The Song The Brought Country, Rap & Rock N' Roll Together
Late last year recent college drop out Lil Nas X, released his debut single Old Town Road. The rapper from Atlanta, purchased a beat online by a young producer from the Netherlands, who had included a sample of Nine Inch Nails' 34 Ghosts IV track. The now, very recognizable banjo beginning at the start of Old Town Road has fans, music critics and industry reps all wondering how this track could still be topping the charts.
Without the marketing and promotional power that a major label could provide, Lil Nas X was left to promote the song on his own. He used his knowledge of social media sites to garner the attention of various influencers and "meme" makers to create some internet buzz. He then found his song being increasingly used on the ever growing social media app Tik Tok, which got the attention of major labels, Billy Ray Cyrus and Billboard.
At the end of March 2019, Billboard decided to remove the song from their Country charts, as the country/rap fusion song wasn't considered "country" enough. Billboard's move still have people sparring over how music should or should not be able to fit into specific genres. It was even a hot topic on the red carpet of the recent Academy of Country Music Awards, where country stars weighed in on the controversy. Since then, the song has been at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight straight weeks. Is this a debate about what constitutes a country song? Or is this a bigger debate about genre specifically?
Let's look at an example like Billie Eilish... dominating the streaming charts and still people are wondering whether to add her to the pop, ambient, electronic, or singer songwriter playlists. On radio you can find her on Top 40 stations, Adult Hit stations, Alternative stations and even Rock radio. On Sirius XM she is even being added to acoustic and singer songwriter stations, making her a dominate force to be reckoned with across all music listening platforms. But does this matter? Does Generation X classify themselves as music lovers who fit themselves into a certain category?
The answer is no. Streaming has made so much more content available to people these days that music lovers aren't forced to go buy the latest CD that fits into a specific genre. They can have it all. Genres are blending, because the consumers tastes are blending as well.
Look at Album of the Year for this year's Grammy Awards. Golden Hour, by Kacey Musgraves was another "controversial" country record that some didn't consider "country" enough for Country radio. Or look at the country/pop fusion song Meant To Be, last year with Bebe Rhexa and Flordia Georgia Line, which also broke Billboard chart records.
This isn't a new phenomenon, and we have seen it before. When Jay-Z and Rick Reubin (producer for the Beastie Boys, RHCP & founder of Def Jam) created 99 Problems in 2004, the producer paired Jay-Z's vocals overtop AC/DC like guitar riffs and created the rapper's biggest hit to date.
Genre blending doesn't have to be as controversial as the industry makes it. The audience clearly doesn't mind, but industry representatives love to talk about it (exactly like I'm doing now). Today it's Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus, and tomorrow it might be Céline Dion & Slayer. Who knows? I sure don't, but I can't wait to see what comes next.
Nine Inch Nails 34 Ghosts IV
Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus Old Town Road Video
Billie Eilish Bad Guy Video