Montero Lamar Hill (born April 9, 1999), known professionally as Lil Nas X, is an American rapper, singer and songwriter. He came to international attention for his country rap breakout single "Old Town Road", which first achieved viral popularity on the video-sharing app TikTok in early 2019. The song reached number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and remained there for nineteen weeks, the only song to do so since the chart started in 1958. It also earned him two MTV Video Music Awards including Song of the Year. His debut EP, 7, was released on June 2019 with its second single, "Panini", peaking at number two on Rolling Stone's Top 100.
In June 2019, Nas X came out as gay, the only artist ever to have done so while having a number-one record.
Early Life and Education
Montero Lamar Hill was born in Lithia Springs, Georgia, a small city outside of Atlanta, on April 9, 1999. 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, 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.
He attended Lithia Springs High School and graduated in 2017. He studied for one year at the University of West Georgia before dropping out. During this time, he stayed with his sister and supported himself with jobs at Zaxby's restaurants and the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park. In September 2019 he revisited his high school to perform a surprise concert.
Internet Personality (2015–2017)
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 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 Nas X to the Minaj fan accounts, he called the reports a "misunderstanding", effectively denying having run the accounts.
He then landed on music as a path to success, and started writing and recording songs in his closet. In late October 2018, he ran across the music that would be "Old Town Road".
"Old Town Road" Debut (2018)
On December 3, 2018, Nas X released the country rap song "Old Town Road". 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. Nas X began creating memes to promote "Old Town Road" before it was picked up by TikTok users. He estimated he made about a hundred memes to promote it; the song went viral in early 2019 due to the #Yeehaw Challenge meme on the social media app. Millions of users posted videos of themselves dressed as a wrangler or cowgirl, with most #yeehaw videos using the song for their soundtrack. 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 kids can relate to.
Chart Debut and Genre Controversy
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", 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.
Further Success and 7 EP (2019–present)
Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus supported "Old Town Road", and became the featured vocalist in an April 2019 remix, the first of several. That same month, Nas X broke Drake's record for the most U.S. streams 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 one week in July 2018; as of August 2019 it has streamed over a billion plays on Spotify alone. NBC News's Michael Arceneaux noted,
"In the social media age, Lil Nas X is arguably the first micro-platform crossover star."
In May 2019, the video was released. Nas X released his debut EP, 7, on June 21, 2019. The EP debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. On June 23, 2019, Nas X performed with Cyrus at the 2019 BET Awards. On June 30, 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, 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”. 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. For end of June 2019 sales, Rolling Stone premiered the Rolling Stone Top 100 in early July with three Nas X hits: "Rodeo" featuring Cardi B at number nine; "Panini" at four; and "Old Town Road" as the first-ever number-one song on the chart.
Nas X has been noted for his public fashions; in July 2019, Vogue noted 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 on-stage look at the 2019 MTV VMA 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 Nas X co-branded fashions. In July 2019, Time named him one of the 25 most influential people on the Internet for his "global impact on social media", and "overall ability to drive news". In late July 2019, the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) nominations were announced, with Nas X receiving eight. He performed ”Panini,” an ”ode to the cartoon rabbit of the same name from Cartoon Network’s Chowder,” with a troupe of ”Tron-inflected dancers” at the 2019 MTV VMAs, where he also won two awards: Song of the Year, for which he is the first LGBTQ person to do so; and the video's Calmatic for Best Direction. He was nominated for five fan-chosen 2019 Teen Choice Awards, winning Choice R&B/Hip-Hop Song for the Cyrus remix of "Old Town Road". "Old Town Road" is also the YouTube top song of the summer in the U.S. and over fifty other countries and territories; it is also their second top global song of the summer. Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ remix were nominated for the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards collaboration category, CMA Music Event of the Year; Nas X is the first out gay man to ever be nominated for a CMA award, which will be aired November 2019. Vox noted the Event Award is not a part of the CMA televised celebration, and they snubbed Nas X from bigger appropriate categories. The "Old Town Road" remix with Cyrus has been nominated for a People's Choice Award for Song of 2019, Nas X is also nominated for Male Artist of 2019; the 45th People's Choice Awards will be held in November 2019. In October, at the 2019 BET Hip Hop Awards Nas X, with Cyrus, won for Best Collab/Duo or Group, and Single of the Year. Also in October 2019, Nas X’s label Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, won the Music & Sound Recordings Award from SAG-AFTRA for “Old Town Road (Remix)” featuring Cyrus; the awards are presented “for work that exemplifies equal access” of LGBTQ and “other misrepresented or underrepresented groups.” Ken Burns, who produced the PBS documentary Country Music, noted,
“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.”
"Panini" was released as Nas X's second single through Columbia Records in June 2019. It is named after the fictional cabbit of the same name in the animated television series Chowder, and does not refer to the sandwich of the same name. In mid-September 2019 "Panini" had its first remix with rapper DaBaby released.
"Old Town Road" Breaks Chart Records
In early July 2019, "Old Town Road" achieved its 13th week at the top spot on the Billboard 100, becoming the first hip hop song to do so. It is also the first song to sell ten million copies while in the top spot. On its fifteenth week at the top, Nas X became the first openly gay artist to have a song last as long, beating out Elton John’s 1997 double A-side—where both sides of the record are promoted as hits, "Candle in the Wind 1997"/"Something About the Way You Look Tonight". At nineteen weeks at number one, Nas X holds the record for the most weeks since the chart was first introduced in 1958. As of August 2019, the song has also charted nineteen weeks atop the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart; beating a three-way tie record. At nineteen weeks at the top of the Hot Rap Songs chart the song has also beaten a three-way tie.]