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Lil Nas X brings authenticity on ‘7’

Lil Nas X’s meteoric rise to fame is something of an anomaly in the music industry, which can only be compared to the overnight success of Mason Ramsay, the 12-year-old country star who first gained notoriety through a viral video capturing his take of the classic Hank Williams song “Lovesick Blues.” Alas, Lil Nas X has brought something that music fans everywhere are in dire need of given the over-saturation of iced-out, clout-obsessed SoundCloud rappers: a truly authentic musical underdog.

In early December 2018, Atlanta-born rapper Montero Lamar Hill uploaded his track “Old Town Road” to SoundCloud under the name Lil Nas X. Due to its popularity through the app Tik Tok, the song made its Billboard debut on the Billboard Top 100 and Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. After subsequent removal of “Old Town Road” from the Hot Country Songs chart, Lil Nas X reached out to Billy Ray Cyrus, and a remix was released in April 2019. Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ collaboration helped kick-start a movement of hillbilly-tinged musical inflections that established country rap as a mainstay in popular music for the first two quarters of 2019. While the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, Lil Nas X received a considerable amount of discrimination from the traditionally white fans of contemporary country music. His collaboration with Wrangler jeans that dropped in May 2019 was met with a massive brand boycott that read more as externalized racism from Wrangler devotees than a refusal to buy into a non-traditional collection of denim. Regardless, Lil Nas X has stood strong in the face of adversity and remains a truly authentic figure in popular music. On June 21, 2019, Lil Nas X released his first EP, “7,” on Columbia Records.

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“7” opens with the “Old Town Road” remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus that serves as the foundation of Lil Nas X’s career. The first single from the EP, “Panini,” is a short barnburner of a song that incorporates trap-rap with a tasteful nod to the Nirvana track “In Bloom.” “F9mily” is an upbeat track that sees Lil Nas X collaborating with pop-punk titan Travis Barker of Blink-182 for a fast-paced and borderline antsy track. “Rodeo” features an intro reminiscent of traditional spaghetti western instrumentals, an aesthetic that serves as a focal point throughout the entire track and radiates a sense of urgency. Cardi B, the only credited feature on the EP, delivers a verse with an energy that seems to stick out like a sore thumb against almost everything about the vocals on the record. Regardless, her verse is loud, well-written and “signature Cardi.” The EP closes with the original version of “Old Town Road,” released by Lil Nas X in December of last year.

While “7″ doesn’t necessarily break any new ground lyrically, instrumentally it is an example of his potential. Like many artists at this stage, it is evident that Lil Nas X is experimenting with his sound and seeming to try to break out of the “yee-haw” aesthetic he is so often pigeonholed into. The highlight of this EP is Lil Nas X’s versatility as a musician and songwriter. He is able to implement emotional lyrical themes throughout against rap and punk-rock inflected beats that come across as confident: a refreshing break from the corny, often melodramatic lyrics and instrumentals from emo-rap artists like Lil Peep and Lil Lotus. With production credits being given to industry heavyweights such as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Grammy-nominated producer Atticus Ross, “7″ brings together country, punk rock and trap-rap in a tightly packaged EP that proves to be one of the most interesting records to come from the SoundCloud rap scene, and it serves as an ambitious debut from one of the most likely underdogs in music right now.

Score: 8.5/10

Favorite Tracks: “Old Town Road Remix,” “Panini,” “Bring U Down,” “Rodeo”

Matt Campbell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter, @mcampnh. 

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