Lil Nas X Adds Billy Ray Cyrus to ‘Old Town Road.’ Is It Enough for Billboard Now?
When Lil Nas X, a young black hip-hop artist from Atlanta, created a surprise hit “Old Town Road,” he did not imagine that it would end at the center of the debate about race, the formation of Nashville and the music genre.
This song sings the rhythm that is familiar to hip-hop fans with acoustic sounds and lyrics filled with images of cowboys. Lil Nas X did not have a recording contract when he made it, and the song bubbled on the internet before making three different Billboard charts: Hot 100, Hot R & B / Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Country Songs.
After success, Billboard removes it from the country map. On Friday, in what seemed bold to Billboard and Nashville, Lil Nas X released a new version of the song that included 1990s country star Billy Ray Cyrus as a featured vocalist. Is it enough for them now?
When Billboard dumped the “Old Town Road” from the country’s charts, he issued a statement to Rolling Stone claiming the song “doesn’t embrace enough elements of country music today for the chart in the current version.” maybe the state radio station that ignores it will start playing it.
Billboard’s decision to stop the song from Hot Country Songs sparked debate about race and country music itself. White Nashville artists, such as Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt, have been using beats and production techniques influenced by hip-hop for years. Do the players have more leeway than Lil Nas X?
Shane Morris, a former record label executive in Nashville, thinks so. “They say there is a composition problem,” said Mr. Morris about Billboard graphics makers, “because they don’t know how to justify it in other ways without sounding completely racist.”
Charles Hughes, director of Lynne & Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College, called the Billboard decision “a bad move,” saying it perpetuated racial tensions that had long existed in black music.
“Black artists have been influential in the old country for a long time,” said Mr. Hughes, “but the country has respected white artists who have taken advantage of those influences, without giving opportunities to black artists the same opportunity.”
The rejection of “Old Town Road” by the founding of the state, in Mr Hughes’s view, echoed when rural radio stations ignored Ray Charles’s innovative 1962 album, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.”
Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Hill, said she wrote “Jalan Kota Tua” last fall, after living with her sister while avoiding her parents from dropping out of school. When his sister finally sent him on a trip, he imagined his future.
“I feel like a lone cowboy,” he said. “I want to take my horse to the Old City Road and run away. The horse is like a car. Old City Street, this is like a road to success. In the first verse, I pack, ready to go.”
He posted an online song in December along with observations: “country music is developing.” It soon became a sensation on TikTok, an application that allows users to create and share short music videos. Young people make short videos of themselves dressing up in cowboy clothes, using songs as soundtracks. In March, Lil Nas X reached an agreement with Columbia.
In an interview on Friday, he avoided questions about being dropped from state charts. “I’m still on the Billboard – this is amazing,” he said. This week, the song rose 17 places, to No. 15, on Billboard’s Hot 100, which measures the popularity of pop songs.
The combination of country music and American black shapes is certainly not new. White guitarist Jimmie Rodgers, who is widely regarded as the father of country music, built the genre on the basis of the blues in the 1920s. Ray Charles’s innovation in the early 1960s paved the way for Nashville’s success from another black artist, Charley Pride. Recently, Darius Rucker, from rock band Hootie and Blowfish, owns country No. 1 who was beaten with “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”
Last year, Jimmie Allen, a Delaware black player, made the Billboard top 10 country with her first debut, “Best Shot.” Another African-American singer, Kane Brown, had two hits No. 1 on Billboard country chart, one in 2017 and one in 2018.
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In a statement, Billboard said that its chart decision was determined by factors including the promotion of songs and its reception on radio and streaming services, and that it could review its decision about the “Old Town Road.” So far, the song has received little support from the station country. Last week, it was played five times at the state station, according to Nielsen; this week, played 62 times by 31 stations.
Remix version of “Old Town Road,” with vocals from Mr. Cyrus, the 1992 hit singer “Achy Breaky Heart,” came together two weeks ago, said Lil Nas X. The final touch was added on Thursday night, a few hours before being released and viral again.
Rapper collaboration with Mr. Cyrus, the father of singer Miley Cyrus, may seem impossible, but Lil Nas X said he had been a fan for years. In December, two days after the initial release of the song, he posted a message on Twitter asking Mr. Cyrus to join him on the track: “Twitter please help me get Billy Ray Cyrus about this.”
While the addition of Mr. Cyrus can help song opportunities at state stations and country charts, the new version does not make major changes at its core.
Cyrus defended the bona fide state of the original version of “Old Town Road” on Wednesday, adding to the pressure on the Billboard and Nashville’s founding by casting Lil Nas X in the role of villain-loved country archetype.
“When I was thrown off the charts,” Mr. Cyrus wrote on Twitter, “Waylon Jennings said to me, ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you are doing something great! Only lawbreakers are prohibited. Welcome to the club!”