American rapper Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” became a viral hit in 2019; his first album ‘Montero’ (2021) was also a success.
Who Is Lil Nas X?
Lil Nas X was born as Montero Lamar Hill in 1999. His stage name combines “Lil” (a common naming trope for rappers), “Nas” from a Twitter account he ran while a devoted fan of Nicki Minaj and “X” as the Roman numeral 10 (the number of years he thought it would take to find fame). Nas has the social media savvy to make his work stand out in a crowded landscape, which helped with his breakthrough “Old Town Road.” Nas then created a meaningful, yet still attention-grabbing, first album: Montero (2021). The record contains hits like “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”; the personal tune “Sun Goes Down” addresses how a young Nas grappled with being gay. After being taught homosexuality was wrong when he was growing up, Nas conveys the message that he would like gay relationships to become so accepted by society that they are rendered unremarkable.
Lil Nas X was born as Montero Lamar Hill on April 9, 1999, in Lithia Springs, Georgia. His mother called him Montero in honor of the Mitsubishi Montero, a car she liked. After Nas’ parents separated when he was 6, he and his siblings went to live with their mother and great-grandmother in an Atlanta public-housing project that was known for drugs and violence. About four years later, a custody battle resulted in Nas and his older brother moving to the Atlanta suburbs to live with their father and stepmother.
Nas has said he was aware he was gay since he was 5 years old. As he got older, he witnessed the bullying and homophobia people who came out had to deal with and decided he would always stay in the closet. His father was a gospel singer and Nas had to attend church. At one point, “I even thought, ‘If I have these feelings, it’s just a test. A temporary test. It’s going to go away. God is just tempting me.”
Nas kept his head down in high school. His main focus was online life as a superfan of Nicki Minaj. On Twitter as @nasmaraj, Nas interacted with other Minaj admirers — the Barbz — and learned how to get attention on social media.
Nas enrolled in the University of West Georgia to study computer science, but he didn’t like college. He wrote songs and found he loved creating music. He decided to drop out of school to focus on that, to his father’s dismay.
‘Old Town Road’
After leaving college, Nas lived with his sister while sharing his music online. He saw the popularity of country-trap videos, which mixed country music and a Southern style of hip-hop. With a beat purchased online for $30, he created his own country-trap song, titled “Old Town Road.” “It was the first song I genuinely formulated,” he told Rolling Stone. “I was like, ‘I gotta make it short, I gotta make it catchy.'”
Nas posted the tune to SoundCloud in December 2018. His social media abilities helped the tune go viral on TikTok and spread on other sites. In March 2019, “Old Town Road” made it onto three Billboard charts: the Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Country Songs. Then it was removed from the country chart. Billboard’s official reasoning was that Nas’s song did “not embrace enough elements of today’s country music,” but many wondered if his being a Black man had influenced the decision. (Billboard said race was not a factor.)
Amid this controversy, the song reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. On April 5, 2019, he released a remix of “Old Town Road” that he made with Billy Ray Cyrus, a 1990s country star who Nas knew from his role on Hannah Montana. With help from remixes by Cyrus and others, “Old Town Road” set a record for staying atop the Hot 100 chart for 19 weeks.
As his fame grew, Nas decided to stop hiding his sexuality. He first came out to his sister and brother, then shared the truth with his father. His father at first asked if Nas was being tempted by the devil, but came to accept and fully support his son.
On June 30, 2019, the end of Pride Month, Nas publicly came out. After appearing at a Pride concert at the Glastonbury Festival, he instructed his fans to “listen closely” to his song “C7osure (You Like)” to reveal he was gay.
Nas knew that sharing this information could alienate some of his peers and fans in country and hip-hop. Some rappers have mentioned him in homophobic comments, including criticism of fashion he’s worn on red carpets. But he stands behind his decision. Nas explained in a 2021 interview, “I honestly felt like it was kind of my duty. Especially if I wanted to move forward.”
Follow-Up Songs and First Album
After the success of “Old Town Road,” Nas signed with Columbia Records in March 2019. His next songs “Panini” and “Rodeo” received attention, but nothing he released reached the heights of “Old Town Road.” And his 2019 EP 7 didn’t perform as well as hoped. Nas has admitted he feels he played it safe with that recording.
Nas said he matured while working on his first album, Montero, during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. The single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” came out in March 2021. At the same time, Nas shared a message to his younger self: “I know we promised to never come out publicly, I know we promised to never be ‘that’ type of gay person, I know we promised to die with the secret, but this will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist.”
The video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” drew on visuals linked to the Christian faith and the idea that being gay meant being denied salvation. The video, along with a tie-in release of “Satan Shoes,” drew ire online, though Nas said, “The love outweighs the hate by like a hundred.” His mastery of social media allowed Nas to swat back at critics while bringing attention to his work. “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Prior to releasing his album in September 2021, Nas shared photos in which he sported a prominent pregnancy bump. “I’m like a mother sending her child out into the world,” he told People magazine of the album’s release. On the record, he performs with Elton John, Miley Cyrus, Megan Thee Stallion, Jack Harlow and Doja Cat.
Accomplishments and Goals
At the 62nd Grammy Awards in January 2020, Nas won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video for “Old Town Road.”
In 2021, C Is for Country, his children’s book about Lil Nas X and Panini the Pony, became a bestseller.
Nas performed “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” and “Sun Goes Down” on Saturday Night Live in May 2021. His pants split during his performance, but he later tweeted that this wardrobe malfunction hadn’t been planned.
In September 2021, Nas received the Suicide Prevention Advocate of the Year Award from The Trevor Project. He said in response, “If using my voice and expressing myself in my music can help even one kid out there who feels alone, then it was all worth it.”
At the Met Gala in 2021, Nas held court with three eye-catching outfits.
Nas says that he intends to start acting when he feels the time is right.
For a time in 2021 Nas was seeing dancer Yai Ariza, who appeared in his “That’s What I Want” music video. However, Nas admitted after the relationship was over, “I’m at this point in my life where I finally realized that I don’t want to fall in love. I’m so focused on my music career, and love takes a lot of time. It’s a lot of responsibility, and I don’t think I’m ready to have that extra responsibility on my shoulders right now. When it happens, it’s going to happen.”