The news that Lil Nas had never heard Nevermind before sampling Nirvana on his newest single "Panini," wasn't surprising; Lil Nas X is only 20 years old, meaning he was only two when the Twin Towers fell, and he hasn't even been able to vote in a presidential election yet. "Old Town Road" transformed Lil Nas into a viral rap sensation, but his next steps will determine how far one hit can take him. With his debut EP 7, Nas, like most people his age, is still figuring out who he is—except he has the whole world watching him.
7 is a lot like being 20; it sits awkwardly in the space between adolescence and adulthood, able to vote but not drink; and able to join the army but not rent a car without an insane premium. The 8-track EP (despite being titled 7) energetically experiments with genres with songs that cater to Gen Z's 8-second attention span. Its longest song, "F9mily (You & Me)," doesn't even reach the three-minute mark. For Lil Nas, a former meme maker, this is by design. "Me making 'Panini' short to increase streams," he tweeted shortly after releasing the 1:55 song yesterday. While there are some who would consider his 18-minute EP a failed follow-up to "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X has proven that he's aware of what it takes to survive and thrive in the streaming era.
The EP will quickly deter listeners who were hoping to receive a project filled with western themes. There is only one new song ("Rodeo") that follows the country rap lineage Lil Nas resurrected. The DayTrip-produced track features frequent supporter Cardi B, with the two rapping about a love they don't want to lose. "Old Town Road" (Billy Ray Cyrus version), which opens the album, and "Old Town Road" (original version), which closes the album, take up far too much space on the 18-minute project. But Lil Nas X knows what the public expects of him.
As he told Teen Vogue earlier this spring, there's a difference between people who liked "Old Town Road" and his fanbase, and that difference matters. "Just because you like one song from an artist, that doesn't make you a fan," he said. "You're a fan of that song. So I'm not losing any fans if they don't like what I'm putting out because you wouldn't necessarily be my fan if you were a fan of the song." When asked what people should expect from him post-"Old Town Road," his answer was simple: "Nothing is off limits[...] The main thing with this album, I'm actually having stuff to talk about, or at least now I'm able to include that in my music."
On 7, the rapper dabbles in the genres he stumbled as a result of growing up in the streaming era. "When I started out, like younger than 10, it was mostly just hip-hop because that was the only cool thing to listen to," he told Beats 1's Zane Lowe. "But I get around middle school, high school, it's just like, I'm very into the internet. So I'm just listening to everything that I come across[...]" Though 7 is classified as "Alternative" on streaming services, it doesn't fall neatly into a particular genre. With "C7osure (You Like)" Lil Nas X channels both dusty jazz fusion and Internet-y funk, as he details a relationship he is looking to escape. "Ain't no more actin', man that forecast say I should just let me grow / No more red light for me, baby, only green, I gotta go," he sings. It's hard to classify Lil Nas X as a singer or rapper from what we know of him so far, but he takes a risk on this song. Moments later, he stretches his vocals for a surprising falsetto: "I know, I know, I know it don't feel like it's time / But I'll look back at this moment, I'll see that I'm fine." Dripping with angst, the song is a necessary lesson you learn when you grow older: sometimes the only way to get closure is walking away.
"Old Town Road" almost certainly rushed 7's release, but it's inaccurate to assume that the EP reflects the career the Atlanta rapper has ahead of him. Lil Nas signed to Columbia Records just a few weeks before Billboard removed the song from its Hot Country Songs chart, only to start a thread updating fans about an upcoming album one month later. The overwhelming success of "Old Town Road" is huge enough to compare his ascent to Cardi B's ascent after "Bodak Yellow." But the Bronx rapper had a growing fanbase, a stint on reality television, and two mixtapes under her belt by the time "Bodak" topped Billboard's Hot 100. 7 is a fine introduction for Lil Nas X, who was living a completely different life six months ago. "Old Town Road" gave him the space to figure out who he wants to be.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.