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Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X

Award-winning Atlanta rapper, singer, songwriter, and inspirational queer icon Lil Nas X defies social and musical conventions with his genre-blurring takes on hip-hop, which have challenged industry norms and propelled him to number one across the globe. He became an international phenomenon when he moseyed onto the scene in 2019 with a surprise breakthrough that merged country and hip-hop, the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning "Old Town Road." Breaking multiple records along the way with a remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, the song became the longest-running chart-topper in U.S. history to date. Buoyed by the success of "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X earned six Grammy nominations and produced a pair of additional multi-platinum hits with "Panini" and "Rodeo" from his 2019 EP 7. In 2021, he shifted the cultural dialogue once again with the pop-leaning smash hit "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)" from his Grammy-nominated debut full-length of the same name. He returned to the scene in 2024 with the head-turning "J Christ."

Born Montero Lamar Hill, he issued the 2018 mixtape Nasarati before releasing "Old Town Road" at the end of the year. The track went viral on social media and, once it broke into the mainstream, it accumulated millions of plays on streaming services. Sampling Nine Inch Nails' instrumental "34 Ghosts IV," "Old Town Road" clocked in at just under two minutes but managed to climb into the Top 15 of the Hot 100. While the song could also have topped the Hot Country Songs chart, Billboard made the decision to remove it from the running for not containing enough country music elements. The controversy only helped boost plays, and "Old Town Road" continued its climb up the main chart. In March 2019, Lil Nas X signed with Columbia, just as "Old Town Road" continued to climb the charts and dominate radio airplay, riding a Billy Ray Cyrus remix toward number one in markets from Australia to Germany to Norway -- and a record-breaking 19 weeks in the U.S. (plus a diamond certification).

In June 2019, his eight-track collection 7 was released. The eclectic EP included both versions of "Old Town Road" and newer material that ranged from mainstream rap and pop styles to takes on alternative hard rock. The song "Rodeo" included a cameo from Cardi B, while second single "Panini" became a Top Five hit with the help of rapper DaBaby. To cap his banner year, Lil Nas X was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year for "Old Town Road," Album of the Year for 7, and Best New Artist. He went on to win a pair of trophies for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video. Later that year, he released his first seasonal track, the Christmas-themed "Holiday."

Lil Nas X returned in 2021 with the culture-shifting "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)," which found him fully embracing his status as a queer icon and boundary-pushing artist. Within a month of release, the bold anthem topped the charts in at least 20 countries and was certified multi-platinum in Australia and the U.S. He soon followed with another conversation starter, "Industry Baby," which featured rapper Jack Harlow and production by Kanye West and Take a Daytrip. Like "Montero" before it, "Industry Baby" was promoted with a music video that soon went viral, helping boost funds raised for The Bail Project. That September, Lil Nas X released his official full-length debut, Montero, which featured guests Doja Cat ("Scoop"), Elton John ("One of Me"), Megan Thee Stallion ("Dolla Sign Slime"), and Miley Cyrus ("Am I Dreaming"). The album single "That's What I Want" became a crossover radio smash.

Despite his popularity, Lil Nas X received no nominations for the 2022 BET Awards (during the previous year's ceremony, he had concluded his performance by kissing a male background dancer). Attributing the shutout to homophobia within the Black community, he responded with "Late to da Party" featuring YoungBoy Never Broke Again. Another collaboration, "Down Souf Hoes" with Saucy Santana, arrived soon after as part of his proposed sophomore album. Before that follow-up was released, he scored another radio hit with "Star Walkin'," which was chosen as the anthem for the League of Legends world championships. With the close of his extended headlining tour, he put a bow on the era with the documentary Lil Nas X: Long Live Montero, which premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival even after a bomb threat was made.

No stranger to controversy, Lil Nas X maintained his role as a pop culture firebrand with the early 2024 single (and its accompanying music video) "J Christ," the official launch of his sophomore album cycle. ~ Neil Z. Yeung

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