Lil Nas X’s Panini and a quick lesson on afrofuturism

October 4, 2019

“Ayy, Panini, don’t you be a meanie/Thought you wanted me to go up/Why you tryna keep me teeny?” sings Lil Nas X, surrounded by a gang of robot dancers. The 20-year-old country singer and rapper recently released the music video for his newest single “Panini off his debut album “7.” The video features the “Old Town Road” singer’s face displayed everywhere with holographic billboards set in a cyberpunk-type world filled with futuristic Ubers and high tech gadgets. 

The music video for “Panini” is an Afrofuturistic dream-come-true for someone like me. Afrofuturism was coined by Mark Dery in an essay entitled “Black to the Future” from the early ’90s. Afrofuturism is described as a cultural aesthetic and philosophy of history that involves the reimagining of a future that Black people actually have a place in––which, surprisingly enough, is difficult for some to understand. 

Afrofuturism is the act of conceptualizing a future that is filled with a wide variety of arts, technology and science all through the lens of Black folk. It can be used to address some of the common themes or struggles within the African diaspora through a completely different lens, using science fiction and technoculture to bring Black people into a world from which they are often excluded. Afrofuturism constructs a world where Blackness is free of the constraints and violence that the Black community faces today. 

There have been a handful of other Black artists besides Lil Nas X who have implemented concepts surrounding Afrofuturism in their music videos. I distinctly remember being a young girl and watching Janet Jackson’s video for “Doesn’t Really Matter, which is arguably one of my favorite music videos ever, and feeling myself entranced and low-key jealous at her futuristic room filled with all sorts of techs and gadgets. Shoes that can automatically transform into heels? Sign me up please. 

Janet Jackson has also been one of the main musical pioneers when it comes to Afrofuturism––her music videos for “Scream” and “What’s It Gonna Be” both come to mind. Another major Black artist who has incorporated elements of Afrofuturism in her work for years is Missy Elliott––who has just been honored with a Video Vanguard Award at this year’s MTV Music Awards, an award that many (including myself) would say is a little too overdue. Elliot has been dropping fire music videos left and right ever since her debut album, “Supa Dupa Fly” (1997). Basically what I’m trying to point out here is the fact that Afrofuturism is something that we’ve seen throughout music over and over again, though you may not have understood just what it was and how important it is for the Black community. 

One of the main factors that makes the music video “Panini” Afrofuturist is simply that the rapper himself is at the forefront of everything––given that Lil Nas X is not only a Black man in America, but he is also a queer man in America. One of the many reasons why he has risen to such a high level of fame so quickly in his career is because of the fact that some people can see themselves in him. 

Lil Nas X gives hope to any Black kid struggling with their identity that they too can be this visible in a world that deems them invisible.  Though he may not have been actively thinking about it, Lil Nas X and his futuristic video for “Panini” implements all of the features that make Afrofuturism such an interesting concept for Black studies scholars. It allows for African Americans to see themselves in the future––giving those the chance to imagine vibrant Black futures in which anything is possible.

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