Words by: Juliette Capomolla Art by: Marissa Hor
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve been waiting for the perfect moment to do a profile on Lil Nas X — and yes, I know that’s really lame. But the man need not be underestimated. With a career spanning less than three years, and a discography of a little over 10 songs, somehow the singer is managing to break records.
At the beginning of August, Lil Nas ceremoniously surpassed rapper DaBaby’s streaming record to become the most listened to male rapper in the world. This dethroning could not have been more serendipitous after DaBaby ousted himself as a homophobe at Rolling Loud festival in late July, which saw him dropped from upcoming sets at Lollapalooza and Governor’s Ball. A pretty impressive feat from an artist yet to release their debut album.
Yes, Lil Nas X’s accolades are a list well beyond his years (although, I’m still waiting for him to add ‘guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race’ to the list), but I would say that’s not even what makes Lil Nas X the artist he is today. There’s this inexplicable appeal about him (unless you’re a homophobe, that is); his shameless sexuality, self-deprecating tendencies (self-proclaimed “talentless homosexual”), and social media expertise (perhaps this stems from his Nicki Minaj fan account he had as a teenager) — need I go on?
But why is this man-myth-legend so controversial? It’s needless to say that his unashamed homosexuality is difficult for some prudish, archaic individuals to stomach. Yes, (un)surprisingly, those same White old men who were horrified at the sight of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B singing about their wet ass pussies also nearly passed out when Lil Nas X gave the devil a lap dance in his ‘Montero (Call Me By Your Name)’ video. Oh, and then again when he and eight other Black men danced naked in the ‘Industry Baby’ video.
When he came out mid-2019, six months after the release of the infamous track ‘Old Town Road’ and amidst its 17th week at number one, his audience was still relatively small. Now, with nearly 10 million followers on Instagram, he’s definitely attracting more attention — attention which he effortlessly uses to his advantage.
It seems that Lil Nas X is not afraid to act as a role model for others just like him. With ‘Old Town Road’ paying homage to the proud history of Black cowboys in the US, he definitely came out of the (metaphorical) gates swinging. But, not without backlash. ‘Old Town Road’ was removed from Billboard’s Country charts shortly after its release, a move that had many pointing out that Country music has, and has always had, a race problem. But, it’s needless to say that it’s not just Country which has a race problem. Unfortunately, there still lacks space for a proud Black man to be successful in America and the world — a fact which I’m sure many of you need not be reminded of. So it appears that Lil Nas will have to continue to defiantly wrestle with the gatekeepers of the music industry for a little while yet — a fight against the systemic racism which has long held that certain genres of music be made only by White people, only for White people.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ll surely remember Lil Nas X’s controversial Satan Shoes. If not, do the shoes containing a drop of human blood ring a bell? Despite the somewhat sadistic inclusion, the $1018 USD shoes sold out almost instantly. But it’s the follow up from the rapper which makes him such an icon. After a similar scandal was attached to Tony Hawk’s blood-infused skateboard collaboration, the pair collaborated on a TikTok — the perfect storm. Nevertheless, even Lil Nas recognised the double standard — a White, straight man can release a blood-infused good with little to no backlash but god forbid, a Black, gay man do the same.
What some may see as an over-exaggeration of his sexuality, should be better appreciated for the environment in which it exists. For a 22-year-old Black man who grew up in the south of the United States, ashamed about his sexual identity, it’s an opportunity only afforded to a few, to comfortably, publicly, and confidently embrace it. Not only is his music a space for Lil Nas X to embrace himself, but it’s also a responsibility that comes with the platform; to let others know they needn’t be repentant. After all, if 2019’s Pride Month hadn’t been met with open arms on social media like it was, perhaps Lil Nas X’s spur of the moment decision to come out never would have happened. But there’s an added layer when we consider the ease at which Nas’ heterosexual peers release songs time and time again about sex with women. Have they ever been questioned whether their heterosexuality is just a “shtick”?
The fact of the matter is, while Lil Nas X is a trifecta of what society typically likes to hate: Black, gay and shameless, many can’t help but love him. By wearing his identity on his sleeve, Lil Nas X and his art make the world a more interesting place.