EP Review: Lil Nas X is a diamond in the rough on “7”

Lil Nas X is a figure that needs no introduction. As he wraps up his 11th week at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 (the 5th longest reign ever) with “Old Town Road”, he’s poised to keep the momentum going with the release of his first official project – 7. Still, with only one officially released track to his name, there’s a lot of expectations riding on the EP.

Will he stick to the fresh country-trap trend that he kickstarted or will he play it safe and stick to formulaic trap bangers to coast up the charts? Well, the answer he gives us on 7 is neither. It genre-hops like a bunny that overdosed on caffeine, which unfortunately results in Lil Nas X failing to find a sound that is definitively his own.

 

Bookending the project with “Old Town Road (Remix)” and the original version, Lil Nas X’s inadvertently highlights how much weaker the rest of the EP’s offerings are in contrast to the dazzling magic of his biggest hit. There’s an inexplicable abundance amateurish charm that Lil Nas weaves into “Old Town Road”; from its haphazard clashing of the Nine Inch Nails’ “34 Ghosts IV” sample with a modern trap beat, to the pure joy that’s front-and-centre in Lil Nas’ vocals, it all came together in a hodgepodge of ideas that as endearing as it is captivating.

Perhaps the song that comes the closest to replicating that allure is “Panini”. A trap-flavoured track that sees Lil Nas’ airing his gripes about his overnight success that’s equipped with a deliciously addictive hook. Though it lacks the novelty of “Old Town Road”, the track features the same simplistic lyricism that seems to be geared towards being obnoxiously chanted by his legion of young fans at the top of their lungs. However, the superficial songwriting results also bring about a lack of substance, both thematically and structurally.

None of the songs goes beyond 3 minutes, which can be attributed to how modern streaming services work more than anything. The result is a project that’s fleeting and also struggles to find its footing before the next track comes on. However, there’s a silver lining to this in which it lets Lil Nas X experiment with an assortment of genres across every song, without any of them overstaying their welcome.

“F9mily (You & Me)” is an alt-rock jam that wholeheartedly channels pop-punk hits of the 2000s, aided by none other than Blink-182’s Travis Barker. Production-wise it’s perfectly serviceable, but the creaks on 7 really show themselves when the vocals kick in. To be perfectly blunt, he isn’t the best of singers. He lacks the grit and range needed to convincingly deliver many of his underwritten lines.

The same goes the other rock-inspired tracks here such as “Bring U Down” and “C7osure (You Like)”, all suffering from decent production but weak writing and performance. However, Lil Nas X isn’t some guy that shot up the charts based on luck alone. His innate sense of pop sensibilities save these tracks from complete mediocrity and instead elevates them to being good-to-great. His verses definitely need some work but the man’s talent for crafting irresistible hooks cannot be overlooked.

However, Lil Nas X’s weak vocal delivery REALLY rears its ugly head on “Kick It”, easily the worst track on 7. It’s a stripped backed song that acts as his own take on Eminem’s “Stan”. The story is told from the perspective of his weed man who is irritated that Lil Nas’ success and his subsequent avoidance of him. It failed to captivate me over the course of its runtime but it was nice to see a thematic change of pace on the project.

Still, Lil Nas X suffers from the same syndrome that plague many rappers today where he needs the beat as much as the beat needs him. Once the beat begins to take a backseat, everything begins to fall apart. With the worst hook, worst production and worst performance of the EP, “Kick It” is a concept track that could have benefitted from more work on nearly all fronts.

 

For some indiscernible reason, the EP’s worst song is followed up by its best — “Rodeo” featuring Cardi B. It’s also the song that seems most adamant on replicating the “Old Town Road” formula – string section, reverb-heavy vocals and all. You can’t fault him for trying again though, especially when the results are as appealing as this one. Though not as catchy, Cardi B comes through with a fiery verse and Lil Nas X’s rapping is significantly better than most of his singing on 7. Goes to show that maybe sticking close to your roots isn’t as tedious as many snobbish music fans would like to believe.

Final Verdict

As a debut project, it’s understandable that Lil Nas X is still figuring a sound that he can call his own. So despite the lacklustre songwriting and mixed results of 7, it’s an intriguing look at the pop sensibilities and burgeoning talent of the young rapper. It’s a clear sign of the potential that he could deliver on post-“Old Town Road”.

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