This week, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" continued its ride up the Billboard Hot 100 charts, moving from No. 51 to No. 32. X's clever, meme-ready lyrics are driving the success, but you also have to give credit to the trap production from Netherlands-bred producer YoungKio.
After being gifted production software Fl Studio in late 2016, Kio quickly progressed as a beatmaker, hungry to stitch his name alongside music savants. Last December, he reached a pivotal milestone. Memes of people dressed in cowboy attire began surfacing through the video-sharing app TikTok with his instrumental playing in the background. After a girl tagged him in one of her meme videos, Kio did some digging and learned that his "throwaway" beat had transformed into a full-fledged track titled "Old Town Road."
"When I heard the song, I DM'd Nas on Instagram and said, 'Yo, bro. This shit is fire. I wanna help promote it,'" Kio tells Billboard. "If you can just put produced by YoungKio in the title, this will help me grow as well.'" So he was cool with it. That's how it just went. We didn't really have any connection. It was just him buying it from my beats store and me finding out after."
Billboard spoke to YoungKio about how he got his start, connecting with Lil Nas X and which artists have already reached out to him for country-trap beats.
How did you first get into producing?
I started producing in late 2016. A good friend of mine had FL Studios — that's a program we usually use to make beats — and he was just trying it. It didn't really work out for him. He tried making beats, but it was not what he wanted it to be. I was a designer at the time, so I had a lot of knowledge about programs and computers, and he knew that. So he told me, "Yo, I know you're good with computers and stuff. I'm going to give you my FL Studio — maybe you can do something with it."
So I started making beats. I started going on YouTube, finding some inspiration, these "Type Beats." That's how producers market their beats online. They make a beat, and they're like, "Hey, sounds like 21 Savage can hop on it. So I'm just going to title it '21 Savage Type Beat.'" I followed that wave. When I started the beats were trash, but once I got the hang of it and understood how to make a sound that's really easy for people to hop on, I thought, "Maybe I can try to make music with artists and just maybe get some money off of it." Because I heard people were making money selling beats online.
Hip-hop isn't really as big in the Netherlands as it is in the USA. So I just started putting my beats online to get an American following. In the beginning, I was trying to remake song instrumentals just to learn and understand what they were doing. That made me learn really fast.
How did the beat for "Old Town Road" come together?
I had just mastered my melody game and I was trying to get more into sampling. I knew how to sample, but I wanted some crazy challenges. So I would go on YouTube trying to find really weird stuff to sample. I was searching for Beethoven or the classical stuff from hundreds of years ago. Music you normally wouldn't sample.
I found this Nine Inch Nails song ["34 Ghosts IV"] and I thought, "Damn. This shit is crazy." [Laughs]. Normally, when I sample something I chop it, filter it — I turn it into something different. But this sample, I thought if I chopped this and filtered it, it's going to ruin it. I tried to keep as much of the originality of the sample, but I also wanted to have the trap vibe, so I sped it up. I didn't really have any country thoughts about it. It was just me trying to find a challenge for myself and randomly stumbling on a sample like, "Damn. I have to do something with this." The beat is more than a year old.
How did Lil Nas X get a hold of it?
I was selling my beats online, mostly to up-and-coming artists. The smaller artists can buy [or] lease beats from my beats store. But when people buy [beats], I can't really see which artist is buying it. I just get a notification that they purchase it, and that's it.
One day, in like December, I was on Instagram, and some girl tagged me in a meme. Someone was dancing with a cowboy hat on, and she tagged me and said, "I hear your tag. I hear your producer tag," because I sell my beats with my producer tag in it. I listened to the song and it was kinda fire. In the comment section of the meme, somebody said, "What's the song?" Somebody replied, "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X. I went on SoundCloud and it had like 10,000 streams or something. My name wasn't on there because when they buy it, they don't have to credit me.
I DM'd Nas on Instagram and said, "Yo, bro. This shit is fire. I wanna help promote it. If you can just put 'produced by Young Kio' in the title, this will help me grow as well." He was cool with it. We didn't really have any connection. It was just him buying it from my beats store and me finding out after.
When did you first realize that he had a hit on his hands?
When I saw it was hitting a million. It hit a million on SoundCloud and Spotify simultaneously. I was really happy and was sharing it with everyone like, "Yo. We hit a million!" It was big for me. After that, I think it was the TikTok memes that really boosted it. We got in the Viral 50 on Spotify, and that's when I really thought, "Bro, this is crazy. This is gonna blow for real." Viral 50 is big, but it's not Hot 100 big. When it hit Billboard, I was like, "This shit is gonna take over everything!" I was really shook. Everybody was promoting it. Even Justin Bieber was putting it in his story, and I was like, "Man. This was actually a throwaway beat." [Lil Nas X] said this was the least serious song he made and it just exploded with the memes and shit. I'm still just shook that that happened.
Have any rappers reached out to you asking for you to make an "Old Town Road" type beat?
I have a lot of management in my contacts. I got signed with a production team that can help me out with all the paperwork. When I have people that want a beat, I just refer them to my management. What I've heard from management is that they told me Rico Nasty wanted a beat like that. Lil Pump reached out to me. Lil Pump himself commented on my Instagram, and his management was in my DM like, "Yo. We need beats." That's just two big artists that wanted a country vibe. Besides that, I've had a lot of smaller artists [reach out.] It was just mostly artists promoting, sharing and supporting it, like Ski Mask [The Slump God].
How do you categorize "Old Town Road"?
Personally, I think you can call it a country-trap song, a mixture, because Lil Nas X took the country vibes vocally and how to just sing their music. I've listened to country music and the whole vibe, he used that as an artist on this beat. This beat is a trap beat with a rock-type sample. That's how I see it. It's not a country beat. I didn't make it with that thought behind it, but he turned it into a country-type song with what he did with the lyrics, his vocals and just promoting that way.
If there were a remix, who would you want on it?
Probably Young Thug. That's my favorite artist of all time. He really can do anything — literally. I've listened to every single song of his, and I think he's qualified to do this remix. I've listened to Beautiful Thugger Girls, and he has some country vibes on there. That fit would be hard as fuck. He already proved that he can take this country vibe and make it fire.
Have you and Lil Nas X spoke about collaborating again?
Hell yeah! I be sending him a lot of shit actually. I want him to keep being successful. We've been talking a lot. He'll tell me he wants a beat like this or a beat like that, but I really put a standard for myself, you know? Because "Old Town Road" is a big-ass hit and I want the songs that he brings out now to hit like that. I'm really trying hard to get new songs in the hip-hop community. I've sent him more country-trap stuff, some guitar stuff that I've played, but I'm also looking at even more genres and more vibes that are really different for me to help him make something else that can also be as big as "Old Town Road." Different vibes is what we're really looking for.