Who says it’s not country?
Billy Ray Cyrus thought Lil Nas X’s viral hit, “Old Town Road,” belonged on the country music charts despite its removal last week by Billboard, so he helped burnish the song by recording a remix with the rapper that debuted Friday, The New York Times reported.
According to Rolling Stone, Cyrus, whose 1992 hit “Achy Breaky Heart” also crossed over into several music genres, sings the first verse of Lil Nas X’s hit: “I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road/ I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more.”
The song has been controversial, not because of its lyrics, but because of an argument over what constitutes country music.
Lil Nas X, 19, from Atlanta, released “Old Town Road” in December, a song described by his producer as “country trap,” The Washington Post reported. The rapper’s record label, Columbia, called it a “country-inspired rap track.” The track opens with a quiet banjo lick and incorporates hip-hop while sampling Nine Inch Nails’ 2008 song, “34 Ghosts IV,” according to the newspaper.
The song debuted on the Hot 100, the Hot Country Songs and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts at the same time, according to the magazine.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Billboard said that while the song “incorporates references to county and cowboy imagery, it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
Black musicians crossing over onto the country music charts is not unusual. R&B star Ray Charles took Don Gibson’s 1957 country song “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for three weeks in June 1962. Charles teamed up with Willie Nelson in 1985 to grab the No. 1 spot on the country charts with “Seven Spanish Angels,” and also had 12 singles crack the Top 100 on the country music charts during his career, according to Billboard.
Charley Pride had 29 No. 1 hits on the country charts and 52 Top 10 hits. Darius Rucker, who scored three No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 charts as lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish, has added six country music chart-toppers
Last November, Jimmie Allen made history as the first black artist to have his debut single reach No. 1 on country radio, according to The Associated Press.
However, rap music crossing over into country covered uncharted territory.
Cyrus helped give the song a more traditional country feel with his opening verse, guitar playing and a throaty verse near the end of the song, which clocks in under two minutes, 40 seconds.
Cyrus showed his support before the remix last week in an Instagram post, writing “Don’t try and think inside the box. Don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box. #HorsesInTheBack.”
Cyrus also went on Twitter and noted, “When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me, ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club!”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.