A peek into a hot boy summer filled with new highs, disappointment and growth. Shikeith for The New York Times. By Jazmine Hughes. Free from the shackles of celebrity respectability — who would recognize him here, among all these khaki pants? At one point, our server, assuming we were on a date, chastised the singer for looking at his phone. We sat in a booth beneath a series of framed portraits of sandwiches, overstuffed with cuts of meat.
Minutes later, my pastrami sandwich arrived. He told me an embarrassing story.
A stripper pole, flanked by demons, stood in the middle of the stage. When they turned around, slits cut into the top of their tight vinyl pants showed off juicy slices of butt. Now, inhe had achieved the unthinkable, a feat only dreamed of by some of his peers who had gone from anonymity to the top of the charts — he made another hit song, and a brazenly gay one at that.
But in live TV, as in sex, something always goes wrong. The crotch of his pants had ripped. For a sheepish few seconds, you could see him calculating what to do next.
He grabbed his crotch and, for the remainder of the performance, held on for dear life. The next day, he devoted three TikTok videos to his plight. Aside from the wardrobe mishap, the show felt amazing.
He has an unassailable conviction, the kind that only comes with being your grandmother’s favorite, that he can do anything he puts his mind to.
He felt great. He felt like hitting on someone. So he shot his shot, sending a message to someone he had been chatting with online. The target respectfully knocked that shot out of the air: This person was so flattered by the attention, but they had a boyfriend. Nas respected the honesty; a lot of people just throw themselves at him. Still, it was a punch to his ego. In the past, he would cry himself to sleep over this sort of thing. But, he told me beatifically, something inside him had changed. He gave himself a pep talk in the mirror: You had a great performance!
Be grateful, Lil Nas X! Be here and now! Before here and now could start, though, Nas had to use the bathroom. He sat down on the toilet and promptly fell asleep. But by the time he woke up and made it into his bed, it was with a full, steady heart and an empty bladder. I was impressed by this story, by his easy introspection, by his willingness to show embarrassment.
I envied his emotional regulation, his self-awareness. Maybe it was the adrenaline of the show, or the past two years of living as hot lesbian game openly gay man, or some new wisdom unlocked by his recent birthday, setting him on a path of being open to rejection and growth. But maybe it was the bottle of tequila he told me he drank that night, too. Listening to the song felt like ingesting amphetamines, happiness clomping through my brain in spurs. The song was both absurd and earnest, its opening sounding exactly like the swaggering steps of a cowboy swinging open a saloon door.
He and I were cruising around in his moderately fancy car rental, bass burping out of the speakers, butts jiggling in the leather seats. He is friendly and approachable but blessed with some unreachable cool and slightly too much handsomeness, like a prom king.
He reminded me of a modern-day Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. He wanted me to hear two new songs from his album in progress, which he played at the thunderously loud volume enjoyed by people who still have all their wisdom teeth. He mouthed along with all the words, pumped his arm, pointed a hot lesbian game finger up into the air, slapped the dashboard for rhythmic effect.
Coming out, for Nas, was a recalibration. He wanted to be not just a pop star but a visibly gay one, a hot lesbian game built on that Gen Z tendency to heighten a sexual identity into an exaggerated shtick, but one founded on a genuine pride and comfort. When I first told him I was a lesbian, he limped his wrist in approval — an offensive gesture meant to mock gay men, reappropriated into a convivial meme.
After years of hiding himself, there was now no mistaking it: He was trying to be, all at once, a hitmaker, a huge pop star, an out gay man and a sexual being. If names can mandate our fortunes, then what other choice was there for Montero Lamar Hill — an R. His mother named him for the Mitsubishi Montero, a car she wanted but never came her way.
As children, he and four of his siblings would choreograph their own musical performances for fun. He would stand near the front, the youngest but the hungriest, crooning Usher or whomever else was on the radio, always the star. His parents split up when he was 6.
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Nas and his siblings moved to the Bankhead Courts, a dire public-housing project in Atlanta, with their mother and maternal great-grandmother, whom they referred to as their grandmother. The five siblings were tight with one another and with their grandmother, all six sleeping in the same bed every night. They had no money, but scarcity begot ingenuity: Nas and his siblings were architects of their own fun, making up their own intense rules for Uno or faking a manhunt in the neighborhood.
If Nas is the musician of and now a provider for the family, Lamarco is the comedian and the protector. When I asked him about his first memory of his brother, he paused for a while. After an extended custody battle, the brothers begrudgingly moved in with their father. This was a crushing blow.
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Their mother had become addicted to drugs — Nas wondered aloud to me if the big move catalyzed her problem — and their grandmother was the plinth of their lives. Nas became sullen and insolent. He thought his same-sex attraction was a test, something God put in front of him to prove his devotion.
He had two sources of comfort. The first was a Nintendo DSI, a game console that he won in a school contest; it had a camera and a voice recorder that he used to create content. The second was Nicki Minaj.
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As a teenager, Nas was a steadfast member of the Barbz, a collective of cutthroat, obsessively loyal Nicki Minaj fans. He felt personally responsible for her professional protection, like a soldier in the army of the woman who helped him figure out who he was. And then, when he first hit it big and fans figured out his internet past, he denied every part of this, not wanting people to know he was gay.
He would post things like a photo of a sad-looking dog, grabbed from Google Images, with a caption that said this was because no other dogs showed up at his birthday party. Around the same time, he broke up with a secret boyfriend and failed a class during his first year at the University of West Georgia. Then his grandmother died — and he thought, with everything else going wrong, that maybe he would die, too.
People liked it, so he made a few more songs, most of which received positive feedback from his internet friends. The contentment he got from making music was like nothing else, so perfect it almost felt holy. This is mine. He was always so impatient, never able to settle on one thing.
This was different. His father and stepmother, though, gave him an ultimatum: music hot lesbian game school. He decided to drop out of college. He started attaching his music to his viral tweets, suspecting that was the way to make it pop off. One day, his mind scanning the internet like a Google algorithm, he noticed an emerging theme: Country trap videos — collisions of hip-hop beats and country tropes — were gaining popularity. What if he wrote a country-themed banger that was also funny and told a story? The song spilled over to TikTok, a new barometer for whether a song is a hit, and caught fire.
Months earlier, he tweeted that he hoped to get Billy Ray Cyrus on a remix. Cyrus was excited to do it. And at the center of all this was a year-old man finding his fame sea legs. First he came out to his sister, who was not surprised. Hardest of all, he told his father, who wondered if it hot lesbian game just the devil tempting him. They are very close now.
I asked Lamarco what he thought his grandmother would say if she could see them now. She would be turning over in her grave, he said, but in a good way. The vocal producer Kuk Harrell and I squinted at each other, standing in the blindingly bright kitchen of his Hollywood studio space, the afternoon sun magnifying the intensity of a room where everything was either stark white or ocean blue.
We were trying to think of the last African American male pop star. Not the lead singer of a boy band. Not someone who mostly presented as a rapper. We paused for several moments, considering. Blige, Usher and Celine Dion, he would have lots of good stories to pass the time.
Harrell was working on his first song with Nas, having received a call one day from Ron Perry, the chief executive of Columbia Records, who told him that he needed to take Nas to the next level. Lil Nas X was a real artist, Perry argued, and he needed to work with legit people.