By Jessica Clifford-Jones | Review Editor
Lil Nas X’s debut album has been long anticipated ever since the rapper-singer started making waves in 2017 when his country rap single ‘Old Town Road’ became a viral sensation. The song broke records by staying in the charts for 19 weeks, becoming the longest-running number one hit on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. During this time, Lil Nas came out as gay, becoming the first and only artist to do so while having a number one hit.
Lil Nas has remained in the public eye since then, but his release of the single ‘MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)’ and its music video put him back into the spotlight. The song and video sparked both praise and controversy due to its use of religious imagery and explicitly homosexual nature. It became Lil Nas’ second number one hit and was the first single released from his eponymous album ‘MONTERO’ (Nas’ real name being Montero Hill).
‘MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)’ is an excellent lead single, showcasing Lil Nas’ bold song-writing, eclectic genre inspiration and themes of sexuality. The song seems to take inspiration from a variety of genres, mainly hip-hop, electropop and trap, but it also has been noted to have Latin and reggae influences too. My main complaint about the song is its short length, leaving it feeling slightly unfinished. However, thankfully it is the shortest track on the album; while many of the songs don’t hit the three-minute mark, which is a little too short for my taste, there is overall a wider range of lengths.
While the album is primarily pop-rap, it has an interesting range of inspirations and influences, specifically R&B, trap, and rock. I was surprised to find that the majority of the songs were moodier and more soulful than Lil Nas’ singles and usual style. This isn’t a problem, however; Lil Nas does ballads well. His lyrics are heartfelt and, while I’d say he’s a stronger rapper than singer, his vocals are emotive and dreamy, his higher pitches especially impressive and enjoyable.
His slower-tempo songs seem to dominate the album sometimes, making me wish for a bit more variety. However I enjoyed them enough that I didn’t mind, as the lyrics and instrumentals are interesting enough to prevent them for becoming too similar.
One of my favourite tracks is his collaboration with Miley Cyrus, ‘AM I DREAMING.’ It’s about being a young person growing up and exploring their sexuality in the public eye, something both artists have experienced. The pared down instrumentals are evocative of indie rock with simple guitars and violins, the vocals are lovely and melancholy, and the lyrics are poignant. Songs like ‘VOID’, ‘SUN GOES DOWN’ and ‘TALES OF DOMINICA’ similarly display Lil Nas’ lyrical and vocal skills, being deeply personal songs with simple but effective instrumentals.
However, Lil Nas does change it up. He deviates from his usual tone with ‘LIFE AFTER SALEM’, a dark rock song with a chilling, bitter vibe. ‘THATS WHAT I WANT’ is an upbeat pop song backed with an acoustic guitar that gives an almost country feel. Lil Nas goes back to his signature style in ‘DOLLA SIGN SLIME’ (featuring Megan Thee Stallion) a boastful and confident trap pop song. Lil Nas and Megan Thee Stallion work excellently together, though sometimes Megan Thee Stallion can overshadow with her force of personality. Both ‘DOLLA SIGN SLIME’ and single ‘INDUSTRY BABY’ (featuring Jack Harlow) make an interesting and effective use of brass as its backing instrumental, lending a triumphant tone that works perfectly with the songs’ tone.
‘MONTERO’ is an incredible debut album from Lil Nas X. While sometimes the songs risk being too similar, Lil Nas avoids this with his eclectic cross-genre influences, interesting use of instrumentals and bold, sincere lyrics about his personal experiences as a gay black man in the music industry. Those who thought Lil Nas X to be a one-hit wonder or a meme are sorely mistaken, and I truly believe he’s lived up to his own hype. I only hope he continues to do so.