Over the weekend, Lil Nas X announced he'll be following up the success of his viral single "Old Town Road" with 7, his debut EP that will released with Columbia Records this Friday. Released at the end of 2018, the song has since received a once-in-a-lifetime co-sign from Billy Ray Cyrus, been made into an epic short film, and topped Billboard's Hot 100 for 11 weeks despite being removed from the Hot Country Songs chart for "not embrac[ing] enough elements of today's country music to chart in its current version." By occupying the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for a week short of three months, "Old Town Road"'s reign is second only to Los Del Ríos' 1996 run with "Macarena" as the longest running debut single. The Atlanta meme maker-turned-rapper has become the next viral rap sensation seemingly overnight, but can 7 bolster Lil Nas X's fame into an actual music career?
Some of the decade's most polarizing acts have carved out entire lanes for themselves using a moment that in a different era could be considered their "15 minutes of fame." According to a 2016 The New Republic article on "The Science of Going Viral," a meme is comprised of three components: it's useful, it's easy to mimic, and it generates important questions. Music, and more specifically rap, is well-suited to memes and their shareable formulas.
Take a look at the success of "Thotiana," a song by Los Angeles' Blueface, who went viral for his off-beat flow that drew comparisons to Courage the Cowardly Dog. Sixteen-year-old Danielle Bregoli transformed into Bhad Bhabie after her "Cash me outside" catchphrase generated a following on a 2016 episode of Dr. Phil. In the two years since her emergence, Bregoli has secured a Billboard Music Award nomination along with a lucrative beauty deal estimated at $900,000. Moments like Bregoli's prepped the industry for a yodeling 11-year-old who went from annoying the customers of a Walmart to signing a joint deal with Atlantic Records and Big Loud, a Nashville-based record label. In 2014, Spotify even created The Viral-50 Chart, which uses data to look at the most streamed and shared songs—elements that helped "Old Town Road's" initial popularity on TikTok. Lil Nas X's ascent follows a similar trajectory to these artists but most closely resembles Cardi B's rise over the last two years.
"Bodak Yellow" wasn't the first time Cardi B started rapping; similarly, "Old Town Road" wasn't the first song Lil Nas X penned. The Bronx native's success, however, caught much of the industry by surprise when she knocked Taylor Swift from Billboard's Hot 100 top spot in September 2017, becoming the first solo song by a female rapper since Lauryn Hill to secure a No. 1 since 1998. In only two years, Cardi has had three No. 1 songs and her debut album Invasion of Privacy is certified platinum. "Old Town Road" has dominated the cultural conversation with the spirit of an underdog, as did"Bodak Yellow," and it comes as no surprise that Cardi has taken the Atlanta rapper under her wing. The two recently performed "Old Town Road" at the Bronx rapper's Fashion Nova launch and again on Hot 97's Summer Jam stage.
With all we know so far, Lil Nas X is poised to move beyond the success of his debut single. In April, the social media savvy artist started a thread to update his fans on the progress of his album in real time. The thread boasts collaborations with producers like DayTrip and artists like Travis Barker. He's teasing a special guest on a song titled "Rodeo," which reminds us that we never did get the full Young Thug collaboration the slimy rapper teased back in April. In a June cover story for Teen Vogue, the 20-year-old revealed that his new music can't quite be defined. "Nothing is off limits," he said.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.