Montero Hill, aka Lil Nas X, seemed to come out of nowhere with the country rap crossover hit “Old Town Road.” The 19-year-old’s viral hit began to make waves on meme pages and TikTok accounts before making headlines when it was removed from the Billboard Country charts for failing to meet the genre criteria. Now everyone from Billy Ray Cyrus to Will Smith has thrown their hat in the ring to get in on its success.
While the recent controversy has made headlines in the last couple of weeks, the story of how “Old Town Road” came to be is just as interesting. Check out the 6 things you might not have known about Lil Nas X’s hit.
The inspiration behind the lyrics:
In a Genius lyrics breakdown, Lil Nas X said he wrote “Old Town Road” while he was living with his sister after he’d left home and dropped out of school. He told Rolling Stone, “My parents were disappointed in me for leaving school to do music, so it was like a loner cowboy narrative.” He explained that the horse represents “not having much” while the “Old Town Road” represents the path to success.
Where he found the beat:
Lil Nas X came across the beat for “Old Town Road” on BeatStar where it had been uploaded by Dutch producer YoungKio. Like Lil Nas X, Kio was relatively new to the music industry. Kio told Billboard that he only started producing in late 2016. Interestingly, Kio didn’t realize his beat had been used on the track until he began noticing people dressed in cowboy attire on the video-sharing app TikTok with his instrumental playing in the background.
Where the samples came from:
The distinctive banjo on “Old Town Road” is part of what makes the track work, and it comes from an unlikely source. It’s actually a sample of Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 song “34 Ghosts IV.” It turns out Kio had never heard of the American rock band. He told Billboard that he was actually “searching for Beethoven or the classical stuff from hundreds of years ago.” Instead, he came across the Nine Inch Nails track and thought, “Damn. This shit is crazy.” Lil Nas’ version of the song on Tidal and Spotify displays Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor and bandmate Atticus Ross in the songwriting and production credits.
How he got it out there:
According to NY Magazine, before Lil Nas catapulted to fame he was a “tweetdecker,” amassing hundreds of thousands of followers using the banned Twitter practice. The magazine also reported that the singer operated a number of popular Twitter accounts that he was able to use to promote the song. His @LilNasX account is still active and consistently spreading “Old Town Road” adjacent memes, while others have been suspended.
The fact that it featured on the soundtrack to a viral TikTok love story is also significant. The account had over a million followers which gave the song an extra opportunity for virality.
The YouTube copy of “Old Town Road” is set to a montage of footage from the video game Red Dead Redemption 2. The Western action-adventure game was released in October 2018; the same month Lil Nas X came across Kio’s beat.
Why it took off:
While Lil Nas X has said he wasn’t thinking about the “yeehaw” craze because it “definitely wasn’t at the level it’s at now” it was still well on its way. In fact, black cowboys date back to the late 1800’s. Read the history of Country Rap to see where “Old Town Road” lands.