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Billboard brouhaha brings country star John Rich into pitch regarding Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’

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The Billboard charts controversy regarding rapper Lil Nas X’s hit “Old Town Road” brought John Rich to weigh in on the matter. He spoke with Brain Kilmeade on Fox Nation Friday and opined that ultimately it is up to fans to decide if a song is “country.”

Rich, who makes up the more conservative half the country duo Big & Rich, said he believes that country music carries a certain “feeling.” Ultimately the fans of a genre will determine whether certain music belongs.

“Let the fans decide,” he said. “I mean, country music … I go back to guys like Johnny Cash … when he showed up in Nashville, they said that is not country music. The guy made his records in Memphis where rock and roll was happening. He’s got his hair slicked back, he’s singing about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Johnny Cash, most hardcore lyrics anybody had ever heard … he’s not country … now Johnny Cash is a pillar of country music.”

The smash debut by 19-year-old Lil Nas X seems to cross and blur lines defining musical categories. Sales figures posted by Billboard showed the song at number 19 on the Hot Country chart a month ago before it was removed by Billboard saying the tune “does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

“Old Town Road” has reached number 32 on the all-genre Hot 100 chart and is still a hit on rap/hip hop charts. The song’s music video on YouTube features clips from the video game “Red Dead Redemption 2,” receiving more than 26 million views and 635,000 likes.

Rich did also admit, “I don’t like people that try to piggyback on real country music. So I think if you really want to be a country artist, then be one – come to Nashville, write your music, really come up with something that’s fitting somewhere around country music.”

“Big & Rich is you know … a lot of people said we weren’t country because we came out with ‘Save A Horse, [Ride A Cowboy],’ but I guaran-damn-tee you we’re country. Now they know it.”

John Rich, Lil Nas X, Billy Ray Cyrus

Country singer Billy Ray Cyrus has now lent his sound to the rap/country crossover song in a new version. “I loved the song the first time I heard it,” said Cyrus in a Rolling Stone interview this past week. “Country music fans decide what they like. Not critics or anyone else. Waylon Jennings once told me every once in a while the industry outlaws someone because they’re different. Country music fans don’t need to be defined by critics. I’ve always said, don’t think inside the box, don’t think outside the box. Think like there is no box. So, I’m honored to collaborate with Lil Nas X on ‘Old Town Road.'”

When the song was dropped from the Billboard Country chart, the rapper posted a headline of the news on his Instagram page, saying, “extremely disappointed,” along with a “sad-face” emoji.

The song has spawned dance videos and received a shout-out on social media from Justin Bieber. Country singer Jake Owen tweeted at the rapper, saying he wanted to jam with him.

Victor Rantala

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