Lil Nas X really seems to be enjoying the success of his viral hit, “Old Town Road” — as he should. Viral moments seem to come along more and more often these days, but their ability to translate into real-world success still has varying degress of return. Nas’ version includes a Columbia Records album deal, three consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, a remix with Bill Ray Cyrus, and a batch of parodies and takes ranging from wildly explicit to dad joke corny. The fact that the 20-year-old rapper from Atlanta is taking all of this in stride makes the rollout even more fun to watch than usual.
Lil Nas X’s responses to the challenges that have arisen from his viral hit’s ubiquity are like a master class in how to handle unexpected fame, enjoy the moment, and make the most of the opportunity, and his ability to roll with the punches proves he’s ready for an even bigger spotlight. When longer-established rappers try to detract from his song’s success, rather than entering an ill-advised war of words, he focuses on that elusive No. 1 status, reminding the world that he does not give a f*ck what a hater thinks — even when the hater in question says he isn’t being a hater in the first place.
Some might believe that hate is justified though: Rap and country have long been considered mortal enemies at worst and strange bedfellows at best. Prior attempts at blending the two seemingly opposing genres were met with mixed responses, from the ridicule that followed Nelly and Tim McGraw’s “Over And Over” and LL Cool J and Brad Paisely’s “Accidental Racist” (rightly so, in the latter case), to the ho-hum commercial performance of more earnest attempts like Bubba Sparxxx’s Deliverance or other so-called “hick-hop” artists like Big Smo and Cowboy Troy. “Old Town Road” is the first song to chart on both the Rap and Country Bilboard lists, seemingly bridging the gap, but not without resistance, in part from Billboard itself.
When Billboard removed the song from its Country chart, the resulting backlash from social media invoked the genre’s long history of whitewashing Black artists, even as Billboard‘s reasoning that “Old Town Road” didn’t contain enough country elements sorta-kinda holds up. Fans who wanted to see this trend upended championed the song right back onto the Country Airplay chart as well as the Hot 100. While it has its detractors — mainly from established country and rap purists like Brothers Osbourne and Dave East — it has earned many more rabid supporters, including the aforementioned Billy Ray, who claimed that it was “obvious” that “Old Town Road” should qualify as country as much as hip-hop.