07.31.2019

The real 'Old Town Road': Lil Nas X highlights black cowboy culture across US

The real 'Old Town Road': Lil Nas X highlights black cowboy culture across US (Photo: Harrison Hill, USA TODAY)

Sitting on top of an enormous bucking bull, Ky-Manee Hardy says he has "all of the power in the world." The only thing preventing him from soaring through the air is his right-handed grip on a bull rope and his knees straddling the animal's torso.

A gate swings open and the bull thrashes into the dirt-covered arena, kicking his legs wildly. Thousands of spectators roar, admiring the duel – the first of eight in the bull riding competition at the 35th annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.

In many ways, this rodeo is no different than any other. It's a weekend of bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback horse riding and other rodeo sports. Cowboy hats, Wrangler jeans and western boots are the standard attire. Vendors serve up heaps of fried comfort food from smoke-filled concession stands. The only difference is that every competitor and most of the fans are black.

Atlanta-based musical artist Lil Nas X’s country-trap single “Old Town Road" has helped cast a light in recent months on black Western culture, with its lyrics celebrating boots, cowboy hats and horses.

But the history of African American cowboys and cowgirls in the United States isn't new. They make up a diverse community thriving in cities and towns from coast to coast. And these days, they, like so many other Americans, have cheered the 20-year-old musician's ascent and sung along to his anthem.

For the full story, visit USAToday.com/News/Nation.