"Old Town Road" spent 19 weeks atop the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the longest-running number-one song since the chart debuted in 1958. Several remixes of the song were released, the most popular of which featured country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. Lil Nas X came out as gay while "Old Town Road" was atop the Hot 100, becoming the only artist to do so while having a number-one record.
Montero Lamar Hill was born in Lithia Springs, Georgia, a small city outside Atlanta, on April 9, 1999. He was named after the Mitsubishi Montero. His parents divorced when he was six, and he settled in the Bankhead Courts housing project with his mother and grandmother. Three years later, he moved in with his father, a gospel singer, north of the city in Austell, Georgia. Although initially reluctant to leave, he later regarded it as an important decision: "There's so much shit going on in Atlanta—if I would have stayed there, I would have fallen in with the wrong crowd." He started "using the Internet heavily right around the time when memes started to become their own form of entertainment"; about when he was thirteen.
He spent much of his teenage years alone, and turned to the Internet, "particularly Twitter, creating memes that showed his disarming wit and pop-culture savvy." His teenage years also saw him struggling with his coming out to himself as being gay; he prayed that it was just a phase, but around sixteen or seventeen he came to accept it. He began playing trumpet in the fourth grade and was first chair by his junior high years, but quit out of fear of looking uncool.
Hill said he began to isolate himself from "outside-of-class activities" during his teenage years. He spent large amounts of time online in hopes of building a following as an internet personality to promote his work, but was unsure what to focus on creatively. In a Rolling Stone interview he stated, "I was doing Facebook comedy videos, then I moved over to Instagram, and then I hopped on Twitter ... where I really was a master. That was the first place where I could go viral." He also posted short-format comedy videos on Facebook and Vine.
During this period, he reportedly created and ran Nicki Minaj fan accounts on Twitter, including one called "@NasMaraj", according to a New York Magazine investigation. In 2017, this account gained attention for its flash fiction-style interactive "scenario threads" popularized on Twitter using dashboard app TweetDeck. The investigation linked @NasMaraj to the practice of "Tweetdecking", or using multiple accounts in collaboration to artificially make certain tweets go viral. The @NasMaraj account was suspended by Twitter due to "violating spam policies". After the suspension of @NasMaraj, New York Magazine's investigation concluded that he subsequently opened a new account with handle "@NasMarai", and that his current Twitter account at the time was a repurposed version of that "@NasMarai" account with a changed handle. After media reports linked Lil Nas X to the Minaj fan accounts, he called the reports a "misunderstanding", effectively denying having run the accounts. However, in May 2020, Lil Nas X admitted, in a tweet, to being a fan of Minaj. He explained why he initially denied it, stating that if people knew he was a fan of hers, they would think he was gay: "People will assume if you had an entire fan page dedicated to nicki u are gay. and the rap/music industry ain't exactly built or accepting of gay men yet". On June 17, 2020, Minaj responded to Nas, tweeting "It was a bit of a sting when you denied being a barb, but I understand. Congratulations on building up your confidence to speak your truth". Lil Nas apologized to Minaj, saying he "felt so bad, hoping u wouldn't see my denial". Later in a New York Times Magazine article, the fact that he was actually the owner of the account with the handle @NasMaraj, was seemingly confirmed and further confirmed when in the music video for "SUN GOES DOWN", which shows Lil Nas X's many struggles growing up as a closeted teen and embracing his sexuality, he is seen tweeting while in high school from the account.
In late 2018, Lil Nas X landed on music as a path to success, and started writing and recording songs in his closet. He adopted the name Lil Nas X, which is a tribute to the rapper Nas. In late October 2018, he happened to hear the beat that would become "Old Town Road".
2018–2019: Breakthrough with "Old Town Road" and 7
On December 3, 2018, Lil Nas X released the country rap song "Old Town Road".[b] He bought the beat for the song anonymously on an online store from Dutch producer YoungKio for $30; it samples Nine Inch Nails' track "34 Ghosts IV" from their sixth studio album Ghosts I–IV (2008). He recorded at a "humble" Atlanta studio, CinCoYo, on their "$20 Tuesdays" taking less than an hour. Lil Nas X began creating memes to promote "Old Town Road" before it was picked up by short-form video social media TikTok users. TikTok encourages its 500 million global users to "endless imitation", with videos generating copies usually using the same music; the "app's frantic churn of content ...acts as a potent incubator for viral music hits." Lil Nas X estimated he made about a hundred memes to promote it; the song went viral in early 2019 due to the #Yeehaw Challenge meme on TikTok. Millions of users posted videos of themselves dressed as a wrangler or cowgirl, with most #yeehaw videos using the song for their soundtrack; as of July 2019, they have been seen more than 67 million times. Another core audience tied to social media is children who are hidden in the statistics of adult listeners. Quartz.com says the song certainly owes part of its success to the demographic, and notes they are attracted to the song being repetitive, easy to sing along to, and using lyrics about riding horses and tractors, which children can relate to. It debuted at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, later climbing to number one. The track also debuted on the Hot Country Songs chart at number 19 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number 36. After an "intense bidding war", Lil Nas X signed with Columbia Records in March 2019.Billboard controversially removed the song from the Hot Country songs chart in March 2019 telling Rolling Stone:
When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is a 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.
