Grammy-winning, boldly stylish music artist Lil Nas X, creator of the smash hit country-rap song “Old Town Road,” has made his children’s publishing debut with the alphabet picture book C Is for Country, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Random House). The work stars a young Black cowboy and his trusty pony Panini on an adventure-filled ride through an alphabet that showcases wide-open spaces and fun on the farm, a loving family, and a spirit of individuality.
Individuality certainly fueled Lil Nas X (born Montero Lamar Hill)’s rise to fame. He first made his name as an internet personality, creating popular memes and comedy videos on various social media platforms in the mid-2010s. By 2018 he had begun to focus more on music and in December of that year he released “Old Town Road,” a blending of trap (a Southern-flavored subgenre of hip-hop) and country. It became a viral sensation thanks to the memes he made to promote the song, and the #Yeehaw Challenge on TikTok, where millions of users—including lots of kids—dressed in their best cowboy/girl gear and used the song for their soundtrack. That success led to a contract with Columbia Records.
A remix of the song featuring vocals by country artist Billy Ray Cyrus was released in April 2019 and it soared to new heights, including awards recognition and the amassing of more than 12.5 million followers for Nas across online apps. Amid this flush of success Nas came out as gay. “Old Town Road (Remix)” went on to hold the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a record-breaking 19 consecutive weeks and win two Grammys. On January 9, “Old Town Road (Remix)” was recognized as the highest certified song ever by the Recording Industry Association of America, reaching 14-times platinum. It’s been streamed 2.9 billion times in the U.S.
Tapping into his massive young fan base for another creative outlet was a natural segue for Nas. “With all the major success of ‘Old Town Road’ and the fact that kids were a big part of that, the opportunity to create a fun and educational book for them just made so much sense,” he told PW. “I hope this makes learning the ABCs a lot more fun for them.” And beyond mastering the alphabet, Nas said that he would like to see young readers “take away a genuine confidence that they can do whatever they want to do and be whoever they want to be.”
Random House was eager to join in the venture. “Nas and his team came up with the idea for C Is for Country and brought it to us—and as soon as we received it, we knew they’d hit on an amazing concept,” said Sara Sargent, senior executive editor at Random House Books for Young Readers. “The title perfectly encapsulates who Nas is and how he effortlessly blends his different styles and influences. From there, we brought on award-winning artist Theodore Taylor III, who brought Nas’s childhood world to life with bold, bright artwork.”
Though Nas’s following and iconic stature in the music world had obvious appeal, Sargent noted that she also felt strongly about taking on the project for additional reasons, namely Nas’s “openness around and embrace of his identity as a queer Black man. That was a cornerstone of why I wanted to acquire the book—he sets an extraordinary example to readers about the power in being fully yourself,” she said. “Moreover, Nas is unique in how much he wants to connect with kids and how much his young audience means to him. It’s clear from both Nas’s words and actions that he believes in inspiring and encouraging children, which made it a perfect fit.”
Nas believes that wearing the hat of a children’s author is a good look for him. “It feels amazing and very surreal to see my name on this book,” he said. “It’s never something I thought would happen for me so it’s very special. The response has been great—everyone thinks it’s super cute and loves all the illustrations. Theodore did such a great job.” Sargent noted that early feedback from kids, Nas fans, and media outlets has been very positive. She points out that one of the book’s biggest fans is Nas himself. “When working with a celebrity author who has all kinds of projects going on, it’s immensely gratifying to see them so deeply affected by the gravity of putting out a book,” Sargent said.
Will there be any more books down the road? “It’s clear that Nas wants to make as big an impact as possible on his young fans, so he’s definitely talked about wanting to do more books,” Sargent said. “What form that may take is still in the works.” Nas is on the same page regarding his publishing career. “I’m sure I will [do another book] at some point,” he said, but revealed that he’s not developing a new idea at the moment. Right now, his biggest focus lies elsewhere. “I’m working on my debut album that’s going to be coming out later this year,” he said. “I’m so excited for everyone to hear what I’ve been working on for so long. I’ve worked harder on this album than anything in my entire life. I know the fans are going to love it!”
C Is for Country by Lil Nas X, illus. by Theodore Taylor III. Random House, $18.99 Jan. ISBN 978-0-593-30078-7