Lil Nas X has not been afraid to be his out-and-proud self in videos such as “Industry Baby” and “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” as well as his recent BET performance, which included a same-sex kiss. But as one of the the only openly LGBTQ artists in rap, he tells Variety that his decision to be authentic has sometimes resulted in some scary reactions.
“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 told the magazine when asked about the anti-gay statements from a variety of fellow rappers lately, including hateful statements from DaBaby that have gotten him booted from a number of festivals and sent his career into free fall. “It’s more for my own safety rather than anything else.”
Asked if the vitriol has made him feel unsafe, Nas X said “absolutely,” adding that after the “Montero” video — which finds him giving Satan a lap dance — dropped, there was “literally someone who chased my car a few days after that video came out, yelling, ‘F— you!’ or something. And that’s when I actually started getting security.”
He doesn’t know for sure if the video inspired the stranger to go after him, but he felt like it “couldn’t be a coincidence.”
Rapper Jack Harlow, who appears in the “Baby” video, praised Lil Nas for “giving a voice to a lot of people and kids who could use one. I think the community he represents could use someone who’s succeeding on a mainstream level — where it can feel like, ‘Yo, you can be No. 1. You can be the greatest.’ I really recognize what he’s doing and I admire him. I admired him long before we met.”
Lil Nas X, 22, also got props from pop icon Elton John, who dubbed the rapper 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.” John also noted that there has historically been a “lot of homophobia” in hip-hop.
The “Rocket Man” singer — whose Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised more than $600 million to date to support HIV-related programs in more than 50 countries — said that DaBaby’s virulently homophobic comments during his July 25 performance at the Rolling Loud Miami festival demonstrate that “there is still so much education and work to be done.”
After his initial rush of success following 2019’s record-breaking “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas said he took time during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown “making music and crying,” not leaving his house for the first month and then being “super overly critical” of all the music he was making. He admitted he was also letting all the online hate convince him that his still-new career was already over.
Then came 2021, with the instantly viral “Montero” video and the buzzy “Industry Baby” clip, and promises that his upcoming full-length debut album, also called Montero, will be out before the end of summer. He’s said the release will be “much more personal” than his pre-pandemic songs and “more cohesive” than his 2019 debut EP, 7.
“Honestly, I believe the pandemic helped me get out of the idea of trying to please everybody, and the idea of ‘He’s a cool gay person; he’s an acceptable gay person,’” Nas told Variety. “I used to see things like that as a compliment, but it’s not. It just means you’re a people pleaser, and they never become legends. I wanted to be even more authentic in my music and let people into my life. I’m much more confident now — in my music, myself, my sexuality, the things that I believe that I stand for.”
The rapper (born Montero Lamar Hill) also recalled the dance floor moment he had with Beyoncé at her and Jay-Z’s 2019 Halloween party, where she said she was “super proud” of him. He also described meeting actor Timothée Chalamet when they were both guests on Saturday Night Live earlier this year. Chalamet’s 2017 same-sex love story, Call Me By Your Name, was the inspiration for the subtitle to the “Montero” single and video.
“I saw it at home while I was beginning to make my album,” he said of the hit art-house film. “And I was really happy to see such an artsy gay film, you know? I used it as a subtitle because I felt like that song, like even before I added in lyrics, sounded like that movie, taking sounds from Indian music, Arabic music, African music.”
The pair met backstage at SNL and Lil Nas said Chalemet was “super supportive and showed love. I was like, ‘Holy s—, that’s a crazy full-circle moment!’”