This story appears in HIGHTech, A Magazine by Highsnobiety. Our new issue, presented by Samsung, includes exclusive pages of interviews, shoots, merch, gadgets, technical gear and more. Order a copy here.
Montero Lamar Hill came into the world on April 9, 1999, the last child of six siblings. Based on what he was told about his birth, he’s been making people laugh from the moment he arrived to make his formal debut to society — his mother was feeling painfully nauseated and when she was finished puking, she didn’t even realize he was there on the bed crying. “I just came out,” he chuckles. “And then my dad was like, ‘Do you hear that?’ [My mom] was like, ‘I don't hear anything, I feel great.’”
Even as a child, Lil Nas X had a feeling that he would go on to do something great. But he didn’t just sit around and wait for an opportunity to emerge out of thin air. Lil Nas X turned to the Internet to not only break away from his chaotic surroundings in Atlanta, Georgia but to find the whole pieces of his higher self. As he embarked on this transformative journey through the lens of social media, he started making music that translated as well as the memes he casually fired off without overthinking them. In the early stages, Lil Nas X didn’t take music seriously, he was simply doing it for fun while studying computer science in college.
Lil Nas X insists that he’s mostly been winging it, but all the evidence proves that he’s clearly a natural-born social media savant with his finger on the pulse of pop culture. He knew exactly what he was doing when he dropped “Old Town Road” in 2018. While he couldn’t have predicted the nationwide controversy that would ensue after it went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, he did anticipate the single’s viral success. Lil Nas X could sense that it was special the entire month he spent in the studio working on the melodies and flows. Once he started to promote the country-trap song in its final form, TikTok took care of the rest and sealed his fate.
Not long after, it seemed like the rest of the world was finally ready to follow Lil Nas X’s lead as 2019 was dominated by the “yee-haw agenda.” (Of course, most of us are aware that there’s more to the culture than cowboy costumes, especially within the Black community.) In 1966, Nancy Sinatra said that boots are made for walking; this year, Stuart Weitzman made $695 boots for voting in the upcoming election. If Lil Nas X weighed in, boots would probably be for wading through troubled waters without losing your balance, mind, or sense of self. His approach is slow and steady; he’s in no rush to win the race.
“Old Town Road” made a strong case against the music industry’s history of gatekeeping and discrimination through rigorous genre boundaries. At the time, Billy Ray Cyrus unexpectedly came to his defense, comparing Lil Nas X to the country icon Waylon Jennings, a man who is remembered as “one of the greatest outlaws in the history of country music.” When Lil Nas X officially came out as gay, it caused an uproar of commotion within the country and hip-hop scenes. Despite haters pulling up in strong opposition, Lil Nas X always gets the last laugh in the heat of the moment. Last year, he debuted at No. 18 on Country's Top Earners list in Forbes with a whopping $14 million pre-tax. Come 2021, his children’s book C Is for Country will be out on Random House to educate the youth (with some extra help from Panini the pony).
Whether or not he identifies as an outlaw or a rebel without a cause, Lil Nas X is certainly a trailblazer. He’s a self-made breakout success story from the digital world, sent to explore the mysterious in-between while challenging America’s outdated norms. Within his six-foot-two-inch frame, Lil Nas X embodies a future paradigm shifting the landscape as he sees fit. So far, it’s a better reality than anyone in our lifetime could have ever conceived. Make no mistake — Lil Nas X is no one-hit wonder. Though his process looks effortless, he pours his whole self into it.
On a Zoom call, you’ll find him constantly in motion, like a revolving door, passing through each room of his spacious Los Angeles apartment with ease, in the comfort of a bright pink Versace robe. While we wait for the next phase of Lil Nas X to load, he’s provided some guidelines for navigating all the twists and turns up ahead.
On Not-So-Humble Beginnings
Growing up, I honestly always felt I was going to be someone huge in some way. I just didn’t know how. And it didn’t even seem like it would be possible. I grew up in Atlanta in these apartments called Bankhead Courts. It was very fun a lot of times — it was like a community — but it was also super violent and toxic. My family was always changing. I lived with my mom and my dad at first, and then they broke up. Then I lived with my mom and grandma, and then my dad got custody of me and my brother. I was there until I became famous. When you’re growing up anywhere without outside forces, you feel like it’s the only place besides TV. Social media opened up so much of the world and showed me there’s so much I can be in this life. And whenever I find that thing that sparks me, I’m going to take it all the way there.