In Robert Christgau's opinion, "Taking 'Old Town Road' off the country chart strikes me as racist pure and simple, because country radio remains racist regardless of the Darius Ruckers and Kane Browns it makes room for." Another Billboard spokesperson told Genius, "Billboard's decision to take the song off of the country chart had absolutely nothing to do with the race of the artist." Despite being removed from the main Country Songs chart, the song charted on Billboard's Country Airplay chart, debuting at 53, and peaking at 50. In response, Sony Music Nashville CEO Randy Goodman told Billboard that his team started testing the song in some country radio markets, adding "it would be negligent not to look at it". In May 2019, the issues of racism in country music culture came up again when Wrangler announced its Lil Nas X collection, and some consumers threatened a boycott. Media outlets also noted that the song brings attention to the historic cultural erasure of African-Americans from both country music and the American frontier era.
Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus supported "Old Town Road", and became the featured vocalist in an April 2019 remix, the first of several.[c] That same month, Lil Nas X broke Drake's record for the most U.S. streams from one song in one week with 143 million streams for the week ending April 11, surpassing Drake's "In My Feelings", which had 116.2 million streams in a week in July 2018; as of August 2019 it has streamed over a billion plays on Spotify alone. In May 2019, the video was released and as of August 2019, has over 370 million views.NBC News's Michael Arceneaux wrote, "In the social media age, Lil Nas X is arguably the first micro-platform crossover star."
Lil Nas X released his debut extended play, titled 7, on June 21, 2019. The EP debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. On June 23, 2019, Lil Nas X performed with Cyrus at the 2019 BET Awards. On June 30, Lil Nas X made his international debut at the largest greenfield festival in the world, the U.K.’s annual Glastonbury Festival, when he and Billy Ray Cyrus made a surprise appearance and joined Miley Cyrus for the song, before performing his new single "Panini" solo in a set seen nationally on BBC. On the same day, Lil Nas X became one of the most visible Black queer male singers when he came out as gay. This was especially significant for an artist in the country and hip hop genres, both of which emphasize machismo and "historically snubbed queer artists".[d] Black queer male artists in hip hop having mainstream acceptance arguably started in 2012 with Frank Ocean’s coming out just before Channel Orange was released.[e]Rolling Stone premiered the Rolling Stone Top 100 in early July with three Lil Nas X songs: "Rodeo" with Cardi B at number nine; "Panini" at four; and "Old Town Road" as the first-ever number-one song on the chart.[f]
On July 7, 2020, Lil Nas X revealed that his debut album was "almost finished". He also stated that he was working on a mixtape, and invited producers to submit their beats for his new music. On July 10, he teased the release of a new song titled "Call Me by Your Name", posting a snippet of it online. On November 8, 2020, he announced a new single, "Holiday", which was released on November 13. On Roblox, a virtual concert was held to promote Lil Nas X's single, with Lil Nas X-related items in the game's avatar shop. The single debuted at 37 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the song's music video accumulated tens of millions of views within the first several weeks of release.
In January 2021, he released a children's book, C Is for Country. The following month, he again previewed the song, "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" in a Super Bowl LV commercial. The song was officially released on March 26, 2021, along with an accompanying music video. On the same day, Lil Nas X revealed that his debut album would be named Montero, and that it would be released in mid-2021. The video prompted strong reactions. The song was seen by many as a valuable expression of queerness, though prominent conservative and Christian figures accused Hill of sacrilege and devil worship. Despite the controversy, "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)", debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Lil Nas X's second chart-topping single and third top-ten single.
Following the controversy of his previous song, Lil Nas X released the more introspective single "Sun Goes Down" on May 21, 2021, wherein he reflects on his struggles with bullying and coming to terms with his homosexuality in his upbringing. He performed the song alongside "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" at Saturday Night Live a day later, where he suffered a wardrobe malfunction during a pole dance routine when the seam of his trousers split, leaving him unable to finish it properly. On June 29, Lil Nas posted a promotional video of his debut album, ending it with Montero, the Album. He also posted a snippet of a previously-teased track called "Industry Baby".
