‘Old Town Road’ Co-Writer: Billy Ray Cyrus ‘Didn’t Know What a Fendi Sports Bra Was’

Memphis' Jozzy talks about Lil Nas X's record-breaking hit and "the hardest bar of 2019."

Since Lil Nas X dropped “Old Town Road” on April 5, the rap-country-pop hit has shattered records (18 weeks at No. 1 and counting) to become one of the biggest songs of all-time. But without Billy Ray Cyrus jumping on the remix, a confluence of ingenuity and opportunity, would the song have soared so high?

Cyrus got some help with his verses from songwriter-turned-artist Jozzy. The Memphis native describes herself as a “sister, songwriter, an auntie, a daughter, an avid smoker, an avid feminist, and just a person who really loves music.”

Jozzy, who counts Three 6 Mafia, Juicy J and Project Pat among her influences, first caught the ears of producer Timbaland. Originally linked to work with the industry veteran for two weeks in Miami, she ended up staying five years. She later collaborated with Missy Elliott in Atlanta and moved to Los Angeles in 2018, landing credits on tracks by Coldplay, Pharrell Williams, 21 Savage, Chris Brown and Usher, as well as film soundtracks for “Deadpool 2” and “The Fate of the Furious.”

Variety caught up with Jozzy to talk about her process and how she arrived at “Old Town Road.”

Timbaland is one of your biggest influences, what did you learn about songwriting from him?
I learned a lot of life things. I learned it’s really how you treat people in the industry that dictates a lot of good and bad. He taught me how to go off of feelings. At the time when I got with Timb, it was 2012 and the world was very pop. Being 20 years old then, it was like I was trying to do what was cool. I could write pop, so it was pointless. They taught me how to do me.

When Lil Nas X’s people came to you with “Old Time Road,” what was your initial reaction hearing it?
I thought it was dope as f–k, because he was a black dude from Atlanta. Young Thug did a country song a long time ago [“Family Don’t Matter”], so I was waiting for somebody to come and try to do it the real way. When I first heard it, I was, like, “oh yeah.” I loved what he was doing. I loved him talking about a Wrangler. I loved that he still kept it black — ‘cause we black — but still making other people feel comfortable. But I didn’t know it was going to be this big.

What did you know about Billy Ray Cyrus at the time?
“Hannah Montana,” of course. My momma used to think he was hot as f–k. She loved him, that’s all I really knew. … That’s why I was more open to do it, because it was, like, “This is for my momma.”

Where do you start? 
Well it was one of those things where I didn’t want him to talk about anything country. It was like, “Bro, no moonshine, no cigarettes, no red cup in hand… since Lil Nas X is stepping into your world, step into his world.” So Fendi sports bras, Maserati sports cars, “hat down cross town living like a rockstar.”

What inspired the lyrics?
It’s culture. Our culture is flashy. Everything we do is flashy, so that inspired those lyrics.

What was the dynamic in the studio?
Man, it was cool. It was hot. We were smoking, we were relaxed. He was nervous because he was excited. You an OG and it’s your time to come back. You came back with a f–king bang! It was a vibe for me, almost as if I went in there and freestyled the melody. We wrote the song in 15 minutes, it was really easy.

Are you a country fan?
Not at all. [Laughs.] I’m from Memphis so it’s easy for me know those pockets. I’m a clown. I’m a jokester so I be doing the little country twang anyways, just playing around.

Do you get sick of hearing it?
Yeah… I’m sick of hearing it, but I can’t be like that because this is my blessing. I’ll be like “Jozzy, chill out.” But if this was anybody else’s song, I’d be like “yo, cut that sh– off!”

What lyric are you most proud of?
“Baby’s got a habit / Diamond rings and Fendi sports bra / Riding down Rodeo in my Maserati sports car.” That’s the hardest bar of 2019.

What was Billy Ray’s reaction when you said it?
Billy was lit, I’m telling you. His wife, Tish, was such a supporter. She was, like, “Bae, you gotta say that.” He didn’t know what a Fendi sports bra was. Then I said, “Your wife has one.” She’s, like, “Yeah I got one!” I was, like, “Bro, just say it.”

You said in a previous interview, “no one would have given that dude the swag I gave him.” What is the swag you gave him?
I just gave him authenticity. I feel like people would’ve tailored it to be what Lil Nas did. People would’ve probably tried to take Lil Nas’ melody and give it to him. I wanted the music to stop. A music break in a country song so you could hear hat down cross town. Just the twang.

