It’s been about two years since Lil Nas X made music history and dominated the world with the Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted remix of “Old Town Road.” In the interim, musically, he scored another hit “Panini,” won 2 Grammys for “Old Town Road,” released his 7 EP, and recruited Nas for a remix of “Rodeo,” his last official single. For an artist who exploded onto the scene like Lil Nas X, the length of time it took for a new single was a bit unusual. He didn’t even appear as a feature on any new songs or pop up for a remix. On his new single, “Holiday,” Lil Nas X uses some of the sonic motifs of holiday music and flips them into a greater celebration and well-deserved victory lap.
Staunchly in the melodic rap lane of “Panini” and removed from the overt country music influences of “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X effortlessly scates over a smooth production courtesy of Tay Keith (“Mother’s Daughter”; “Before I Let Go”) and Take a Daytrip (“Wolves”; “Mo Bamba”). Despite the Christmas themed music video and single artwork, the closest “Holiday” comes to literally being about the holidays is the opening couplet of the chorus: “Ayy, it’s a holiday/I got hoes on hoes and they out of control.” Instead, Lil Nas takes this opportunity to reflect on his rise to the top (“Man, I snuck into the game, came in on a horse”) and take full ownership of exactly how he got there (“I pulled a gimmick, I admit it, I got no remorse/Nobody tried to let me in, nobody opened doors”). As a young gay Black man, Lil Nas is an anomaly in hip-hop; this isn’t a genre that has ever cared to even attempt to become a safe and equitable space for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Not only does Nas revel in his ability to take the genre by storm without “toning down” his queerness (“I kicked them motherfuckers down, they didn’t have a choice”), he explicitly references that part of his identity (“I might bottom on the low, but I top shit”) — something that’s essentially unheard of in mainstream hip-hop. Lyrically, this is already Lil Nas’ strongest song in his admittedly small discography.
Nas delays his delivery ever-so-slightly to really dig into the proper pockets in the instrumental which makes the sing-rapping much more enjoyable. Above all, it’s the slightly-filtered bells that really bring the song home — you get the sonic motif of classic holiday music without the accompanying cheesiness. Also, the “dun dun dun” part is insanely catchy. “Holiday” already shows remarkable growth from a lot of the tracks on the 7 EP and it’s always fun to hear new artists take some time to bask in their success instead of immediately chasing the next hit.