On the Universe
I was Christian. Then I was atheist for a while. And now I believe in the universe and that I’m being guided by my angels and other forces that are protecting me.
On Coming Out
I always feel like I can never truly say, "Be brave and come out." I was already in a great place where my family wasn’t wanting to kick me out of the house. But if I had come out two years ago, things may not have been the same. No matter what happens, if people are to disown you, just go forward. Because I feel like the universe is always going to put better things and replace old things in your life.
With this young generation being able to receive so much information from the Internet, it’s going to be a recipe for something incredible. I feel like people are seeing so much more so early on, reading about so many different types of people and learning more about what’s going on in the world. It’s bound to make something shake like crazy.
On Stan Culture
Growing up, when I was on it, I would use it as some kind of escape, or just a way to get away from everything and be more of myself, being more comfortable with like-minded individuals who were super into pop culture and whatnot. But it was also very toxic and pretty shitty. I did shitty things, but you know, it was a great learning moment and a crazy pivot in my life that helped me grow.
On Digital Influence
Having a big platform and digital influence is a superpower. It's always great to have people who are looking forward to what you're going to say or do next, and to feel that you have some kind of voice, but it's also very finite. You have to really watch what you say, even if you're just joking. You have to think more before you post, to remember to actually get what you want across. Because sometimes I'll get distracted from trying to make people laugh or something on Twitter instead of finishing up a song and working on something. It's you who has to make sure your priorities are in order.
On Meme Magic
Making memes comes naturally to me, but it’s a hit or miss thing. It’s emotion and trauma — because I feel like a lot of memes come from a morbid place. There’s this meme that I like right now where people found a fake jet that influencers post pictures in. I found it super hilarious how much we do to prove to people we’re doing well. I think digital influence is a superpower. It’s always great to feel like you have some kind of voice. But it’s also very finite. You need to give people something more than a little post that they’ll forget about.
Everybody’s always like, "What’s the routine?" I just wake up in the morning, rinse my face, and then boom.
On Anger Management
I don’t get angry a lot, but if I see some shit and have a moment of rage, I just tell myself to calm down. Because I know that at the end of each angry moment, there's always a moment of, "Was that necessary?" It's always hard when you're actually in the moment, but you're supposed to push past it and not reply to people in the moment. If it's not helping me, it's not helping me.
I have those moments where I’m like, "Fuck all of this. I don’t want to be here." But I choose this. No matter how bad those moments are, I’ve always been that person who’s had to push myself. What else am I supposed to do, just die? So, it’s two choices: give up and die, or keep going.
On Being a Youth Icon
I can't say that I truly see myself as a youth icon. Other people may see me as that, and if you're giving me that, it feels like a lot of responsibility. Most of that is just doing me, because I mean, that's what I want to give to the youth. Not being super cliché, but genuinely, do whatever you want, as long as it's not hurting anybody else. Do what you want!
On His Upcoming Album
This album is going to be the most me creation I've ever released in my life. The most "This is Montero Lamar Hill" thing ever. Because I'm so much more comfortable with myself than before. And I'm so much more confident in what I'm creating. I'm so happy, and I'm glad that I've taken the time; I feel like I'm slowly breaking out of my impatience. It's going to explore relationships, things I've been through with my sexuality, things going on in my family, things that happened before fame. It's storytelling. It's pop. It's rap. It's alternative rock. It's dance. It's House. It's very fun, but it's much more cohesive, and the world's going to love it. I can't wait to get it going, you know?
On His Future Self
Someone that’s everywhere at all times. Someone that’s doing a lot of good in the world. Somebody who would inspire so many others. Someone who is always self-improving. Someone who’s always spreading the love and giving love. I want to be right in the moment of every single thing that happens. Every new day is like a brand new day. And it’s going to be great for Lil Nas X.
Order your copy of HIGHTech here.