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We followed Lil Nas X’s steps to make the next “Old Town Road”

A cowboy
Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
How do you make a number one hit?
By Dan Kopf, Corinne Purtill
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X is the surprise hit of 2019. Using the Atlanta rapper’s musical methodology, we tried to make the next one.

“Old Town Road” is an infectious blend of country and trap (a hip-hop sub-genre that comes from the US South). But given that Lil Nas X only began uploading his songs to music-sharing site SoundCloud in 2018, and was not signed to a record label when he released “Old Town Road,” the track’s runaway success was impossible to predict. “Old Town Road” has now been at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, the influential US music chart used to rank the country’s most popular songs, for three consecutive weeks.

Incredibly for a number-one hit, Lil Nas X purchased the beat for “Old Town Road” for just $29.99 on BeatStars, a popular online marketplace that has facilitated the sales of millions of dollars in beats. The beat’s creator is a Dutch 19-year-old who goes by the name Young Kio. The song eventually went viral on video-sharing app TikTok as part of a meme for people to dress up as cowboys, and from there moved to radio and swiftly climbed the charts.

Initially, “Old Town Road” was also on the Hot Country chart, but Billboard removed it, claiming the song does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.” That decision has been criticized as arbitrary, and potentially related to Lil Nas X being black. (The musical history of the song’s beat, including its relationship to Nine Inch Nails and This American Life, is dissected in wonderful detail on the podcast Switched on Pop.)

Regardless of its genre, “Old Town Road” is undeniably a hit. And it turns out that just like Lil Nas X, we at Quartz can buy a Young Kio beat and take a stab at virality. It’s as easy as following these steps:

  1. Go to Young Kio’s page on BeatStars and purchase a beat for download. We chose the beat “Fashion” that he coproduced with fellow beat creator King LeeBoy. This beat was picked because it is a similar speed to “Old Town Road” and we loved the sound.
  2. Load your MP3 download into a music app like Garage Band.
  3. Record yourself rapping/singing over the beat.
  4. Upload your song to SoundCloud.

We did just that.

Here is our track: “I Wanna Make a Song Like Old Town Road” performed by Positive Externalities (aka Pos Ex) 1, with lyrics written by Corinne Purtill. The lyrics are below.

(Note: In the course of making a song, you will find that it helps to have actual talent.)

I want to make a song like “Old Town Road”
I’m gonna get on Billboard too
I want to make a song like “Old Town Road”
Just tell me what I have to do
I looked up Lil Nas
Found out what he did
He bought a 30 dollar beat
From an unknown Dutch kid
He bought it on BeatStars,
A site for buying beats,
He just downloaded it
They didn’t have to meet
Don’t need a big label
To release a catchy rhyme
You just need this URL
And $29.99
Then you gotta write a song
Record it on your phone
You’ll hear “Kio” in the background
As you’re working on your tone
Then you drop it on TikTok
And watch it climb the charts
(Until Billboard finds out you’re black,
They’ll take it all apart)
Lil Nas’s song caught fire
And I bet that mine will be too
Nothing kids like more
Than a middle-aged white dude
I want to make a song like “Old Town Road”
I’m gonna get on Billboard too
I want to make a song like “Old Town Road”
Just tell me what I have to do

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