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It goes without saying that Lil Nas X has broken several molds in the music industry since his breakout single “Old Town Road” in 2019.
By simply being a Black gay rapper, Nas challenges the image most people have attributed to successful artists in hip-hop — one fueled by machismo and often homophobic, misogynistic rhetoric. But as he told playwright Jeremy O. Harris for GQ’s latest cover story, all he is trying to do is be himself.
“The whole landscape is very hypermasculine,” he said of the music industry. “I do feel like this newer generation of rappers who are coming in, and the ones who are here, are going to have to reshape their thoughts. Because change is happening. There’s going to be so many gay rappers. There’s going to be more trans people in the industry and whatnot. Ten years from now, everything that I’m doing won’t even seem like it was shocking.”
Nas has experienced firsthand the brunt of homophobia. Recently, rapper Boosie Badazz unleashed a homophobic Twitter rant against him, encouraging him to “commit suicide,” after which an army of queer activists and allies rose to his defense — including his own dad.
That wasn't the first time Nas's father, Robert Stafford, has been a vocal advocate for his son and for queer people. This summer, he lashed out at rapper DaBaby following a homophobic tirade at his concert.
“Bruh sit down, you had your time," Stafford wrote at the time. Even for Nas and his dad, getting to that level of support has been a slow burn.
"I feel bad for DaBaby. I hope he grows from it. I hope he’s able to. But I don’t know," Nas said, adding of Stafford, "I feel like my relationship with my dad is closer now, but growing up, it just wasn’t there as much. Nothing where I felt like I could open up to him or anything. I think he probably definitely had his moments of 'He’s definitely gay' or something. Also, because I wasn’t willing to open up about that. If that would have happened at that time, I don’t feel like I’d be here right now."
Part of the healing process has been to write openly about his family in his work, which he admitted is always a "difficult decision."
"When I came into the music industry, I never wanted anything about my family life or home life to be out there," he explained. "But then, as the pandemic was going on, I was kind of thinking, We’re all human beings. We all have similar experiences. I’m sure there’s somebody out there with the exact same situation as me. So I might as well open up my life. I want to build a fan base of honesty and authenticity. And I was like, I have to go there. When I feel like I shouldn’t do it, I feel like that’s when I should definitely go for it."
As the rapper continues to find success, he says the anxiety he felt in his early years — mainly anchored around fears of being outed — have gone away.
"It was so much anxiety," he reflected on that time. "It was much darker in my head than people were probably seeing. And it was also like, Damn, I’ve been working hard, like not sleeping, and I just made it to the music industry, and this is going to ruin everything for me."
These days, he's proud of what people call the "gay agenda" in his work because at the end of the day, "It's just acceptance of gay people," he said, adding of his critics, "They see that as a bad thing. Like, 'They're trying to normalize it.' You know what? Yeah. That's actually what I'm trying to do."
Despite the criticism, Nas is choosing to channel it into something positive. "This year is probably the most important, or feels like the best, because it’s real," he said. "It wasn’t safe. I’m so used to being safe on everything."
That new mindset is setting him up for an even more balanced outlook.
"I’m just excited for the future," he added. "Just setting habits for myself. Handling things differently. You know, I love self-help books. They genuinely help. I’m setting systems for myself instead of goals: working out more and whatnot. Trying to improve my stamina onstage. I’m back to drinking this water. In the studio a lot. Always trying to experiment and try new things and never try to make the same song over again."