.
However, since establishing himself with the hit single, Lil Nas X has since managed to rope in some commendable star power for his eight-song EP titled 7 EP, with fellow chart-topper Cardi B featuring on his track "Rodeo" and the Travis Barker-produced “F9mily (You & Me)”.
Whether or not the genre-bending artist will carve himself a successful career that was born from a novelty track is yet to be seen, but it certainly looks to be that way.