The art of a good song has brought people of different backgrounds together for decades. If an artist can deliver timeless lyrics over irresistible production, their music has the potential to be globally praised and over time be deemed a ‘classic’ that will live on for many generations to enjoy. Whether it be through a commercial spot for Target or Kanye West sampling a 80s hit for his signature record “Slow Jamz”, music is constantly being impacted by the past and the more savvy creatives realize revisiting past hits can lead to some amazing records that will be appreciated by younger and older audiences. Thanks to some of the most influential artists of all time like Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Madonna and Prince, genre blending has become unavoidable. With upcoming artists gaining inspiration from different eras and sounds the world is growing closer together one verse at a time. Lil Nas X is the latest artist to bring two genres with fairly different audiences together to create a crossover hit that has the range to be played at clubs, rodeos and wherever country laced bars are respected.
“Old Town Road” has Lil Nas X rapping about the life of a cowboy over bass heavy production and a strong country flow. With references to tractors, Gucci cowboy hats and horseback riding, “Old Town Road” has a vibe similar to country smashes like Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” or Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” that utilize hip hop elements to switch up the modern country sound. Teens lip syncing the track on the popular social media app Tik Tok helped make Lil Nas X’s rhythmic slow burner a viral hit. “Old Town Road” debuted at No. 19 on Billboard’s Hot Country chart three weeks before Billboard decided to remove “Old Town Road” from the country chart. In a statement to Rolling Stone the publication explained their 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 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.”
“Old Town Road” is essentially a hip hop record but its country qualities sparks the argument, does Billboard not accept the crossover potential of the single because its too black? “Old Town Road” remains on the Hot 100 and Rap/Hip Hop charts but with its undeniable crossover elements, fans are wondering why Nas X isn’t getting the same treatment artists like Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts get when they drop a single that can exist on multiple charts if it garners the spins and demand. The country genre isn’t a stranger to hits that crossover with hip hop whether it be Nelly’s collaborations with Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line or country stars like Kid Rock, Yelawolf and Colt Ford riding dangerously on the Country/Rap borderline. Whether trying to blend country with rap or pop, Country purists have criticized the modernization of traditional country music but like most mainstream genres, artists should have the freedom to create outside of the box that is often pre-determined for them. Lil Nas X’s single has more than 15 million views on YouTube and reached number one on Apple Music’s Top 100 U.S. charts so if it strums and twangs like a country hit, it should get all of its recognition.
Even though many genres have become more diverse and inclusive over the years, there’s still a stigma with country music being catered to a predominantly white audience. There have been a literal handful of current Black artists like Darius Rucker, Kane Brown and Jimmie Allen that have been able to make waves in the country landscape but more than two ethnicities should be represented and celebrated in one of the biggest genres in the world that isn’t exclusively heard by one segment of the population. Aside from the Americana roots of country music, the genre’s foundation was built on the backs on legendary Black artists like Ray Charles, DeFord Bailey and Charley Pride who don’t get the same recognition as the impactful white men in the genre like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. As the genre’s impact grew, well-known mainstream artists like Tina Turner, Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston released critically acclaimed country-pop crossover records that helped shape the Billboard chart we see today. If you take a look at the current Hot 100 chart pop stars like Ariana Grande and Halsey comfortably sit alongside huge rappers like Cardi B and Meek Mill because of game changing collaborations like Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton’s “I’ll Always Love You” and country darlings like Shania Twain and Sheryl Crow infusing pop in their records to gain huge followings that still support them today.
The love of music is universal and will continue to be more connected as the internet brings the world closer together. Lil Nas X listing “Old Town Road” as a country record on Soundcloud and iTunes might’ve been a calculated move to turn a potential meme into a hit but the Atlanta native is adding to the resurgence of black artists embracing their country roots. Digital creator Bri Malandro has coined the trend named The Yeehaw Agenda to celebrate Black artists that are using their art to celebrate a part of country culture that tends to get whitewashed with black and white John Wayne movies and stories of brave white men gaining ownership of America from Native Americans. Who knew a song suitable for the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack could be so deep?
Article By: Marcel “The Messenger” Jeremiah