Lil Nas X seems to be on top of the world lately. Ever since the 2019 release of the record-smashing hit “Old Town Road,” Nas proved his mastery of media and kept all eyes on himself. When he had the #1 charting song in America, he had the courage to come out to fully express himself in his music. He created a buzz this year when he created a custom Nike Air Max 97 with human blood inside, and later when he promoted his debut album, Montero, in a photoshoot where he was “pregnant” with his baby (the album). Due to controversial choices like these, along with the fact that he is a Black queer man, he is often the target of bigots and pundits in the “culture war.” Although Nas has been extremely vocal on social media about shrugging off criticisms like these, on Montero we finally get a look at what’s going on inside Lil Nas X’s head.
Turns out, it’s a lonely place.
The first half of the album is Nas’ victory lap. It is a musical manifestation of the confidence shown in his public persona. The opening track, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, is one of the best the album has to offer. It features infectious lead vocals and bright Spanish guitar laced throughout. Songs like the cheery “That’s What I Want”, the flirtatious “Scoop”, and the braggadocious track “Industry Baby” and “Dolla Sign Slime” show that Nas is truly capable of making a peppy banger. “Industry Baby” is another standout track, as Nas is rapping about his successes over a marching band beat with blaring horns. Jack Harlow lays a nice verse on the backend of this song as well, and his placement here makes sense seeing as both rappers are on the same path of being young rising stars.
With “Tales of Dominica”, Nas pivots to singing about self-doubt and growing up in a broken home, though the target audience for this oddly upbeat song is unclear. He does a much better job of expressing the anxiety and loneliness of his newfound fame on “Void”, another standout where Nas sings over airy yet bleak strummed guitar. “Life After Salem” continues this theme as Nas touches on a dysfunctional relationship while singing over a heavy grunge rock instrumental. Despite this depressing direction on the back half, Nas ends the album on a positive note on the track “Am I Dreaming” with Miley Cyrus. As two LGBTQ artists who have matured in the public eye and faced criticism for expressing their sexuality, they discuss hardships they have faced and how they must go on and make sure no one forgets them.
The album does have some misses, where Nas falls into the same trap he fell into on his earlier project 7 EP. Some of the tracks are just basic. One example is “Lost in the Citadel”, where Nas’ tone is flat, his message is recycled, and the instrumental sounds out of place on the album. Additionally, “Don’t Want It” is a track that feels incomplete and interrupts the introspective themes on the backend of the album.
However, as a whole, this project is a solid debut for an artist that needs no introduction. A major theme of the project is metamorphosis, and Nas proves that he is truly coming into his own as his music becomes more personal and his sound becomes more fleshed-out. With Montero, Nas paves the way for himself and other queer artists to find their way and embrace who they are.