On July 16, Lil Nas X posted a video on TikTok claiming that he had an upcoming court hearing regarding the Satan Shoes three days later. However, on July 19, 2021, he posted a spoof of the legal debacle on YouTube, marketing his new single "Industry Baby". The song was released on July 23, featuring rapper Jack Harlow with production by Kanye West and Take a Daytrip. The song debuted at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Lil Nas X's fourth top-ten single. On September 17, 2021, Montero was released.
On March 29, 2021, Lil Nas X partnered with New York-based art collective MSCHF to release a modified pair of Nike Air Max 97s called Satan Shoes, which may be seen on Satan's feet in the music video used to promote the release of "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)". The shoes are black and red with a bronze pentagram, filled with "60cc and 1 drop of human blood". Only 666 pairs were made at a price of $1,018. Nike said they were uninvolved in the creation and promotion of the shoes and did not endorse the messages of Lil Nas X or MSCHF. The company filed a trademark lawsuit against MSCHF in New York federal court. On April 1, the judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the sale and distribution of the shoes pending a preliminary injunction. Lil Nas X responded to the lawsuit with a meme on Twitter showing him as the character Squidward, homeless and asking for money.
"Well, to me, Lil Nas X is my mic drop moment. We spend eight episodes and sixteen and a half hours talking about the fact that country music has never been one thing. ... And there's a huge African American influence, and it permeates throughout the whole story. ... And here we are in a new modern age that we’re not touching, with all these classic, binary arguments about Billboard not listing ['Old Town Road'] on the country chart, and it turns out to be not just the No. 1 country hit but the No. 1 single, period, and it’s by a black gay rapper! ... It just is proving that all of those cycles that we have been reporting on across the decades—all of the tensions in country music of race, class, poverty, gender, creativity versus commerce, geography—are still going on."
Lil Nas X has been noted for his public fashions; in July 2019, Vogue noted Lil Nas X as a "master" at giving the cowboy aesthetic a glam look in his appearances and on Instagram. His stylist, Hodo Musa, says he aims for items that are "electric, playful, colorful, and futuristic." For his onstage look at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards he wore a cowboy motif cherry-red Nudie suit.Wrangler, which is mentioned in the "Old Town Road" lyrics, has consistently sold out of Lil Nas X co-branded fashions.
In early June 2019, Lil Nas X came out to his sister and father and he felt "the universe was signalling him to do so", despite his uncertainty whether his fans would stick by him or not. On June 30, 2019, the last day of Pride Month, Lil Nas X came out publicly as gay,tweeting: "some of y'all already know, some of y'all don't care, some of y'all not gone fwm no more. but before this month ends i want y'all to listen closely to c7osure. 🌈🤩✨" The tweet confirmed earlier suspicions when he first indicated this in his track "c7osure". Rolling Stone noted the song "touches on themes such as coming clean, growing up and embracing one's self". The next day he tweeted again, this time highlighting the rainbow-colored building on the cover art of his EP 7, with the caption reading "deadass thought i made it obvious". He was unambiguous in an interview several days later on BBC Breakfast, where he stated that he was gay and understands that his sexuality is not readily accepted in the country or rap music communities.
^The single's second official remix, "Old Town Road (Diplo Remix)", was released on April 29, 2019, featuring additional production by American DJ Diplo. Mid-July 2019, an official remix of "Old Town Road" was released adding rapper Young Thug, and yodelerMason Ramsey, to Billy Ray Cyrus. In late July 2019, another remix called "Seoul Town Road" was released featuring South Korean rapper RM of the boyband BTS.Billboard counts all the versions of the song in the same total.
^The Rolling Stone Top 100 tracks "the most popular songs of the week in the United States"; ranked by combining streams and sales, omitting radio plays.
^His nominations were for "Old Town Road": Song of the Year, Video of the Year, Best Collaboration, Best Hip Hop, Best Direction, Best Editing and Best Art Direction. He is also up for the Best New Artist trophy.
^Lil Nas X was nominated for both "Choice Male Artist", and "Choice Breakout Artist"; "Old Town Road" was up for "Choice Song: Male Artist"; while the remix with Billy Ray Cyrus was also up for "Choice Collaboration".
^Lil Nas X was also nominated for 'Best New Hip-Hop Artist'.
^Lil Nas X was also nominated for: New Artist of the Year; and "Old Town Road" featuring Billy Ray Cyrus for Collaboration of the Year, Favorite Pop/Rock Song, and Favorite Music Video.