Lil Nas X-plored: The Man, The Music, The Memes
The whole world thought Lil Nas X would be a one-hit-wonder when we couldn’t run away (though, who really wanted to?) from his legendary Old Town Road remix. Spoiler Alert: any of us who assumed that, was far beyond wrong. Ever since Nas has not just grown exponentially as a musician but has also been successful in imbuing political messages in his ‘controversial’ creative choices while bringing the spotlight to him and his work. Whether it is his Satan Shoes or the infamous pregnancy photoshoot, they are always more than just publicity stunts, contrary to popular opinion that complements the music he puts out.
Montero, his debut album, titled after his birth-name ‘Montero Lamar Hill’ released on 17th September, 2021 that soared through Spotify charts and deservingly so.
The album is his baby, he says. He’s put his soul into the album. Almost autobiographical in nature, the songs have vulnerable lyrics that tell the truth about the rapper’s life. He talks about living life as a Black queer man and wished to tell people the truth about his life and himself through the album. His album is both a celebration of where he is and his identity, and the harder parts of it.
He further said that making this album was healing and cathartic for him, that he got to be himself and speak his truth through it. The lyrics throughout the album cruise us through a toxic relationship, his upbringing in a broken home and even dying. His honest penmanship makes this album a deeply personal and moving experience for anyone who hears it.
From Meme Lord to Music Lord
So while everyone knows how great Lil Nas X is at making music, the reason everyone knows it, is because he is also great at marketing his work. Lil Nas X started as a meme account (explaining his state-of-the-art tweets) and reached thousands of followers. Even now there are many Lil Nas X memes on his Twitter. He had an audience way before he released his first track which sounds perfect for a rising artist but it wasn't all so easy. For his audience followed him for his meme-quotient rather than his musical ouevre. So, Nas, being a big brain, knew exactly what to do. He used some catchy parts of his own music, Old Town Road, in his memes and added a link to the full track. He then went to various platforms including TikTok and did the same and before you know it, the song became a phenomenon and Lil Nas X made it to the top. From meme lord to music lord, it has been quite a journey but there is more.
Hell? Been There, Done That
Lil Nas X’s ability to bring attention to his work is unmatched. Earlier this year he released the title song of his latest album, Montero (Call Me By Your Name). In the video, he falls to hell only to give the Devil himself a lap dance because why not and later, he released the Lil Nas X Satan Shoes with real human blood in them to promote it, again because why not.
The lap dance and the Satan shoes were more than just an expression of his selfhood and music, it was a response to the oppressive forces that he had to deal with because of his identity as a gay black man. Satan is the quintessential sinner. He is more than just a symbol of sin, he is the symbol Christian God’s might - of Christianity's might. Nas’ lap dance affirms the conservative belief that he will go to hell for being gay but the way he represents Satan empties the devil of the aforementioned symbolic meanings. He does not attack homophobia; rather he takes its symbolic weapon and renders it a joke. Satan shoes, in fact, glorifies the Devil, they say, “wear these devilish shoes, they are cool” this essentially dilutes Satan as a symbol.
Through all this, Nas takes away the effectiveness of any religious attack that could be made on his sexuality since if he is sent to hell, he will probably bond really well with Satan. He received a lot of criticism over it, so, he posted an apology for the shoes which beautifully turned out to be a troll. This is what we call an absolute power move, but wait, there is still more.
A Metaphor Taken Too Far?
Recently, Lil Nas X was everywhere because of his pregnancy photoshoot. It all started, as is reported in People when his stylist called one of his songs his baby and jokingly suggested that he should do a pregnancy photoshoot, and Nas took that seriously. The universe seems to have a liking for Nas because he was given the best opportunity to foreshadow this photoshoot when Drake released the cover art for his album CLB with a bunch of pregnant women emojis.
It did not take Nas long to parody the art with just pregnant male emojis and bring more attention to his own project. It was kind of an extended metaphor for the amount of work that went into Montero and how much it meant to him. This is not without political implications since Nas’ pregnancy, despite being fake, puts strain on conventional gender roles. The sentiment that his new album is his baby, is made more than a metaphor: it is hyperbolized into a political act. An act of dissent. This met much criticism, but his response was simply, “Let me get offline, all of this negative energy is not good for the baby.”