Track Review: Lil Nas X Calls Up Jack Harlow for “Industry Baby”

Lil Nas X just keeps topping himself. Still riding on the success of “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” and the critical acclaim of “Sun Goes Down,” Lil Nas has unleashed a new banger onto the world. “Industry Baby,” the Jack Harlow-assisted single from Lil Nas’s upcoming eponymous debut album, showcases the superstar’s ability to get better with every release and spin gold out of the negativity of his detractors.

Produced by Take a Daytrip and Kanye West, “Industry Baby” finds Lil Nas juxtaposing triumphant horns and a dynamic trap beat against lyrics that illustrate a victory lap. To that point, “Industry Baby” falls in line with the late 2020 standalone single “Holiday.” Conceptually, both songs showcase Lil Nas flexing his achievements and celebrating his wins, but “Industry Baby” has a tighter melody, more interesting production, and smarter lyrics. Both the song’s intro and first verse function as callbacks to Lil Nas’s career-making “Old Town Road.” He references the “couple Grammys” he won for the song (Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video), and sings “I told you long ago on the road / I got what they waiting for” with a delightfully cocky tone. Rising from a Twitter influencer to a pop music sensation was no easy task, but Lil Nas saw all of this success for himself before anyone else did. It’s this conviction in his own self-prophecy that helps him improve with each new song. The celebratory chorus opens up the victory lap to Lil Nas’s onlookers as he invites us to say, “He don’t run from nothin’, dog / Get your soldiers, tell ’em that the break is over.” The reference to the break Lil Nas took between his 7 EP and “Holiday” is especially poignant because many people wrote him off as a flash in the pan, but he came back with the most culturally impactful music release of the year so far.

Columbia

The first verse of “Industry Baby” marks a return to straight rapping for Lil Nas. He’s been singing a lot on his recent singles, but on this track, he pulls a bit from Playboi Carti in the way that he spits “Need to get this album done/Need a couple numbеr ones.” The verse is stacked with references, but two moments, in particular, rise above the rest. First, Lil Nas simultaneously dismisses the swaths of men in rap who have been homophobic towards him and unabashedly embraces his status as a pop star with the lines “Tell a rap nigga I don’t see ya/I’m a pop nigga like Bieber.” He then spits, “I don’t fuck bitches, I’m queer,” another conscious step towards normalizing sex from a gay perspective in rap music. It’s a brief verse, but it certainly packs a punch. Fresh off of his first Grammy nomination (Best Rap Performance for “Whats Poppin”), Jack Harlow delivers a terrific guest verse. Lyrically, the verse is strong, but it’s Jack’s nonchalant tone that offers a needed contrast from the fervent energy of those horns. On first listen, the horns can be overwhelming because they are a constant in the track’s production. Nevertheless, by the time they come back in for the outro, you’re in love with them. Speaking of the outro, that happens to be the best part of the song. It’s the first time Lil Nas utters the song’s title, and his delivery exposes the dual meaning of the phrase. First, there’s “I’m the industry, baby,” which… he kind of is. When your first single spend 19 weeks at #1 and becomes the fastest song in history to be certified Diamond, if you’re not the music industry then who is? The second interpretation of the phrase is “industry baby.” Here, Nas is proclaiming that he’s the baby brother the industry wants to see succeed as opposed to the baseless “industry plant” claims that have plagued him since “Old Town Road” began its rise to the top.

Lil Nas’s singular ability to turn every corner of social media conversation on its head, and into a good song, is his superpower.

Score: 77

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