We all have our favorites when it comes to country music. Mine happens to be the songs of the mid- to late 90’s, greats like Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, and Kenny Chesney‘s early stuff. You have your favorites as well. Country music has evolved again and again from the twangs of Hank Williams, Sr. and Willie Nelson, and that’s more evident than ever in today’s generation of country superstars like Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris. We hear elements of pop, rock, R&B and even rap in what’s playing on New Country 98.9 The Bull. But a certain “trap country” song has grabbed national attention, along with the most influential music publication in the world: Billboard.
Fans of the smash video game Red Dead Redemption 2 will instantly recognize that the entire video consists of gameplay from the title. As for the music itself, it’s a mellow tune for the most part, with a deep bass laid down under the vocals.
It’s open to objective opinion whether the song is more rap than country. And that’s exactly the stance Billboard.com took when it removed the song from its Billboard Country chart. Billboard’s official reasoning pleased the majority of traditional country fans:
“upon further review, it was determined that ‘Old Town Road’ by Lil Nas X does not currently merit inclusion on Billboard‘s country charts. When determining genres, a few factors are examined, but first and foremost is 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.”
-Rolling Stone, March 26 2019
But the decision to remove the song from Billboard’s country tracking while keeping it on their Billboard Hot 100 has sparked controversy. Rapping in country songs isn’t anything new; Cowboy Troy rapped in many hits with MuzikMafia partners Big&Rich and Gretchen Wilson in the early 2000’s. We all remember Kid Rock swinging to the country audience with his mash-up hit “All Summer Long“. And Jason Aldean has rap verses in “Dirt Road Anthem”
One could make the argument that Lil Nas X’s style sways more hip-hop than country. But then again, Kid Rock’s style wasn’t all country at one point.
REFERENCE: The 1990’s. Hoo boy.
In response to Billboard’s decision, the rapper made a creative decision and recruited BILLY RAY FRIGGIN’ CYRUS to remix the song, and that version popped up on Friday, April 5th:
It’s exactly the same song, only with Billy Ray rapping.
Billboard has also responded to this version (sort of), as it seems to be a plea to get the song back in the country charts.
— billboard (@billboard) April 5, 2019
One thing fans of ALL music have to remember is that Billboard’s charts exist to help the music industry; how songs perform against others in terms of popularity so artists and producers can figure out what fans like in that genre.
It has to be a daunting task trying to classify music subjectively! And whether or not you think “Old Town Road” is or isn’t a country song matters to Billboard, just as it matters to radio stations as they try to play the music their fans like. And how the song performs on streaming services like the 98.9 BULL app and Spotify can speak volumes about what users like to listen to.
“I hear you, but algorithms don’t lie.”
It’s a complicated issue, and one not best suited for a big dummy like me. However, you can be assured that with all the tools available to BULL NATION (our text line, our app, our studio phone, and all our social spaces) your voice will be heard when it comes to what you want on YOUR radio station.
~Ben On The Bull