Disagreements on what counts as country music has swept the music world due to the viral sensation Lil Nas X and his song “Old Town Road.”
The song combines banjo sounds with Nas X’s country twang delivery. However, all of this is over a knocking trap beat.
According to Rolling Stone, Nas X released the track in December and intentionally targeted country circles. Danny Kang, who co-manages another viral country sensation, Mason Ramsey, explained Nas X’s song strategy after Kang and his team reached out to Nas X in December.
“On SoundCloud, he listed it as a country record,” Kang told Rolling Stone. “On iTunes, he listed it as a country record. He was going to these spaces, gaining a little bit of traction on their country charts, and there’s a way to manipulate the algorithm to push your track to the top. That’s favorable versus trying to go to the rap format to compete with the most popular songs in the world.”
Apparently, Nas X’s strategy worked. “Old Town Road” debuted on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, the cross-genre Hot 100 chart AND the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. It also became a hit on TikTok, the app that lets users create short video clips set to music.
Despite the song’s success, Billboard wasn’t feeling its placement on the country chart. They removed “Old Town Road” from Hot Country Songs and told Nas X’s label, Columbia Records, that the song’s inclusion on the ranking was a mistake. An insider to the matter told Rolling Stone:
“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.”
The insider went on to say that race had nothing to do with “Old Town Road” being knocked off the country chart.
However, this can be hard to imagine, considering Billboard has a history of taking race into account when charting songs. For example, Billboard‘s R&B chart was once titled “race music,” while their Latin songs chart lumps a number of genres and languages together into one ethnic umbrella.
Even country radio hasn’t been too inviting to “Old Town Road.” The song recently hit radio, and according to Rolling Stone, Radio Disney Country is the only country station that plays the song.
This brings to question the freedom of songs to genre bend before they hit mainstream. While iTunes and SoundCloud might have allowed Nas X’s country tags, it seems bigger machines like Billboard and radio aren’t supporting it.
If a song has substantial guitar inclusion, storytelling themes and a country vocal delivery, shouldn’t that be enough to get the country tag…or are the trap beats too much?
It brings to mind country-tinged hip hop songs like Nelly‘s “Ride With Me” or even Outkast‘s “Rosa Parks.” Neither song hit the country charts, but in retrospect, would they do well in country circles if they didn’t have to strictly go through radio?
Even Young Thug brought the country feels recently with his song “Family Don’t Matter” in 2017.
An argument can be made for having metrics for traditional country music. But there also could be an opportunity for music to reach new audiences if songs weren’t limited to one genre. Country fans could witness Lil Nas X on the Hot Country Songs chart and open their horizon on the possibilities of not just country music but also rap. It could make way for a progressive sound that country lovers can either take or leave, depending on their standards.
Lil Nas X seemed to have this vision in mind with a tweet he made back in December…
He also seemed to be saddened by the news of his song being bumped from the Hot Country Songs chart…
Hit the next page to find out what people are saying about Nas X being removed from the Billboard country chart, and let us know what you think of the genre-bending track!