Despite the uninspired name (he blatantly took it from a rapper name generator), Lil Nas X has fast become one of the most exciting and unique artists in modern mainstream hip hop. But is it all just gimmicks?
Country/rap hybrid ‘Old Town Road’ made my top singles of 2019 and I still think it’s a banger (even if the radio stations all played it to death). Since the release of this song, Lil Nas X has continued to turn heads and push boundaries with his explicitly homoerotic music videos and openly gay lyrics. While by no means the first openly gay rapper, I’m pretty sure he is the first to overtly rap about bonking dudes while topping charts around the world.
Lil Nas X clearly knows how to market himself to get media attention. In the leadup to the release of this album, he called the album his ‘baby’ and then went through a whole mock pregnancy (prosthetic belly and all!). Many people have accused him of relying on gimmicks (he actually dedicates a song ‘One of Me’ to this on his new album). Do I personally think this is the case? Musically, is there anything unique going on beneath the flamboyant videos and promotional stunts?
Having listened to Montero, I think Lil Nas X definitely has something to offer. His voice isn’t particularly unique, but he knows how to craft catchy choruses and does it without ever using auto-tune. Some of the trap-pop production is pretty run-of-the-mill, but occasionally he throws a quirky beat out there to spice things up (gloomy rock-flavoured ‘Life After Salem’ is a great example of this).
However, it’s really his lyrics that separate him from young rapper-singers like Post Malone and 6LACK. The subject matter on tracks like ‘Dead Right Now’, ‘One of Me’ and ‘Sun Goes Down’ feels very personal and vulnerable – he delves very deep into topics like depression and the struggles of fame. The fact that he can pull these tracks off while also pulling off a silly track like ‘Old Town Road’ shows how multi-dimensional he is.
I would like to see Lil Nas X truly embracing his eccentricity. Like Doja Cat (whose new album I reviewed earlier this year and who appears as a guest on this album), Lil Nas X shows so much potential to be a truly wacky artist – not just visually, but sonically.