When did you first hear about Lil Nas X? Was it with the country-rap crossover ‘Old Town Road,’ or have you been around since his Soundcloud days? No matter when you stepped into the mystical world he’s created, you’re probably as astonished as we are by the way he’s come into his own as one of the most well-rounded artists in the game. But his legacy goes beyond just his own masterpieces.
It’s not common for an artist’s true breakout hit to go all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s pretty unheard of for a proper debut single to become the fastest song to ever earn a Diamond certification in RIAA history. ‘Old Town Road’ managed to achieve both viral and commercial success, as well as awards like the GRAMMY for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance thanks to its Billy Ray Cyrus remix. And how did Lil Nas X celebrate its success? He came out as gay while the whole world was watching him.
Nas closed out 2019 Pride Month by sharing his truth in a tweet nodding to his ‘C7osure (You Like),’ a song with themes of independence and wanting to live your life without fear of what others may think. Lyrics like “let my future take ahold, this is what I gotta do, can’t be regrettin’ when I’m old” took on a new meaning as LGBTIA+ fans welcomed him into their hearts and playlists with open arms.
‘C7osure’ is a standout song on LNX’s debut EP, 7, and it’s undoubtedly one of the most personal, honest tracks. Throughout the project, you can hear a push-and-pull of who Nas wants to be and who people expect him to be. ‘Panini’ references backlash from his early fans who didn’t like the new, more polished direction he was going in, while ‘Kick It’ takes on the viewpoint of a friend who fakes their concern to get closer to LNX now that he’s found success.
The pressures of the music industry, especially in the heteronormative rap and country genres that he found his breakout success in, seem to have also impacted the lyrics on the EP. The most prominent example is the country-trap track ‘Rodeo,’ a collab with Cardi B where Nas sings, “I’ma call you later on, baby girl, don’t you forget, I’ma take you from this party, we might go and have some sex.”
The rest of the song describes wanting a genuine connection with someone, so this lyric really jumps out with how randomly raunchy it is. In retrospect after his coming out, it feels like it was a way of establishing his place as a “normal” rap and country artist, playing into the genres’ tropes while hiding his sexuality to blend in.
Almost instantly after he came out, Lil Nas X faced homophobia from former “fans” and bigots who simply wanted to rip him down at the first opportunity they got. But in spite of the backlash, he’s kept living his truth for both himself and others. And those skeptics had to buckle up, because his coming out tweet and the lyrics on 7 were just the beginning.
I do feel like this newer generation of rappers who are coming in, and the ones who are here, are going to have to reshape their thoughts. Because change is happening. There’s going to be so many gay rappers. There’s going to be more trans people in the industry and whatnot. Ten years from now, everything that I’m doing won’t even seem like it was shocking.
Lil Nas X to GQ
Once Nas stepped out of the closet, he unshackled his art and confidence in a way like never before. There was nothing to hide and he could properly express himself and his identity in his work. To welcome this new era of his career, he released an immensely personal song named after himself: ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).’
From the opening lyric of the song – “I got it bad yesterday, you hit me with a call to your place…” – ‘MONTERO’ felt different than any of the trap-tinged songs Lil Nas X had released before. It had flamenco guitar influence perfected by co-writer Omer Fedi, more harmonies and intricate vocal moments, and let him openly pine for another man in a beautiful display of queer yearning, which hadn’t been given as much of a spotlight in mainstream music culture as ‘MONTERO’ got.
And while the song itself was monumental in Nas’ career, the music video is what truly cemented its place in entertainment history. It opens with a vulnerable message to fans and the LGBTQIA+ community, in a display of sensitivity and honesty on a level that we hadn’t seen from him quite yet: “In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see. We lock them away, we tell them no, we banish them. But here, we don’t. Welcome to MONTERO.”
Simply put, the ‘MONTERO’ music video was triumphant. It starts with Lil Nas X playing guitar in a lush meadow before an alien-snake-hybrid version of himself pops in to represent temptation as a nod to the biblical “Eve ain’t in your garden” line from the song. An arena scene sees him wearing pink and all chained up as a stone crowd judges him, seemingly referencing how the public speculates on his personal life and imposes their own views on his experiences.
But the main part of the video that got people talking was the ending scene, where LNX pole dances down to Hell and has a little rendezvous with Satan himself as a nod to homophobic views that LGBTIA+ people will go to Hell when they die. Everyone was talking about this scene, and outlets like Variety insisted that its splashiness “revived event videos.” It set a new standard for artists who want to be unapologetically themselves in their art and push the envelope no matter how much backlash their creativity might receive.
‘Call Me By Your Name’ was the lead single of Lil Nas X’s debut album, the self-titled MONTERO, which explores his headspace and sexuality in even deeper detail. He also recruited other openly queer artists: gay legend Elton John and Doja Cat, who has shared about her bisexuality on songs like ‘Bottom B*tch.’ But notably, there are no fellow black male artists on the album.
LNX explained on Twitter that Ski Mask the Slump God was supposed to be on the album, but other than Ski Mask, some simply don’t want to work with him. While hip-hop and the music industry as a whole have made great strides in becoming more inclusive, other artists have been called out for homophobic remarks. Lil Nas X has been a big part of the move for inclusion, but even with all he’s done, he told Variety that he avoids outwardly speaking out on homophobia to avoid any potential danger for himself and to stay safe.
In his music, however, Nas vows to be anything but safe. He shared with GQ that he views safety as “the death of art” and prefers to be experimental with his work, challenging social expectations and pushing himself as an artist and a person in the process. Songs like ‘SUN GOES DOWN’ touch on internalized homophobia, while bangers like ‘THATS WHAT I WANT’ celebrate queer love and embrace his desire to connect with someone on a romantic level. Lil Nas X has helped progress conversations about what it means to create an inclusive industry, all while forging a legacy for himself as one of the most important hip-hop artists of the 21st century.
[Normalizing queerness] looks like a little boy asking his parents at eight years old, can he get some nail polish or try something, and it’s not even a question. It looks like two guys kissing during a performance and there not being anything crazy on Twitter about it the next day. It looks like a little boy who doesn’t want to play f*cking football and hang with the girls, and that just being a normal thing. Just letting people exist.
Lil Nas X to GQ
We know that Lil Nas X will only continue to make strides for the LGBTQIA+ community and in making the music scene a better place for all artists. What’s been your favorite part of his career and personal journey so far? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more Lil Nas X content without having to travel to the ‘Old Town Road,’ click here.