When I first heard “Old Town Road”, I had discovered it through a video that was posted as a reply to a tweet that was a complete non-sequitur. It was so unrelated, that I can’t even recall what the original tweet was. But I googled the lyrics and came across the visual (a compilation of Red Dead Redemption 2 gameplay clips) for “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X on his Youtube channel. At the time, the video was sitting around 60,000 views and I shared this video with a good friend of mine as I found it catchy and humorous. Little did I know that I had stumbled upon what would shortly thereafter become a zeitgeist encapsulating phenomenon.
“Old Town Road” is an excellent and fun song that doesn’t take itself seriously. In fact, part of what makes it fun is in the way it indulges in how ridiculous it is with lines like “Cowboy hat from Gucci, Wrangler on my booty”. It’s a great, catchy tune that is one of the most successful accidents in recent memory. It benefited from the release of Red Dead Redeption 2, the largest videogame of 2018, and the coinciding trend of the Yee-Haw Agenda. It was an organic track that earned its time that it currently still holds in the limelight.
Of course, with his newfound success, Lil Nas X would follow this song with a full project and thus we have his first major label debut, 7. But where “Old Town Road” was fun, and crafted without a purpose but with a creative spin, 7 feels contrived and forced. It’s the complete antithesis of what makes “Old Town Road” so endearing. The EP is bookended by the remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus and the original version of the song, which is fine. The problem is that the contents of this sandwich are stale, flavorless, and devoid of personality. The tracklist within is built of what sounds like major label executives trying to create the next “Old Town Road” by just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. We’ve got a grunge song, a rock song with Travis Barker that sounds like it could be the end credits song for a Disney Channel original movie, and Lil Nas X doing a worse job of impersonating Travis Scott than Nav.
On tracks like “F9mily (You & Me)”, there is a severe lack of creativity. The production sounds like it was made as an afterthought of someone who thought “hey what would it sound like if we threw some guitars in over a rap song??”. The same can be said for “Bring U Down”, which so clearly wants to emulate the already trite alternative-rock/grunge sound of the late 90s. You would think if an artist was going to pull from a sound that has already been done to death, they would inject something different, some type of twist to it. Especiallyt for someone who is being lauded as “bending genres”. In a world where Emo-Rap and artists like Lil Peep, XXXTENTACION, and Lil Uzi Vert have already created blueprints for how to properly bridge rock music and rap together, this type of Lil Wayne Rebirth era clumsiness isn’t acceptable. Instead of sounding like the work of someone with an appreciation for these genres or at least genuinely trying to create good music, 7‘s multi-genre approach comes off as a focus tested, committee produced project meant to use said approach to exploit streaming algorithms and get as many streams as possible.
Cardi B shows up on what is essentially Lil Nas X trying to evolve the sound of “Old Town Road” but taking it in the direction of Country-Rock. She is a breath of fresh air in what is otherwise a short, but exhausting listen with a very brief verse. Even then, Cardi sounds like she only there to collect a check and the fact that her verse is still very solid is a testament to how talented she is.
Another genre that was thrown at the wall was House, on the song “C7osure (You Like)”. This is the last new song on the album and by this point it was already apparent that Lil Nas X has been completely stretched thin because his lazy vocals fade into the background of a barely there, looping House rhythm. The new lead single form the project, “Panini” has a more traditional Hip Hop sound to it, which is fine. As the best of the newer tracks, it still lacks any real identity. And that’s probably the biggest issue with this project. An artist can blend genres and take them in new and different directions but still keep the project cohesive. Riff Raff did this on his debut album Neon Icon by centering his chameleonlike grasp of different genres around his hilarious persona. XXXTENTACION did this on his debut project 17, as well, which is even more varied than his previous works as a “genre blender” and he weaved it all together around a common tone of melancholy and depression. There are plenty of other examples of artists who successfully bring different genres together and push them in new and interesting directions. Lil Nas X is not one of these people.
And it pains me to say that, because leading up to this release, I was one of the people defending him from his detractors who would write him off as a one-hit wonder. But it is I who is eating crow because after listening to this EP, I have learned absolutely nothing about Lil Nas X beyond his online image and the idea of him being a one-hit wonder seems like a very plausible. “Old Town Road” is filled with quotable lines, but after listening to 7, almost a dozen times, I can’t recall a single line from the album without having to look up lyrics. There is literally nothing that grasped me or demanded my attention. The project feels forced and synthetic and absolutely devoid of creativity.
Surely 7 will make Lil Nas X and his label loads of money, simply by proxy of “Old Town Road”, and Lil Nas X can always grow or perhaps reach back to the ethos that he had when he created his hit single and craft something much better, but with this corporate sounding experiment being as sterile as it is, will anyone care by then?
One of the cynics I saw critiquing Lil Nas X on twitter said that “Old Town Road” is our generations “Kung-Fu Fighting”, and I really hope that isn’t the case.
Highlights: “Old Town Road”, “Old Town Road Remix”