Sometimes, we as the hip-hop consumer can get preoccupied by the negative. Due to the rate that fresh music arrives and the redefined quality control model– or lack thereof– that the internet provides, many ardent fans will deliver grim prognoses whenever they’re met with a new release that enflames their sensibilities. As a result, Nas X and the genuine phenomenon that was “Old Town Road” was viewed by some as the death knell for our cherished artform. A sardonic hybrid of country music, old frontier imagery and trap production, purists were happy to use him as an effigy for the defilement of country and rap all at once. On account of how tongue-in-cheek the track may seem at surface level, detractors of 20-year-old Montero Hill were pre-emptively writing him off as a short-lived novelty. Whether it’s J-Kwon, Jibbs or another alumni of the ringtone rap era, there’s a wealth of case studies where MCs fleetingly took the world by storm only to be entombed in that moment for the rest of time.
Transported from the verge of eviction from his sister’s home to Billboard’s pole position, it is increasingly clear that Lil Nas X has no intention of making a round trip back to irrelevancy. He has effectively fended off the wolves at the door in the wake of his 7 EP, but there’s still a great deal of artistic self-discovery that he needs to undertake to retain, let alone solidify, a viable position in the rap game market.
During the “Old Town Road” pressruns, Hill made a point of identifying as an “internet baby.” Critiqued by his parents for being semi-permanently attached to his phone, what his concerned guardians couldn’t have predicted is that the online realm would play such an integral role in his musical output. By consuming content of all varieties, Lil Nas X is indicative of the Gen-Z mindset where there’s no onus on completionism or tribally aligning with one subculture alone.
Bookended by both versions of “Old Town Road” these tracks are interwoven into the fabric of 2019 and were likely placed on the EP as a simple failsafe for streaming numbers– yet, if the internet’s seemingly never-ending loop of “Old Town Road” has grown tiresome and the song is continuing to lose its initial oomf, then we’re also negating two songs off the tracklist immediately.
What’s worthy of further examination is the array of tracks that he offered as a taste of “Lil Nas X 2.0.” Although he’ll be synonymous with the “yeehaw agenda” for a while longer, 7 shows that he yearns to diversify and to be taken seriously. However, the EP’s multi-faceted nature ultimately robs it of focus. Despite this clear effort to create a diverse collection of sounds, all of which are genre-bleeding, the end-result feels cookie-cutter and machine-like– “here’s our rock song,” “here’s our trap song,” “here’s our r’n’b song”– each song more generic than the next.
“F9mily (You & Me)” sees him hook-up with a fitting collaborator in Travis Barker for a song bustling with the youthful pop-punk-rock exuberance that might have made it a hit in the early ’00s. The end-product seeks to mend a dysfunctional family unit over sprightly guitar strains but feels somewhat incomplete. In another noble effort, his exploratory stabs at this realm persist as he veers from the Warped Tour to the dingy alt-rock haunts of early ’00s New York on “Bring U Down.”
Steeped in the woozy trap of Travis Scott, “Panini” arrives with an homage to Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” unbeknownst to the rapper at the time. A TakeADayTrip produced banger that is earmarked for the clubs, this feels like a concerted effort at a peace offering to the hip-hop fans that were left out in the cold by “Old Town Road.” In the same token, his second Daytrip-assisted effort “Rodeo” co-opts the country-tinged sound for a second go-round, leaving the zaniness behind. Rounded off by a verse from Cardi B, there’s no reason why this couldn’t be another smash but its high-profile feature and re-tread of old ground makes it feel more label-mandated than anything else.
While lyrical profundity was never going to be the focal point of the project, Lil Nas adeptly juggles narratives and melody on “Kick It,” proving his self-aware nature at the same time. However, this abrupt shift in tone and musical style epitomizes the crossroads that Lil Nas X finds himself at. While there may be underlying talent, his insistence on the jack-of-all-trades approach rather than mastering a sound creates a state of confusion.
Look no further than “C7osure (You Like).” Aided by Boi-1da and Allen Ritter, his farewell to a selfish lover is a cross-pollination between Take Care-era Drake, early Cudi and singer/songwriters such as Steve Lacy and Benny Sings– yet Lil Nas X lacks any vocal prowess that someone like Drake carefully practiced and perfected since his first singing attempt. The result is another formulaic record that attempts to grasp at… something.
Rather than subsisting on the amassed goodwill of his year-defining hit, Lil Nas X’s 7 confronts the notion of being a one-trick pony in courageous fashion, yet, the overall lack of uniqueness means that we are ultimately still left with just one-trick– “Old Town Road.” While there are moments on 7 where you feel like you’re listening to the finished product, it mostly feels like a smokescreen to mask the fact that Lil Nas X has yet to find his footing or any true artistic identity.