Lil Nas X attends the MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center on Sept. 12, 2023, in Newark, New Jersey.
Latelastweek,Lil Nas X released a video for his new single “J Christ,” which depicts the rapper weaving through various scenes from the Bible. His lyrics allude to a triumphant return to music after two years — one he compares to another iconic comeback: Jesus Christ’s. As you can imagine, that message alone caused quite a stir.
Then there’s the part of the video where Lil Nas X portrays Christ himself, nailed to a cross; it’s one of many ways he has repurposed Christian imagery in this and other videos. Some people (we won’t say who, but I’m sure you can guess) feel as though the artist is mocking Christianity. Since the release of the video, the rapper issued an apology stating that he wasn’t attempting to mock religion, but rather create a metaphor of a rebirth similar to Christ.
The song is fairly simple and falls in line with Lil Nas X’s catalog. There’s a lot to analyze in the video, and while we won’t do all of that here, it’s important to point out one clear theme. We are witnessing a person who has had to contend with some demons throughout his life, and perhaps, through his art, has beaten several of them — resurrecting himself on this new journey. Lil Nas X is allowed to process that in his art, however he chooses.
Hip-hop artists have, many times, used religion as a conduit to share a message about the community. Lil Nas X isn’t the first to have a “Jesus era,” believe me. Others have gone so far as to liken themselves to the man himself. Rap music has been used as a form of ministry since its inception to discuss societal issues plaguing Black communities, with rappers seen as “prophets” in the same way that a preacher from the pulpit would say they are the messenger of God.
Of course, this type of expression generally flies for rappers when they’re cis and straight. That grace could never be afforded to the Black queer person sharing his own message of faith, especially because so many consider queerness anti-Christian. And some consider Christianity anti-queer. But since those claims are up for debate, it’s far more important to pay attention to the followers than the practice of the faith itself.
“He’s probably been used to having Christians persecute him for his whole life,” Delvyn Case, a professor of music at Wheaton College, told Time in an article on the subject. Case, who maintains a database of Jesus mentions in popular songs, added: “But he — rightly, in my opinion — is commandeering that imagery and showing that it doesn’t belong to just them.”
There does seem to be a lot of discomfort around Lil Nas X expressing his spirituality on his own terms alongside his queerness. His repeated use of religious imagery has been called out as another “stunt” for shock and awe. Whether that’s true or not reveals on a far bigger point: Black queer people are allowed to explore Christianity too.
Many Black queer people such as myself are former church kids that oftentimes heard and processed the condemnation of a sexual or gender identity we had to hide. We were made to feel that we didn’t deserve god or religion if we wanted to be our truest selves. And when we do live in our truth as queer people, and process our faith in the best way for our own salvation, it is often deemed as mockery and sacreligious. Lil Nas X was spot on when he asked his naysayers to stop gatekeeping Jesus.
When I look at Lil Nas X, I don’t process his art through 38-year-old me. I process it through 15-year-old George who wasn’t publicly queer yet: the Black Catholic school kid who struggled with his identity with no visibility and representation of who I could be in the world.
I was the teen who bought Beyonce’s ”Dangerously in Love” and listened to it alone in my car so my friends wouldn’t question my sexuality. I was the boy who would close his bedroom door and practice the choreo to the “Baby Boy” video breakdown, to nurture the more feminine parts of my identity, even if it had to be done in secret.
My younger self rejoices in watching a young Black queer man in a cheerleader outfit hitting choreography in the “J Christ” video. If I had this pop star in my sphere growing up, I wouldn’t have had to cobble together traits from several people to imagine a role model I could actually relate to.
Lil Nas X is simply growing and experimenting, and talking about his beliefs is part of that. He can express his spirituality on his terms. Pretending that Christianity is a monolithic, one-size-fits all religion hurts every marginalized community that wants to engage with it. Isn’t the saying “come as you are,” without exceptions? I find it very hard to believe that your god isn’t OK with our queerness.
The “J Christ” video ends with the story of Noah’s Ark. As the story goes, the great flood washed away the old world, as Noah embarked to restart his vision. The way I see it, Lil Nas X is on a journey that just happens to be very public. He deserves to navigate these waters safely. And the teenager in me deserves to see a Black queer man in his Jesus era, processing Christianity however he sees fit.