Is Lil Nas X the new Prince?
A controversialist in thigh-high boots? We’ve seen this all before, and we’re happy to see it again.
Lil Nas X (Photo: Sony Music)
When a 21-year-old spring chicken of a rapper sent the cyber world and beyond into somewhat of a frenzy, some were struck with a sense of deja-vu. Was it the pencil moustache? The blasphemous themes? Or was it the overt queer sexuality, and the consequent and complete unapologetica?
Got the look?
Brazen and devastating – somewhere between Dennis Rodman and Orville Peck, with a sprinkling of Sisqo's flamboyance and Nelly's Country Grammar-era swagger – hurtled the small yet explosive saucepot-cum-powerhouse LNX. Indeed it was all of the aforementioned qualities, and the direct lyrical reference to a well-known song/album/tour/era of another mini firecracker, that immediately rang bells. No, not Harry Styles (though, granted, his ‘Sign of the Times’ is quite divine): “A sign of the times every time that I speak.” Spoke as though in pious, treacherous verse or hymn, this could only be an ode to 1987’s ‘Sign o’ the Times.’
It’s obvious to many that Lil Nas X’s persona wouldn’t be what it is without Prince. And whilst he’s no cred-hogger, he’s at an advantage that much of Lil Nas’ fanbase are too young to understand the magnitude of Prince’s influence, if even who he was. Lil Nas’ brand is such that he can stake claim on being the voice of his new power generation; the wisdom is such that he does so with a knowing side-wink that he knows exactly what he’s doing.
What would a meeting have been like between the two? I envisage a fight over the most provocative PVC thigh-highs, and a dare as to who could most invoke the spirit of the devil with their spice. On ‘Controversy,’ Prince sings “Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me?” before reciting the entire Lord’s Prayer and casting a wish upon the planet that, rude or not, he wishes we were all naked. On ‘Montero,’ Lil Nas dreams up all the ways in which he wishes to sexually possess his lover, with a now-viral video to match, where he lapdances for Satan.
Many of the greats look to cinema for inspiration. Prince created his own with Purple Rain, Under the Cherry Blossom and more; Lil Nas X released an aforementioned video for ‘Montero (CMBYN)’ that’s streaming in the multi-millions. But did you know that the CMBYN affix of the hit is an ode to the 2017 hit gay romantic drama by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name? Starring Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet as two enveloped, star-crossed lovers one hot summer in eighties Italy, the film made waves for its portrayal of queer love and infatuation. As expected, more OTT goodness from LNX was to come, with the next video - this time for the prison-set 'Industry Baby' - ruffling feathers once more. The shower sex-meets-prison-break scene in particular was a slick (and steamy) social commentary, recalling the X-rated 'institutions under fire' theme of Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' or Gaga feat. Beyoncé's 'Telephone.' He sure is following in the footsteps of the Purple One; which hopefully means some crooning, comedy and plenty more flesh.
…And bucking them. Or being bucked by them. The blending of country and rap wasn’t something we’d seen much of before Lil Nas’ collab with Diplo and Miley’s papa Billy Ray Cyrus on ‘Old Town Road.’ Then came the QAnon-esque drama of SatanShoeGate. Nike sued stunt internet outlet MSCHF when their Lil Nas X collab stepped on some toes. Nike didn’t like the MSCHF edit of their black Air Max 97s which contained human drops of blood. They insisted the message to some of their customers was off putting, and that they were endorsing Satan worship.
No one can copy Prince and pass it off as his own. And sure, Prince did attempt rap (both authentically and as a diss to the sometimes ridiculous maximalism of rap lyricism), but he was not a rapper. And that’s something Lil Nas has got in oodles: timing, delivery and poetry that is born only of rap’s mother tongue. That he revels in gaudy fashion and liberal sexuality has become characterizing, defining: and in our body positive, pro-nudes, OnlyFans era of 2021 these self-possessions are owned and celebrated by artist and fans, rather than sidelined or shamed. We don’t need to worry about Lil Nas X being exploited, the same way onlookers shouldn’t about Billy. They wanna show it: that we wanna see it is simply a bonus.
There’ll never be another Prince Rogers Nelson. There’ll never be another Montero Lamar Hill. But there might be someone else who sends the world into just as much of an overnight spin, and we wait patiently with unholy breath, with our thigh-high leather boots on. You might try a moodagent blending the two brilliant visionaries after getting to know what you haven't already heard from the rising star Lil Nas X.