Lil Nas X has had an amazing year but like anyone in the early stages of a career on the rise, the journey hasn’t come without its share of struggles, doubts and fears. In Variety’s 2021 Power of Young Hollywood issue, the star got candid about the love he’s received, the hate, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has shaped his professional journey.
After the massive success of his 2019 breakout hit Old Town Road, the rapper decided to take a short break in early 2020 to buckle down and work on his debut album. Then COVID hit.
“I think I spent all of the pandemic making music and crying — no in-betweens,” he told Variety. “For the first month or so, I did not leave my house, and once I did, I was super overly critical of everything I was making. I was letting everything online get to me and feeling like things were over for me.”
Fast forward a year and half and Lil Nas X couldn’t have been more wrong.The rapper has released two Billboard top 10 singles, the top two videos on the YouTube U.S. songs chart, and sparked national conversations about Black queer masculinity.
He’s also received support and endorsements from some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry like Beyoncé, Timothée Chalamet and one of his own idols, Elton John. John told Variety: “Lil Nas X is a bold and brave provocateur who’s making amazing and inspiring music. He’s pushing the boundaries of urban music by wholeheartedly embracing his sexuality and visually projecting that celebration out into the world.”
But with all of his recent success and the status he’s acquired as an icon for young queer Black folk, that visibility has come with a lot of anxiety and even fears for his own safety. It’s no secret that Nas being unapologetic about his sexuality has led to baseless and often violently homphobic critiques of him.
And as someone who grew up in the internet age, Lil Nas X usually claps back at his detractors. “Y’all be silent as hell when n—-s dedicate their entire music catalogue to rapping about sleeping with multiple women,” he wrote on Twitter recently in response to criticism of his “Industry Baby” video. “But when I do anything remotely sexual I’m ‘being sexually irresponsible.’ Y’all hate gay ppl and don’t hide it.”
Still, Nas’s quick wit and unabashed demeanor doesn’t mean he’s completely unaffected by the hate and homophobia that is often directed his way, especially from peers in the industry. When asked about rapper Da Baby’s recent controversy as well as similar homophobic statements from other rappers, he declined to address them directly.
“The honest truth is, I don’t want to speak on a lot of the homophobia within rap because I feel like this is a very dangerous playing field,” he said. “It’s more for my own safety rather than anything else.”
Nas also stated that he has often felt unsafe because of the lengths that his haters have gone to in order to silence him.
“Especially after [‘Montero’]. There was literally someone who chased my car a few days after that video came out, yelling, ‘Fuck you!’ or something. And that’s when I actually started getting security.” (He also acknowledged that he’s not sure it was that specific video that caused that stranger to attack him, but added “I feel like it couldn’t be a coincidence.”)
Despite growing up as a teenager who often felt like an outsider, (an experience he details in his Sun Goes Down video) Nas is now much more grounded in himself and optimistic about the future. “I see myself as a self-made-legend kind of situation, icon — all the great words to describe someone,” he said.
Montero, his highly anticipated debut full-length album, will be out before the end of the summer.