A question I’m often conflicted by is whether self-awareness is a virtue in and of itself. Our ability to take stock of our various shortcomings is an invaluable personality trait, but what good does all this personal accounting do if substantial changes in behavior don't follow?
Independent of remedying efforts, one could easily make the case that an abundance of self-awareness is worse than a lack of it altogether. It’s one thing to stop evolving as a person, but it’s quite another to do so consciously, as a direct result of your actions or inactions.
Circular though this debate is, oddly enough, these are the questions I found myself ruminating on the first time I listened to Lil Nas X’s debut project, 7 EP. Ever since “Old Town Road” exploded onto the scene in March, the 20-year-old Columbia Records signee has been more of a meme than an artist; a charming talent at risk of meeting the same anticlimactic fate as the many viral sensations who’ve come before him. What’s more, Lil Nas X is well aware of this predicament. He jokes about it regularly on social media, endearing himself to his followers by posting a string of witty memes about his meme-hood.
With this in mind, 7 EP was Lil Nas X’s best chance to leverage this glut of self-awareness to his benefit; to prove definitively that, despite all his winking jokes, he’s more than just a walking meme. Regrettably, in place of this definitive artistic statement is a collection of eight unfocused songs that all seem to have been conceived—except for “Old Town Road” and it’s remix—using a paint by numbers methodology specifically engineered to recreate the crossover success of his smash single.
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Whether it’s the cheap pop-punk guitars of “F9mily (You & Me)” or “Bring U Down,” which sounds like it was written by someone who’d once heard a muffled rendition of a Killers’ song through a series of garage doors, the reasons these songs fail to live up to the “Old Town Road” template vary. Overwhelmingly, though, the material stalls at a fundamental songwriting level, lacking the winning choruses, indelible earworms, and cinematic swells that made “Old Town Road” such an achievement.
Of course, some songs get closer than others. “Rodeo” eschews the genre experimentation prominent on the rest of the EP in favor of a direct retread, featuring the same charismatic country-trap cadence Lil Nas X wields on “Old Town Road.” “Panini,” with its smart interpolation of Nirvana’s “In Bloom,” reimagines a classic in a new context. Still, neither track leaves the same lasting impression as “Old Town Road,” even if Lil Nas X has engendered enough goodwill among his fans to propel them to comparable heights in the short-term.
According to Lil Nas X, that none of these songs offer enough substance to sink your teeth into is by design. “Me making panini short to increase streams,” he tweeted after releasing “Panini” alongside a video of a Dragonball Z character laughing maniacally.
There’s that self-awareness again.
Admirable though it is, none of the songs on 7 EP are made even marginally more listenable by Lil Nas X’s excess of this trait.
Standout Track: "Old Town Road (Remix)"
Best Bar: “If I took you everywhere, then well, you wouldn't know how to walk / If I spoke on your behalf, then well, you wouldn't know how to talk”
Favorite Moment: The production on "Kick It"