How Did Lil Nas X Get Famous – Viral Marketing Genius (11 min read)

Old Town Road by an unknown American rapper Lil Nas X - Within a few months song became the most famous hit on the world, making "Old Town Road" the Billboard's record for longest-running hip-hop song on the charts

?Strategy & Tools

Lil Nas X History Timeline

  • 2018 – Lil Nas X is struggling financially and trying to become a rapper.
  • June 2018 – a young beat maker, YoungKio, uploads a beat, which later becomes the worldwide hit called “Old Town Road.”
  • November 2018 – Lil Nas X buys that beat on Beatstars for $30, and started recording the song.
  • December 2, 2018 – "Old Town Road" is released on Soundcloud. It has about 7,000 streams, and it's still without Billy Ray Cyrus.
  • December, 2018 – He uploaded a gameplay from the game Red Dead Redemption 2 with his song in the background. Unfortunately, this video is no longer available to watch.
  • December 3, 2018 – Lil Nas X posts a tweet with a video meme, where a man in a cowboy hat dances, and he adds “Old Time Road” as the audio for that video. It escalated as a semi-viral.
  • December 2018-March 2019 – YoungKio helps Lil Nas X get 30k followers on Montero's Twitter account. They post memes and promote the song. Lil Nas X tweeted a lot about the song and things related to it up to May 2019.
  • Nas changed the song title on YouTube and SoundCloud to include the lyric from the viral video – he knew people will search for the song from the video, based on lyrics.
  • Numerous memes led to the creation of the #YeeHawChallenge on TikTok, which included the "Old town road" song uploading videos of themselves drinking “yee yee juice” and then transforming into a cowboy or cowgirl to the beat of the “Old Town Road” song.
  • January–March 2019 – at this point, the song "Old town road" went viral beyond any measure. It became a hit and was climbing up the US Billboard Music charts. The song was purposely created as a cross-genre combination of country music and rap music - country music was less competitive.
  • March 2019 – Old Town Road was placed on the Billboard Hot Country charts and Hot R&B/Hip-hop charts.
  • March 22, 2019 – he was signed by Columbia Records, and by that time, his song on Spotify had got more than 24 million streams, and his Red Dead Redemption 2 music video with “Old Town Road” in the background – over 9 million views since its upload.
  • March 19, 2019 – Billboard removed “Old Town Road” from the Country charts, because of "not embracing enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”
  • April 2019 – the RDR2 music video scores nearly 16 million views. Unfortunately, the video is no longer available at the moment. Probably because of the copyright issues.
  • April 5, 2019 – Lil Nas X released a remix with Billy Ray Cyrus (the country music king), to make the song back on the charts again. This has now become one of Billy Ray’s most successful songs on the charts.
  • May 2019 – they released a new music video with lots of stars, like Chris Rock and Diplo.

Build audience first

Nas created a Twitter account and collected 30k followers. He did this with the help of memes and humor.

Cooperating with YoungKio gave Montero's a solid boost to his fan base. Lil Nas X has also received some help from YoungKio when it comes to some meme ideas.

Amazing, catchy song

There's no doubt the song is catchy. Also, there were not many cross-genre songs of country music and hip hop at that time. It was a hit right from the beginning. All it needed was a little push.


TikTok can push the content viral. As he had got sufficient level of popularity by December 2018, Lil Nas X started a TikTok challenge. It was called #YeeHawChallenge.

The thing was about posting a short video where somebody dances to some music, and then they drink a “yee yee juice” (it could be just a glass of water), and then “transform” into cowboys and cowgirls with “Old Town Road” starting to play in the background.

Nas wasn't the first to make good use of TikTok. Here's a video of another musician who realized the power of that platform.

Influencer Marketing

Nas tried to collaborate with Billy Ray Cyrus early in December. He finally succeeded in March. Later on, he collaborated with other stars to ride the wave.

Collaboration with Cyrus boosted Nas' popularity even more. The “Old Town Road” remix with Billy scored millions of views, adding to the pool of what Nas' original song had done.


Nas was tweeting on a regular basis. With his lighthearted approach, he bought the hearts of people. Nas used Twitter to keep the conversation flowing around the remix with Billy Ray Cyrus.

He's got two Twitter accounts. One is “MONTERO”, which has got a Twitter approval mark, while the other is his more unofficial profile, called “that yee yee nigga” He uses both accounts to optimize his chances for success.

Lil Nas X TikTok

Montero has also taken advantage of TikTok, where he quickly created the #YeeHawChallenge trend. Countless videos of various people rode the trend, presenting the wildest variations of the “cowboy”/“cowgirl” transformations.

Song's niche

Mixing hip-hop music with the country genre was something unique. The competition there was minimal, and the song itself was apparently catchy, judging by the number of people who got in on the hype.

Old Town Road Controversy

There was a controversy around the fact that “Old Town Road” has been taken out of the Billboard's charts. There appeared some doubt that the song wasn't really what country music should be like. This is because it contained sounds specific for other genres, such as pop and rap.

As a result, the song was taken out of the Billboard's Country Charts on March 19th, 2019. Nas didn't agree with the final decision, claiming that other songs of those times also included “trap drums.”

Different versions of Old Town Road

“Old Town Road” had 5 major, perfectly designed versions. Nas wanted to release various versions of the song to attract a wider audience and stay popular. All the versions were counted by Billboard as the same song, which made “Old Town Road” the Billboard's record for longest-running hip-hop song on the charts



Challenges can be extremely addictive, especially to young people. TikTok is the perfect platform for these challenges to occur. Things like this can easily go viral due to the fact that users themselves are promoting the content, and inviting more people to accept the "challenge".

Humor Effect

Joy is one of the most "viral" emotion to share. Nas knew this early on, that the perfect tool for his music to spread were video memes.

Authenticity Effect

The lighthearted approach of Nas to the publicity and social media made people love him even more. The "American dream" of an unknown person becoming rich and famous is what made people share the song even more.

Streisand Effect

Banning the "Old Town Road" song from the country charts resulted in the unintended consequences of giving that ‘banned’ content more publicity.

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