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Lil Nas X is unprecedented: he emerged from the depths of stan Twitter to take over the pop charts, all the while growing as an unabashedly gay rapper. His latest single, "INDUSTRY BABY," is an exercise in braggadocio; a triumphant, horn-driven beat from Kanye West and Take A Daytrip backs up bars like "Couple Grammys on him, couple plaques," altogether crowning the "Old Town Road'' hitmaker king of the rap-pop crossover throne. The song is one of his best, but its real power comes from the accompanying, highly-stylized video wherein Lil Nas X breaks out of a prison populated with Black gay men (and, for an unspecified reason, Jack Harlow in an unseemly role as the Straight White Savior who delivers a verse that is mid at best and inappropriate at worst).

Prison is an eyebrow-raising backdrop. Because of structural violence inherent in this country's carceral system, positioning the institution as a gay utopia is a risky choice. However, when considering Lil Nas X's career path, Montero State Prison is a setting that mirrors reality; as he is repeatedly criticized by evangelical Christians and Twitter trolls alike for elevating gay representation — particularly for the prison's namesake, his last single "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" — it's understandable Lil Nas X would consider homophobia a prison, claustrophobic and imposing, especially in the music industry. As he becomes bolder in his lyrics and creative vision, Lil Nas X begins to transcend confines of "The Gay Rapper" stereotype, carving out space for himself as an unapologetic messiah for today's young, queer generation.

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Reanna Cruz
Reanna Cruz is a news assistant for NPR Music's Alt.Latino.
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