Lil Nas X, whose real name is Montero Lamar Hill, experienced a meteoric rise to fame when his catchy viral hit “Old Town Road” swept the Billboard charts. Before he knew it, he went from being relatively unknown to hobnobbing with the music world’s elite.
The Atlanta-based entertainer has not only garnered attention for his catchy cowboy-themed song, but also for the controversy surrounding the track being pulled from Billboard’s country music chart for not embracing “enough elements of today’s country music,” as Billboard told Rolling Stone. The song being removed called into question whether the decision was racially motivated or not, but Lil Nas X didn’t waste time pondering their decision. Instead, he linked up with Billy Ray Cyrus, who’s as country as country can get, for the “Old Town Road” remix. The rest is music history.
Lil Nas X’s country-trap anthem is just the beginning of what looks to be a promising career in the entertainment industry. While he’s in the studio cooking up his next viral hit to follow the success of his other catchy tunes, such as “BANZUP,” let’s take a closer look at the artist who’s rocking a cowboy hat from Gucci, Wrangler on his booty.
Here’s the untold truth of Lil Nas X.
Unlike some of his hip-hop predecessors who chose to drop out of high school, Lil Nas X graduated and received his high school diploma. However, when it was time for him to keep his head buried inside of his college books, the Atlanta artist had other plans.
In 2018, he decided to drop out of college and put his post-secondary studies on the back burner to pursue his music career. “My dad initially was like, ‘There’s a million rappers in this industry,'” Lil Nas X told Time. “[My parents] wanted me to go back to school.”
His dad was right, but he didn’t take into consideration that his son had enough drive and determination to make things happen for himself. Lil Nas X released his first project, Naserati, in 2018, according to Billboard. He then released “Old Town Road,” which “climbed to the top of the Spotify United States Top 50 and global Apple Music charts,” Time reported. And right before his 20th birthday, he signed a record deal with Columbia Records. Not bad for a guy who had dropped out of college less than a year prior, right?
Although it isn’t clear just how much Lil Nas X has earned from his viral hit “Old Town Road” or his deal with Columbia Records, we’re willing to bet he has made a pretty penny since becoming a music sensation. And to think, he made it all happen with very little financial backing.
The beat for the country-trap song was created by a Dutch teenager by the name of Kiowa Roukema, who’s also known as YoungKio. The beat was uploaded on the app BeatStars, where Lil Nas X reportedly paid just $30 for it, according to Roukema’s interview with GQ. Lil Nas X, who’s since worked out a new contract with the beatmaker, was finally able to meet Roukema face to face in April 2019, and they even posed for a picture together while wearing some pretty stylish cowboy hats. Yeehaw!
That dirt-cheap beat has now changed Lil Nas X’s life completely. It’s also proof that you don’t need a ton of cash to make your dreams come alive.
Some people think Lil Nas X’s chart-topping hit just appeared on the radio waves out of nowhere. But that’s far from the case. Long before everyone — including pop star Justin Bieber, the Texas Tech college basketball team, and actor Will Smith — were singing along to the popular song, “Old Town Road” had exploded on the scene as a meme on the video sharing app TikTok, according to Time. “Millions of video creators used the song as a soundtrack to transform themselves into cowboys and cowgirls,” the publication reported.
Some will take this knowledge and try to box him into the category of a one-hit wonder. However, Lil Nas X knows he’s more than just a fad. “When I became a trending topic on [TikTok], it was a crazy moment for me,” he told Time. “A lot of people will try to downplay it, but I saw it as something bigger.”
Whether he has staying power in the industry is yet to be seen. But he’s been lining up performances, including his first public performance of “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus at the 2019 Stagecoach country music festival, as noted by The Hollywood Reporter.
After dropping out of school, Lil Nas X kicked his musical dreams into overdrive to get his voice heard. At his sister’s house, he used the internet to help get his music out to the masses. It was a very stressful time in his life — simply because failure just wasn’t an option. And plus, his parents weren’t happy with his decision to be a rapper. “I would be over [at my sister’s house] sleeping on the floor — I didn’t want to come back home because I knew my parents would be mad at me,” he told Time.
Eventually, the pressure to succeed became too much. Due to the stress he was dealing with, he suffered from headaches “almost daily,” which he believes were a result of being sleep deprived.
After being embraced by music lovers around the world, he still has sleepless nights but for an entirely different reason. “I probably slept like two or three hours [last night], because I was expecting to get back up to see the reaction, and it’s crazy,” he told The Fader about how the excitement over the success of his song has cut into his shut-eye time.
Soon enough, “Old Town Road” hit the rap, pop, and country Billboard charts, before being pulled from the country chart for lacking country elements. Initially, Lil Nas X took it all in stride. “But then, as I went on to listen to more songs that were already on the chart, already including trap elements, it was like, why is this allowed, but my song’s not?” Lil Nas X told CBC.
After enlisting some help from Billy Ray Cyrus on the remix, the song and the controversy surrounding Billboard’s decision brought even more attention to the track. Sadly, not all of the attention was positive. Country group Brothers Osborne told Lil Nas X to “get in line” and wait his turn to be acknowledged in the country music industry during an interview with Billboard at the 2019 ACM Awards. And rapper Dave East called the song “f***ing wack” in an Instagram video shared by Hollywood Unlocked.
But Lil Nas X also received a lot of love. Keith Urban picked up his guitar and performed an amazing acoustic version of the song. And even Cyrus himself had some encouraging words for the artist. “He gave me a lot of advice, but you know, the most inspirational thing was him comparing me to Johnny Cash, and just saying that I’m going to be seen all over the universe,” Lil Nas X said.
The energy he displays on his social media account is so infectious, he hit the one-million follower mark in almost no time. But despite how happy and at ease he appears on social media, Lil Nas X opened up to his Twitter followers about a battle that has been plaguing him for some time. In a February 2019 tweet, he wrote, “7 months ago I was living with my parents, had no car, suffering from severe anxiety causing major headaches daily, struggling to get more than 3 hours of sleep and today I’m still in that situation.” Along with the caption, he included images of himself photoshopped into picturesque scenes from the popular video game Grand Theft Auto 5.
He’ll no longer have to suffer in silence now that he has millions of fans that are following him along every step of the way. And he plans on becoming even more vocal about his battle with anxiety as his career progresses. He told Complex, “Yeah, I’m going to talk about everything in my music.”
The first thing people usually notice about Lil Nas X isn’t just his laidback demeanor — it’s the fact that his rap moniker is very similar to that of hip-hop legend Nas. Some internet users have even claimed Lil Nas X is clout-chasing and attempting to use Nas’ name to garner even more attention for himself.
The music newcomer decided to address the situation in an interview with All Hip Hop. “It’s been my internet alias for a minute, like Nas. The X wasn’t included at first. It was just Lil Nas,” he explained. He added that he included the word “Lil” because he wasn’t serious about rapping when he first got involved with music. “So it was like, ‘Okay, every rapper’s name is starting with Lil lately.’ So I kind of got stuck with it,” he said. After taking music more seriously, he added the “X” on the end, saying the letter stands for “the amount of years, I felt, until I’m at the status where I’m considered legendary.”
But don’t get too comfortable with his rap name. He wrote in a tweet, “Nas is a legend and I never meant any disrespect by my stage name. I actually might change it in the future.” We really don’t care what he calls himself. As long as he keeps making hits that make us want to grab our partner, do-si-do and twerk at the same time, we’re all in!