The success of Lil Nas X’s country-trap anthem “Old Town Road” may have been a surprise, but it wasn’t an accident. While no one could have predicted the unique string of cosmic coincidences that led to the urban cowboy theme song clamoring its way to the top of the charts for seven straight weeks, it was aimed, positioned, and promoted to do something of the sort by Lil Nas X himself.
He told me as much during the release party for the song’s video at Hollywood’s famed Saddle Ranch Chop House on Sunset Boulevard. The lanky 20-year-old was decked out in full rodeo regalia and would later make his grand entrance — how else — on horseback, but while we talk, he’s a bundle of nervous energy, bouncing from foot to cowboy-booted foot. In an edited and condensed version of our conversation below, we discuss his 2018 debut mixtape, Nasarati, which precipitated his calculated rise to stardom, the inspirations and innovations that set him apart from his peers, and why he chose Wingstop to cater the event.
Alright, for somebody who has not just one but two songs that sample or reference Sonic The Hedgehog on his first album, have you ever gotten any questions about Sonic The Hedgehog before?
No, I haven’t. This is the first one.
How do you feel about the Sonic The Hedgehog movie that’s coming out?
I feel like everybody hates it, but I’m ready for it to come out. I mean, I love anything related to Sonic because Sonic is a legend.
I know that you’ve finally ridden a horse, because you’ve let people know that.
Yeah, he’s over there, Scout.
But have you ever driven a Maserati?
Nope. I don’t even have my license yet.
Your album is named Nasarati!
Because it was like a symbol for what I wanted to do. I wanted to reach the top real fast.
Well, you did that! On Nasarati, you say you just started rapping. I don’t believe you, though, because you were too good at it.
I literally started rapping about one year ago. It was like May 15, 2018, and I was just like playing around, but then around my fifth song it was like, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do with my life,’ and I just took it to the next level.
The first song I made was hip-hop just because rap culture runs music right now. So, why not be able to [make] hip-hop? Everybody else is getting into it. But then it’s like around the fifth song, it was verses coming to me… them clothes, your nose, anything would just come to my head, like a blessing.
Now, speaking of making songs, you’ve been really open about your process. You’ve got a pinned thread on twitter watching you create these songs, and that’s something that’s a little bit different than what other rappers might want to do.
I feel like every music fan. I know what I would want from my favorite artists, so it’s like, ‘Oh, if you give me a taste of everything that you’re about to do, I’m interested, I’m watching you to see what I’m doing.’
On Nasarati, you had songs that were sampled from house music and some that were just straightforward boom-bap hip-hop. “Old Town Road” is such a departure from that.
I was trying to use a formula. Just trying to make music that’s like, ‘This is what everybody else makes, this is what everybody going to like.’ I gained a fan base from it, but not nothing huge or anything. But around ‘Old Town Road,’ that was around the time where it’s like, ‘People don’t know what they want.’ They don’t know what they want, so you give it to them, basically. It was like I put together what I was going through in life — with meme culture, with Red Dead Redemption just coming out — it’s like I’m just pulling down like it’s a bucket, pouring water in it. And then, as soon as I made the song, I released it the same night, and I was like, ‘Okay, focus. This is it.’ If I let this slip through, then I had messed up everything.
You know, what’s funny is that my little brother actually is the same age as you and he plays Red Dead nonstop. He kills his horse all the time. What’s up with that? Why do you all love killing the horses?
You know the craziest thing? I literally played Red Dead one time in my entire life, because right after that is when this was the only thing I focused on. When I say ‘Old Town Road’ was the only thing I focused on, I literally went some days where I just would not even eat just to make sure this song was being taken care of. I was on anything internet-related. I literally probably put up some comment things on Yellow Pages or something, or… What’s it called? Not Yellow Pages…
Yeah, stuff like that.
Oh, no. You were on Yelp posting ‘Old Town Road?’
I was literally on everything. It’s my entire story from nothing to something.
So, for the most important question, you have to settle this. When it comes to wings, flats or drums?
Drums. I know everybody thinks I’m going to say flats, but it’s really drums.
Why is it drums?
I don’t know. I just like drums.