An in-depth look at the debut album of Lil Nas X

Spencer Wakefield, Staff Writer

At this point, there cannot be a single person in the country who has not at least heard the name Lil Nas X. Skyrocketing into superstardom off the back of his 2018 hit Old Town Road, 22 year old Montero Lamar Hill has become one of the biggest names in music. His debut album “MONTERO” released on Sept. 17 after months of hype, three singles that amassed a collective one billion streams, and multiple news cycles surrounding the controversy of a gay man being as raunchy in his music as his straight contemporaries. Does “MONTERO” live up to this hype? Or did another artist shoot for the moon only to miss?
The album opens with Lil Nas’ most controversial single to date, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name).” The title track references both the artist’s given name as well as the popular gay romance book-turned-movie “Call Me By Your Name.” The song itself is aggressive, emotional, and sexually charged, addressed towards one of Hill’s former lovers. He has been purposely vague about the timeline of the real life events that inspired the song, but it is clear that the fictionalized man is a less than stellar character. Overall, a strong opening.
The next track, “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” is a slower tune addressed to Lil Nas’ parents. Being openly gay strained things with his father, and his mother’s drug addiction made him distance himself from her both physically and emotionally. His newfound stardom seems to strain things more with the both of them, with the chorus implying they have tried to get closer to him now that he has money. It’s an extremely somber track, to say the least.
Fortunately, track number 3 is one many readers are likely familiar with: “INDUSTRY BABY.” Produced by longtime Lil Nas collaborator Take a Daytrip and musical juggernaut Kanye West, the track is triumphant, indignant even, and has a strong verse from Jack Harlow, another newcomer to the rap game. The reprise of “I ain’t fall off, I just ain’t release my new sh*t” seems to be true, as the next track, “THAT’S WHAT I WANT,” delivers. A high tempo treatise on longing, Lil Nas sings about the man of his dreams. It is touching, relatable even.
After the short intermission track of “ART OF REALIZATION,” the album has another feature by pop star Doja Cat in the song “SCOOP.” The song, while fun and catchy, is essentially what would come out if Doja was a gay man instead of a bisexual woman. It lacks the artistic identity of some of the other tracks on the album.
The next song has a feature that is surprising for a rapper- Elton John. While not providing vocals, he lent his piano talent to “ONE OF ME” to support another gay artist struggling to break into show business. Indeed, Hill sings about the resistance and ridicule he received from the music industry and public at large for being young, black, gay, and propelled to fame by the internet.
The next track, “LOST IN THE CITADEL,” takes a more sobering turn. The song is slow, heavy. It is about the emotional fallout of a failed relationship, and all the pain and confusion and feelings of “what if?” that comes from one. The following track is another Daytrip production, “DOLLA SIGN SLIME,” featuring rap superstar Megan Thee Stallion. The song appears to use the same sound font as “INDUSTRY BABY,” as horns feature prominently in the beat. The song is a standard flexing song, about money, fame, and the like. Meg’s verse is as good as most of her other features, and the fact an artist as new to the scene as Lil Nas X was able to get Megan on a track is a shock. Overall, a strong first half.
As fans have noted, the album does take a decidedly more depressing turn in its second half. The next tracks are notably slower, darker, and have heavier lyrics. “TALES OF DOMINICA” is a haunting song about what Lil Nas has described as “the darkest time in [his] life,” just prior to the success of “Old Town Road.” He had dropped out of college, straining his relationship with his parents even more, he was still closeted, and bet all of his future on his musical talents. It is a song written about uncertainty, and its plodding pace reflects that. If the album has an artistic standout, this song is a contender.
“SUN GOES DOWN” is another piece written about that time, the chorus emphasizing how suicidal he was at the time. There are references to self-medicating to get through each day and how he turned to Twitter for a sense of belonging. Hill was also still closeted at this point in his life, referencing another piece of gay media by addressing his past self as Blue, after the closeted love interest in “Love, Simon.” The following track, “VOID,” is a meditation on the isolation that comes from being young, black, and gay, especially in the music industry. It is slow, emotionally heavy, and reinforces the album’s identity as a piece of unabashedly gay art.
“DON’T WANT IT,” the next track, is more upbeat sounding, a welcome break from the weight of the last two songs. It is catchy, but the same could be said for most of the songs on the album. The final track, after the second intermission of “LIFE AFTER SALEM,” is “AM I DREAMING.” Featuring a verse by Miley Cyrus, the song is emotionally raw. Both artists faced massive public backlash after coming out of the closet, and this track harnesses the pain that came from that.
The 15 track album proves Lil Nas X’s artistic strength as a pop songwriter as well as a performer. Living up to much of, if not all of, the hype surrounding its release, “MONTERO” will likely be a contender for album of the year this award season. Triumphant, emotionally complex, and long awaited, this release is likely one of many from the young superstar that will go down in the annals of pop history.