Say what you want about Lil Nas X, but he isn’t afraid to push buttons. Multiple buttons. All in the name of shoving the hypocrisy of America’s right-wing “conservatives” in their own faces. With a little help from a sneaky cameo by Aquaman’s Jason Momoa punching bag in the yard.

His latest track, Industry Baby, sends Lil Nas X to prison where he’s surrounded by fellow incarcerated sodomites and sinner. Sexualised? Absolutely. Camp? Definitely. Does it serve a higher purpose? Actually, yes it does. Several, in fact.

The most obvious is his continued attack on those who seek to oppress and dictate the lives of LGBTQ+ people, including demanding their imprisonment and even death. For all of America’s glossy fronting, the reality is that for a huge number of LGBTQ+ people who don’t live in the relatively safer havens of LA, New York where access to support and community is much easier, your sexuality remains a high risk truth.

In his record-breaking track Montero (Call Me By Your Name), Nas ((real name – Montero Lamar Hill), flipped the scripts on hate groups who say queer people are damned to hell. He went there, gladly. Next thing you know those same folk are playing shocked for doing the exact thing they told him to do. Albeit, via the world’s longest stripper pole. Rather than dancing with the devil, this time Nas goes all in with some fairly stock porn tropes and turns prison into a queer man’s dreamland. 

The second layer to Industry Baby comes via Nike.

After twerking on the devil in hell, Nas was served legal papers by Nike for his involvement in a limited edition re-worked version of their Nike Air Max ‘97. The Satan Shoes, made with MSCHF, allegedly contained a drop of blood. A nod to the risk of starting a legal war with, Industry Baby does to Nike what Montero did with right wing America – puts the double standard of the threats all out on display. Repurposing of fashion has become a common feature within the current arts market and Nike, being one of the most recognisable logos in the world, is commonly incorporated within these practices. That they would go after Nas and MSCHF, who had previously reworked the same ‘97 Air Max into a Jesus Shoe featuring holy water with no legal follow up, begs the question why this artist and why now.

Of course Industry Baby’s also been met with some well-deserved criticism of its glamourisation of the US incarceration system. It’s a fact that the African American men are more likely to be imprisoned than any other nationality in the US. Plus, structural violence and abuses that occur once inside – it’s far from the gay utopia Nas depicts.

In response to, or possibly before the gen pop were even aware, Nas collaborated with The Bail Project, raising funds to go directly to the charity and assist with those facing incarceration and end the cash bail system.