What are your thoughts of it being the biggest song of all-time?
It’s amazing. I’m just so blessed I’m part of it, because I follow in the footsteps of Missy Elliott, The Dream, all of the songwriters who became artists. This is my very first No. 1. For me to get my first No. 1 and for it to be this massive and be in the history books, it’s, like, damn, I’ve accomplished what all of the greats want to accomplish. Now it’s time to go stupid on my artist sh–. That’s where I’m at mentally. Like: “All right, job well done, now let’s go.”

Talk about transitioning from songwriting to your own career as an artist…
The best part is people accepting it. Even artists. I saw Uzi in New York and he’s, like, “I saw your video with Wayne, that sh–’s crazy.” For artists to give me the respect, them not seeing me as just a songwriter, now I’m building my fanbase.

Was your plan always to be an artist and songwriting was a way to get there? 
I started out songwriting, then I went to the artist thing with my boy Wizz Dumb. We did this tape called 2090s because we were doing R&B and Timb wasn’t on R&B at the time. I really always wanted to be a songwriter, but then I stayed with Missy for a month at her crib. She’s, like, “Jozzy, in order for you to get your sound out, you may have to be an artist.” That’s when I started taking it more serious with the artistry, because people weren’t messing with my sound. Now I have DaniLeigh on my shit, Jacquees, everyone’s f–king with it.

How did you link with Lil Wayne?
I was at Hit Factory in Miami around 2014 when I first met him. Then I met him again with Polow Da Don because I wrote Monica’s single that she put out, it was dope. Wayne wanted to signed me as an artist … to Young Money probably two or three years ago. He didn’t want to ever put me in that situation, because he was in a bad situation. He’s, like, “Jozzy, I always saw it in you; I always wanted you to do this; whatever you need from me.” I was, like, “Yo, Wayne, I got these songs. How about that favor?” That’s how it happened. He chose “Sucka Free.”

What defines “sucka”?
Sucka sh– is when you try to hard. Thank God my homies and people I’m around, we’re just us. Just don’t try to be anything you’re not.

More Music

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    Beyoncé Signs With Sony/ATV Music Publishing (EXCLUSIVE)

    Beyoncé has signed with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, Variety has learned. Beyoncé and Jay-Z have worked closely for much of their careers with Jon Platt, who took the reins at the Sony Music company as chairman and CEO in 2019. Platt already brought Rihanna over to his new home last fall, after moving to Sony/ATV from [...]

  • Wu Tang An American Saga Dollface

    Hulu Renews 'Wu-Tang: An American Saga' and 'Dollface' for Season 2

    Hulu has renewed “Wu Tang: An American Saga” and “Dollface,” each for a second season. The former, created and written by Alex Tse and the RZA, is based on the formation of the Wu-Tang Clan. The first season explored the hip-hop group’s history and daily struggles of balancing its rising music career on the backdrop [...]

  • Lucian Grainge

    Universal Music Chief Lucian Grainge to Receive Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

    Lucian Grainge — chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company — will receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next Thursday (Jan. 23). Fittingly, the ceremony will take place in front of the historic Capitol Records building; Capitol is one of the several Universal-owned labels under Grainge’s domain. Universal, recently [...]

  • Deborah Dugan Recording Academy Head

    Deborah Dugan’s Attorney Slams Grammys With Fiery Statement After Ouster

    Less than 12 hours after news broke that Deborah Dugan had been placed on administrative leave from her post as president/CEO of the Recording Academy, her attorney fired back with a statement. “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. When our ability to speak is not restrained by [...]

  • Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan participates

    Grammy Shocker: Deborah Dugan Ouster Was a ‘Coup,’ Insiders Say

    UPDATED: As the music industry reeled in the wake of Deborah Dugan’s sudden removal from her post as president/CEO of the Recording Academy on Thursday — a mere five months after she’d taken charge, and just ten days before the Grammy Awards — even insiders were stunned by the abruptness of the move and perplexed [...]

  • Alfred Hitchcock and Eminem covers

    Eminem Pays Homage to Alfred Hitchcock With 'Murdered' Album Cover and Title

    Eminem may not be the Master of Suspense: He just dropped his new album, “Music to Be Murdered By,” Thursday at midnight, without even milking it with any prior warning. But he appears to be a fan of Alfred Hitchcock anyway. The new set shares its title and cover concept with the one and only [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content