If you’ve been paying attention to the music world this week, you’ve undoubtedly picked up on some serious drama brewing. The brouhaha began in late March when rapper Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” unexpectedly landed on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart — but was then unceremoniously removed. In the latest surprise twist, country icon Billy Ray Cyrus has teamed up with Lil Nas X in response. Now, the odd couple’s country-trap remix is going viral, and Cyrus is defending his decision to jump into the fray.
To borrow a term from Cyrus’ daughter Miley, “Old Town Road” has been a banger from the beginning. That much was never in question. What genre the track should chart under clearly was, though. Enter Cyrus, who took to Twitter on Friday to explain why he said yes when 19-year-old Lil Nas X recruited him for the remix. “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?” Cyrus wrote.
While Billboard may not consider the collab country enough, listeners seem unbothered. Both versions of the song shot up the Billboard charts within hours of the remix’s release. Cyrus shared a follow-up tweet alluding to fans’ support, while also sharing an anecdote about his contribution to the country-trap hit. “A few days passed and I went to the studio to do vocals,” Cyrus elaborated. “When I finished the pass, I whistled at the end of the song. That’s when the engineer stood up and said, ‘that sh*t is fire’ We’re keeping that! Glad you guys are diggin’ the tune, love seeing all your memes.”
A few days passed and I went to the studio to do vocals.When I finished the pass, I whistled at the end of the song. Thats when the engineer stood up and said, “that shit is fire” We’re keeping that! Glad you gusys are diggin’ the tune, love seeing all your meme’s…. #OTR
Not surprisingly, Miley quickly expressed her excitement over the remix, writing on Instagram, “When your dad is #1 on iTunes with @lilnasx!” Cyrus’ wife (and Miley’s mom) Tish Cyrus also weighed in, sharing a snapshot on Instagram of the songs trending on Billboard. “Congrats @lilnasx @billyraycyrus #changetheworld #strongertogether #otr,” she wrote.
But Cyrus’ family members certainly aren’t the only ones sounding off. On Friday, country music singer-producer John Rich opened up on Fox Nation’s Brian Kilmeade Show about “Old Town Road,” suggesting fans should be the ones to make the call. “Let the fans decide,” he said. “I mean, country music — I go back to guys like Johnny Cash when he showed up in Nashville, they said this is not country music. The guy made his records in Memphis where rock and roll was happening — he’s got his hair slicked back, he’s singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll.” Rich pointed out that Cash went from someone industry experts said wasn’t a country music artist to being a “pillar of country music.”
See also: This heartwarming video of a diverse group of young people singing along to the song.
— Billy Ray Cyrus (@billyraycyrus) April 6, 2019
As for Billboard, they seem to be standing by their initial judgment that “Old Town Road” lacks “enough elements of today’s country music.” In a statement issued to Rolling Stone on Saturday justifying their decision, they said, “Determining which chart a song lives on is an ongoing process that depends on a number of factors, most notably the song’s musical composition, but also how the song is marketed and promoted, the musical history of the artist, airplay the song receives and how the song is platformed on streaming services. Billboard welcomes the excitement created by genre-bending tracks such as Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ and will continue to monitor how it is marketed and how fans respond. Our initial decision to remove ‘Old Town Road’ from the Hot Country Songs chart could be revisited as these factors evolve.”
But, c’mon. Lil Nas X is from Atlanta, Georgia. He likely grew up steeped in Southern culture, which includes country music. Besides, the line between country and rap blurs when you really take a closer look. Much of Southern culture, from the food we eat to the way we speak and the syncopation of our favorite songs, is rooted in black cultures like Geechee, Gullah and Black Creole. While Billboard cites qualifiers such as an artist’s typical genre, it’s not as though music is a static entity. It’s constantly changing and evolving. Sam Hunt, who routinely blends rap and country (but is considered a country artist), is proof of as much.
And do we need to discuss how many hit country songs have charted that feature rapping? Oh, what the heck, we’ll rattle off a few anyway: “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean, “Hillbilly Rap” by Neal McCoy, “Boys ‘Round Here” by Blake Shelton…. There are also collaborations between rappers and country artists, like Nelly and Tim McGraw’s “Over and Over” and, also with Nelly, Florida Georgia Line’s smash 2012 “Cruise” remix.
So, hopefully, Billboard will come to its senses soon and let “Old Town Road” chart wherever it wants. And when it does, can they go back in time to retroactively credit Bone Thugs-n-Harmony for their 1998 country-rap banger “Ghetto Cowboy”? Fair is fair, y’all.