The life and rise of Lil Nas X, the 'Old Town Road' singer who went viral on TikTok and just celebrated Amazon Prime Day with Jeff Bezos
- Lil Nas X is one of the most popular musical artists in the world right now with the bonafide song of the summer, "Old Town Road."
- The 20-year-old artist rose to fame this year after his hit song first went viral on short-form video app TikTok, and has since set a record for the longest-running song at the No. 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100.
- Here's everything you need to know about Lil Nas X, who most recently performed at a concert for Amazon employees and partied backstage with CEO Jeff Bezos.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Lil Nas X, 20, was born Montero Hill. He grew up outside of Atlanta in a poor household and, feeling alone, turned to the internet where he found memes and an avid following for a popular Nicki Minaj fan account (though his involvement is widely debated).
At 19, Lil Nas X decided to drop out of college in the summer of 2018 after just a year at a Georgia university. He crashed at his sister's house while he pursued a music career and posted some songs on SoundCloud that got little traction.Advertisement
Then, right around Halloween this past year, Lil Nas X discovered a beat on YouTube from a 19-year-old Dutch producer named Young Kio. Lil Nas X bought the track for a mere $30 off of a music licensing website called BeatStars.
YoungKio's beat isn't entirely original — the producer put a trap beat under a snippet of banjo playing from a Nine Inch Nails song called "34 Ghosts IV." However, neither YoungKio nor Lil Nas X reportedly got the needed clearance to use the Nine Inch Nails song, so Lil Nas X may have had to pay the rock band some money in back royalties when his song got popular.Advertisement
YoungKio's beat inspired Lil Nas X to create "Old Town Road," a song that's part-trap, part-country. He told Rolling Stone the song was "basically what I was going through, but in another lens," and that he chose the title "Old Town Road" simply because of how country it sounded.
"Old Town Road" was officially released December, along with a since-deleted music video featuring scenes from the Western video game "Red Dead Redemption 2." From its beginning, "Old Town Road" was intended to go viral, with catchy lyrics and "quotable lines that people want to use as captions," Lil Nas X told Rolling Stone.Advertisement
It didn't take long for "Old Town Road" to go viral, as Lil Nas X wanted. By the start of March, cowboy-related videos were popping up across the popular short-form video app TikTok. Millions have taken part in the "Yee Haw Challenge," where they transform in a matter of seconds from everyday teens into a lasso-holding, plaid-wearing, Stetson-sporting cowboys and cowgirls.
The virality of "Old Town Road" boosted the song to the Billboard Hot 100, where it debuted in mid-March at No. 83. Popular music label Columbia Records signed Lil Nas X just a week later.Advertisement
However, "Old Town Road" was embroiled in controversy before the end of March. Besides the Billboard Hot 100 list, the cross-genre song made it to both the Hot Country and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop lists. But Billboard quietly removed the song from its hot country rankings, and claimed that "Old Town Road" should have never made it there in the first place because "it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version."
However, things took a turn when country singer Billy Ray Cyrus recorded a new verse for "Old Town Road." The potential for a collaboration dates back to December, when Lil Nas X tweeted, "twitter please help me get billy ray cyrus on this." The duo released the remix for the song in April, bringing a more traditional country voice to a song Billboard initially shunned as not being country enough.Advertisement
Shortly after the Billy Ray Cyrus version of"Old Town Road" dropped, the song rocketed to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.
The forthcoming music video from Lil Nas X and Cyrus, released in May, was star-studded. Celebrities who appeared in the video — which now has more than 282 million views on YouTube — include Chris Rock, Vince Staples, Diplo, and YoungKio, the original "Old Town Road" producer.Advertisement
As the "Old Town Road" remix remained at the top of the charts, Lil Nas X doled out more remixes of the song featuring Diplo, rapper RM of K-pop group BTS, and Young Thug and Mason Ramsey, of "Walmart yodeling kid" fame. Lil Nas X has floated hints for potential remixes with Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey, and Megan Thee Stallion.
However, one collaboration Lil Nas X didn't want to do was with presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Lil Nas X was invited to appear at a BuzzFeed event alongside Buttigieg to recite the lyrics for "Old Town Road," but the singer reportedly refused to participate in order to avoid seeming like he was endorsing the candidate. Buttigieg later dropped out of the event altogether.Advertisement
In the height of "Old Town Road" hype, Lil Nas X released an EP in June simply called "7." The EP featured six new songs, including one called "Rodeo" released with Cardi B.
During Pride Month, Lil Nas X came out as gay, and tweeted he had "made it obvious" with the cover art for his EP. "I never would have done that if I wasn’t in a way pushed by the universe," he told Time. "In June, I'm seeing Pride flags everywhere and seeing couples holding hands — little stuff like that."Advertisement
By the end of July, "Old Town Road" became the longest-running No. 1 song in US chart history. Its 17-week run put the song ahead of previous record holders "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, and "One Sweet Day," a Mariah Carey-Boyz II Men collaboration from 1995.
Lil Nas X landed on the cover of Time magazine in mid-August. "Everything lined up for this moment to take me to this place," he told Time. "Not to sound self-centered, but it feels like I’m chosen, in a way, to do this stuff."Advertisement
Although "Old Town Road" remains the bonafide song of the summer, the track recently lost its spot at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. After a 19-week run, "Old Town Road" was dethroned by Billie Eilish's "bad guy." Lil Nas X congratulated Eilish on Twitter, writing, "u deserve this!!"
Lil Nas X most recent appearance was at a concert in Seattle this week for around 45,000 Amazon employees to celebrate July's Amazon Prime Day. Photos from the event show Lil Nas X posing with fellow performer Katy Perry, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. On Instagram, Lil Nas X posted: "i am the now the new owner of amazon and i stole katy perry’s dog."Advertisement
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