Our Take: 4/5 Stars
Coming off of the success of one of the most popular singles of all time in 2018, “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X had something to prove with his first album. While his 2018 EP, “7,” rode the hype surrounding “Old Town Road” and was tremendously successful, fans and critics still questioned his staying power and one-hit-wonder status. With the EP clocking in at a mere nineteen minutes, many fans questioned whether or not Lil Nas X had it in him to craft a full-length record that was as captivating as his previous work.
On “Montero,” Lil Nas X exceeded expectations, proved his staying power and dispelled all talk of him being a one-hit-wonder. Throughout the album, Lil Nas X basks in his success, explores his romantic life, reflects on the perils of fame and embraces his sexuality. Coming from an artist that was a struggling Atlanta meme-rapper three years ago, “Montero” feels mature and complete.
Preceding the release of “Montero,” Lil Nas X released its title track, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” which references André Aciman’s 2007 gay romance novel of the same name. Musically, the track is an infectious earworm. Content-wise, the track itself and its accompanying music video are bold for their combination of queer, sexually-charged, satanic and biblical themes. It received praise and backlash for these themes but ultimately topped the Billboard Hot 100 during its first week.
On the album’s second single, “Sun Goes Down,” Lil Nas X explored his childhood experiences of bullying, suicidal contemplation and confronting his sexuality. Although the introspection covering it is bold and boundary-pushing, it falls short compositionally and musically.
On “Montero’s” final single, “Industry Baby,” Lil Nas X teamed up with Jack Harlow to release a stellar pop-rap anthem. Backed by bright horns and the production of Take a Daytrip and Kanye West, “Industry Baby” is a braggadocious victory lap by both artists. Daring and empowering queer imagery, akin to “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” accompanied the track’s music video.
Following months of promotion and stunts, Lil Nas X finally released “Montero” on Sept. 17. Although the album clocks in at just one hour and fifteen minutes, it gives a strong show throughout. While its sound is versatile, with Lil Nas X embracing poppier sounds on tracks such as “That’s What I Want” and looking toward hip hop on others, its consistent themes and lyrical content neatly tie it together.
In the vein of “Industry Baby,” Lil Nas X celebrates his success on “Scoop” and “Dolla Sign Slime,” both of which are backed by top-notch features. On these songs, he feels triumphant.
He also explores the perils of his fame, his childhood struggles and heartbreak across numerous songs throughout the album. These songs are also great, ignoring “Don’t Want It,” which comes across as a series of half-baked ideas that never fully take shape.
“Void” is the best of these introspective tracks because it is a letter from him in the present-day to himself during his “Old Town Road” era. The song is the album’s most emotionally potent and Lil Nas X’s performance is beautiful.
To close out the album, Lil Nas X teamed up with Miley Cyrus on “Am I Dreaming,” a call for his fans and the world to “never forget [him].”
This album closer encourages the listener to realize that across “Montero,” Lil Nas X has ovecome all one-hit-wonder charges with wildly successful singles and this tracklisting as a whole.
Ultimately, “Montero” is a strong showing for a debut studio album. Its diverse sound, cohesive thematic messages and outstanding introspective quality go a long way.
On this record, Lil Nas X has transcended his meme-rapper status of the past and become a superstar.