In case you've been slacking on music news as of late, Lil Nas X's “Old Town Road” is among the longest–leading Billboard Hot 100 Number 1 songs. Since Billboard’s inaugural 1958 chart, just 3 percent of all Hot 100 Number 1 songs have led for 10 weeks or more—and, as of press time, "Old Town Road" has been on top for 12 weeks in counting. Thanks to this achievement, the 20–year–old rapper has ascended to the level of artists like Justin Bieber and Boys II Men. His meteoric, independent success raises questions about the role of virality and the interplay between social media and industry acceptance.
The country trap song went viral in early 2019 with the “Yeehaw Challenge” on TikTok, a social media app used for creating short videos. Adept at social media, Lil Nas X himself curated an internet personality with a following that extends beyond his music fanbase. He produced this year’s biggest hit and he memes frequently, but with the release of his EP 7, one must ask whether he’ll be in the business of genre—bending music for the long run or if he’s just another viral sensation.
Book-ended by the original and remixed version of “Old Town Road,” it’s safe to say that one-fourth of the EP’s songs are absolute hits. It’s those tracks sandwiched in between that are most interesting to explore. One of those songs is “Panini,” which compares ride–or–die fans to the obsessive and possessive girlfriend on Chowder. Upon listening to this track, it’s hard to tell whether Lil Nas X takes his music seriously. The rapping and beats pantomime the average rap song, but the lyrics are rather nonsensical and intentionally humorous. Even in his music, Lil Nas X is hard to separate the musician from the internet jokester, but one cannot deny that he’s refreshingly original and unpretentious.
That said, the next potential hits come later in the album. “F9mily (You & Me),” “Rodeo,” “Bring You Down,” and “C7osure (You Like), ” reflect Lil Nas X’s lyrical and musical talent and suggest the young artist can be, if he wants, more than a one-hit wonder. On “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X made waves for the blending country with trap, but interestingly enough, “Rodeo” is the only other purposely country song. Featuring Cardi B, it’s a strong example of the genre invented by the rapper, but not as seamless and catchy as his hit single. On this EP, it’s clear that Lil Nas X is trying not to be pigeonholed into country–rap, but rather experimenting with versatility.
On “F9mily (You & Me),” you can hear hints of Lil Nas X’s country influences, evident in whistles and howling wind. Ultimately, however, the song winds into something that borderlines on punk rock. “Bring You Down,” too, draws from rock, but in a darker, almost indie way. Verging on down–in–the–dumps and self–critical sentiments, the song still remains light thanks to the rapper's personality. With “C7osure (You Like)” nearly finishing off the album, one finally hears a conventional pop song with an upbeat tempo and the typical youthful call for freedom. There are clear attempts at versatility, but none really nailed down to any genre.
Altogether 7 EP suggests breadth in Lil Nas X’s talent, but it doesn’t suggest equivocal depth. Beneath the playfulness and half–considered attempts at musical versatility, there’s a strong vocalist and rapper. In this 18–minute EP, Lil Nas X is pulling his punches. Considering the artist's short time in the music industry and the even shorter amount of time dedicated to this EP, it’s not bad. A more intentional and fully considered album from the artist could be very strong, but we’ll just have to wait and see what Lil Nas X wants to do.