Lil Nas X has been racking up magazine covers all 2019. His latest profile for TIME maps his road to viral success and how he went from being another college dropout to smashing the record for Billboard’s Hot 100 chart with the longest-running No. 1 song in history.

According to TIME, Lil Nas X is the sole writer of “Old Town Road” and he purchased the beat online for a mere $30. Studying the “tropes of popular music” and possessing a deep understanding of meme culture would both prove to pay off as he prepared to promote a full-on movement. Fast-forward to March when he was both signed to Columbia Records and banned from the Hot Country songs chart over the single. Heated backlash ensued and after enough attention was brought to it, Billy Ray Cyrus joined forces and the rest is history.

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When @lilnasx recorded “Old Town Road” last fall, he was hoping it could be his way out of an unhappy life. Born Montero Lamar Hill outside #Atlanta in 1999, Lil Nas grew up poor, living with one parent or another—his mother and father split when he was 6. As he spent most of his teenage years alone, he began to live on the Internet and particularly Twitter, creating #memes that showed his disarming wit and pop-culture savvy. “It was like, I’m able to go viral, but I’m not promoting anything that’s gonna help me,” he says. “Until music came along.” A gifted vocalist since he was a child—his father is a gospel singer—Lil Nas began writing and recording songs in his closet. When, around last Halloween, he stumbled across a banjo-driven beat by the teenage Dutch producer @youngkio, he saw an opportunity to combine trap—a Southern-born #hiphop subgenre propelled by vicious bass and crawling tempos—with #country, which was experiencing a surge of popularity on the Internet. “Because it’s two polar opposites coming together, it’s funny no matter what it is,” he says. For the history of #music, artists like Lil Nas were the exception, writes Andrew R. Chow. Now, by definition, Lil Nas is the rule. Read more at the link in bio. Video by @khomariflashfilms and @alexandra_robson for TIME

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The piece also touches on the rapper’s sexuality identity following his decision to come out during Pride Month. TIME reports that he told his father and sister several weeks earlier before breaking the news on Twitter toward the end of June. Evidently, he’s positioned himself as the ultimate outlier and a “unified vision of the future” because “there aren’t many black stars in country music; there aren’t many queer stars in hip-hop.”

Scroll down to peep the cover and while you’re here, revisit our ranking of all the “Old Town Road” remixes along with this essay about why country rap is here to stay.

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thank you for this opportunity @time ❤️?

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