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Lil Nas X released his debut album Montero on Sept. 17, 2021. (Photo provided via @lilnasx on Instagram)

Album Review: Lil Nas X’s 'Montero' is breaking the barriers of what pop-rap can be

After smashing countless records and tearing down numerous social barriers, internet icon turned pop-rap star Lil Nas X has released his long-awaited debut full-length LP, Montero

Coming off the colossal success of one of the best selling singles of all time, “Old Town Road” and his acclaimed debut EP, 7, which spawned hits such as “Panini” and “Rodeo,” the rapper and singer-songwriter explores his rise to fame as a gay Black man — an experience not often documented in modern music. This 41-minute pop-rap opus will undoubtedly leave you dancing and crying as you listen to Lil Nas X recount the relationships and struggles he has encountered on his meteoric flight to the top of the charts. 

Colored with lively guitar licks and Kanye-influenced horn samples, Montero showcases Lil Nas X’s tendency to explore versatile instrumental timbres that make his sound unique. Right from the opening track, the Atlanta native makes a statement, and that statement is queer artists should not have to hide from the lustful lyricism that their heterosexual contemporaries so indulgently use. 

At some points, it’s bold and boastful — at others, tender and vulnerable. This album’s diverse array of emotions takes the listener on the emotional roller coaster that is the experience of a gay Black man with the sociocultural stature Lil Nas X has. 

But for every unforgettable chorus and tear-inducing lyric on this album, there are one or two moments where the artist’s clear inexperience as a songwriter shines through, such as on the tracks “SCOOP” and “VOID.” There’s a few drawn-out songs lacking the fiery panache that is so prevalent in some of the highs of the album. 

Music aside, this record is a thesis on the queer experience in America today, and Lil Nas X should be very proud of what he is doing for the gay and Black communities that have felt underrepresented in pop culture for so many years. While this project isn’t a remedy for such an enormous social problem, it is a step in the right direction. 

As the rapper said himself in his Apple Music interview with Zane Lowe, a lot of queer artists are “pushed into this bowl of gay artists,” and their achievements are erased from the public discourse. This album is a massive feat in showing those with misguided views on queerness what growing up is like for those in the LGBTQ+ community.

At the end of the day, does Lil Nas X have the singing ability of Harry Styles or the rapping capabilities of Tyler, The Creator? No, but armed with a talented production team and an innate understanding of how to write indelible pop songs that instantly stick to your eardrums, Montero is a gargantuan moment in pop culture that will stand as a landmark for the Black and queer communities for decades to come. 

With that, here are some of the standout tracks:

“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”

Released as a single straight into internet virality, the album’s opener is a plea to Lil Nas X’s closeted partner to bring their relationship into the public eye. Upon first listen, this song lives stubbornly inside of the listener’s head for days on end. 

This song highlights Lil Nas X’s distinctive ability to create hooks that inevitably will become hits while also demonstrating his lack of hesitance when it comes to being direct about his sexuality. Multi-instrumentalist Omer Fedi’s flamenco-tinged guitar lick gives this telenovela of a song the Latin flavor it calls for and, by doing so, kicks off Montero with a perfect opening track for the album. 

“THATS WHAT I WANT”

This blissful body-shaker is Lil Nas X at his finest when it comes to composing the grand and colorful chorus melodies that have guided him to the successes he has achieved. The up-tempo guitar paired with playful percussion and high flying vocals creates a full sound that forces you to dance in the same manner any power pop classic would.

This superbly produced anthem sucks you right into the desperate search for love that Lil Nas X so wonderfully lays out in the two-minute, 23-second masterpiece that is “THATS WHAT I WANT.”

“DOLLA SIGN SLIME (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)”

By far the most braggadocious track on the project, “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” has producer Take a Daytrip’s inclusion of a triumphant horn sample which, to this point, has become a motif on the album. Alongside punchy trap drums, it provides the perfect space for Lil Nas X to deliver some of his finest rapping, deploying a more stylistically trap-influenced flow to boast about his newly earned riches. 

On top of that, no one could have been more fitting for this track than Houston’s own Megan Thee Stallion, who uses her retro Southern flow to deliver a scathing verse for what easily is the best feature on the record. 

  1. “SUN GOES DOWN”

In what instrumentally sounds like a Khalid-influenced summer R&B anthem actually lays some of Lil Nas X’s most mature lyricism, dealing with his younger self’s struggles with his race, sexuality and bouts with suicide: “These gay thoughts would always haunt me / I prayed God would take it from me / It’s hard for you when you’re fighting / And nobody knows it when you’re silent.”

It is apparent that Lil Nas X put a lot into writing this song to invoke the horrible feelings he had to endure while dealing with his identity. “SUN GOES DOWN” is one of many bright spots on the album, and it demonstrates that Lil Nas X has a lot more to offer than “Old Town Road.” He’s here to stay.

Rating 3.5/5

@_tannerharris_

th393721@ohio.edu

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