Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’ Sparks Online Debate Over Genre and Race
A viral song titled "Old Town Road" from Atlanta-based rapper Lil Nas X has sparked debate and outrage online after it was removed from Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart.
Lil Nas X went viral with the video for "Old Town Road," which pairs a hip-hop beat with a banjo and traditional country lyricism. The video features imagery that borrows heavily from themes of the Old West, and it swept the internet after it became popular via the TikTok app in March, debuting at No. 19 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart on March 16.
The song has since been removed from consideration for that chart, prompting intense debate online as to whether "Old Town Road" qualifies as country music, and whether race might have played a role in Billboard's decision.
"Old Town Road" also placed on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, as well as its all-genre Hot 100 chart. Billboard did not publicly share the decision to remove the track from the Hot Country Songs chart. but a source tells Rolling Stone that Billboard informed Columbia Records, Lil Nas X's record label, that including the song on the Hot Country Songs chart was a mistake.
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"Upon further review, it was determined that "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard‘s country charts," Billboard says in a statement to Rolling Stone. "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.”
"Billboard’s decision to take the song off of the country chart had absolutely nothing to do with the race of the artist," a spokesman for Billboard tells Genius.
Lil Nas X's manager, Danny Kang, tells Rolling Stone that his client listed the song as country on various digital music services to try to gain traction.
“On SoundCloud, he listed it as a country record. 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," Kang explains. Kang does not believe race played any role in Billboard's decision, saying, "That's a hip-hop song."
An unidentified music distributor tells Rolling Stone that country insiders simply see classifying the song as country as a ploy.
“I talked to people at agencies, people at streaming services down there, people at record labels,” he relates. “Unanimously, everyone kind of looked at it as a gimmick."
Lil Nas X has declined to comment on the matter publicly.