The Road to Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” Explained

Billy Ray Cyrus absolutely snapped.

Billy Ray Cyrus' recent remix of Lil Nas X's track "Old Town Road" rekindled the fiery debate surrounding the controversial genre-defying track. If you're feeling confused about how Lil Nas X and the musical mind behind "Achy Breaky Heart" teamed up, keep reading.

In December of 2018, the yeehaw moment was in full swing. It was then that Lil Nas X first released "Old Town Road," and gained notoriety through the app Tik Tok. The genre-defying song––which combined elements of trap, country, and hip-hop with cowboy motifs––went on to debut on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, the Hot Country Songs chart, and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

But before Lil Nas X could bask in the song's cowboy splendor, Billboard removed the song from the country chart and cited the inclusion of the song as a mistake. This created a controversy online, where people began debating what exactly constitutes a country song, and to what extent race plays a role in that definition of the genre. Many pointed to some of country's biggest stars, like Kane Brown or Sam Hunt, who have long incorporated hip-hop and rap influences into their music as indications that the exclusion of Lil Nas X was perhaps racially charged.

Billboard didn't announce the takedown of the track, but went on to release a statement to Rolling Stone stating, "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."

But despite the exclusion from the country charts, OTR continued to gain momentum, get air time on radio stations and reach peak viral status online. The original video, posted on YouTube, has garnered over 23 million views.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any more tangled, Billy Ray Cyrus threw his cowboy hat into the rink. Cyrus is no stranger to the gatekeepers of country. In a tweet on April 3rd, he commiserated: ".@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!"

On December 4th, 2018 Lil Nas X tweeted "twitter please help me get billy ray cyrus on this" and four months later, his wish came true. On April 5th, the song reached #1 on i-Tunes, and the remix video was #1 on Youtube's trending chart.

On April 4th, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus officially dropped the new "Old Town Road" remix, and everyone is going absolutely going nuts over it. Not only is it the most glorious, ridiculous combination of artists on one of the most controversial tracks of the year, but Billy Ray's verse goes absolutely off.

Listen to the remix below.

Sara is a music and culture writer who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has previously appeared in PAPER magazine and Stereogum.

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