Content Warning: Suicide
On Sept. 17, Lil Nas X released his long-awaited “self-titled” debut album, “MONTERO.” Nas X, whose full name is Montero Lamar Hill, began his music and influencer career with a Nicki Minaj “stan” Twitter account, garnering attention and his share of online controversy. Using his social media knowhow, Hill marketed the song that would become his breakthrough hit, “Old Town Road,” in late 2018. The track, which holds the record for the most weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with 19 weeks, has also featured “remix” collaborations with artists from country artist Billy Ray Cyrus to South Korean boy band BTS. Following the success of “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X released a number of follow-up singles including “Panini,” “Rodeo” and “HOLIDAY.” Despite the impressive list of singles, though, Hill had yet to release a studio album.
The aforementioned album, “MONTERO,” was teased with a number of singles. The first single, which is both the title and opening track, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” explores Lil Nas X’s sexuality. Hill, who came out as gay in the midst of the success of “Old Town Road,” looked to use the song to normalize gay sexual relationships in music. The track sparked controversy in the media due to its use of Satanic imagery in its music video and even spawned a civil lawsuit over a promotional shoe sale tied with the song’s release. This song is of course not the only song to feature themes like sexual noralization on the album, but it certainly makes for a bold opener to introduce listeners to the world of “MONTERO.”
The next single released, “SUN GOES DOWN,” features a significantly darker subject matter but ultimately ends up being a hopeful track at its core. The song focuses on Nas X’s younger self, his skin complexion and coming to terms with his sexuality. In the chorus, Hill references his mental health struggles, including past thoughts of suicide, a tragic consideration for millions of LGBTQ+ youth every year. The narrative of the track ranges from when he was ten years old up to his coming out in 2019 at age 20 and expresses his gratitude for the support and acceptance he received from his fans both for his music and his sexuality.
“INDUSTRY BABY” was the last single released in the run up to the album itself. Featuring production by Kanye West and the album’s executive producer, Take a Daytrip, as well as a verse by Jack Harlow, the song acts as a triumphant victory lap for both Harlow and Nas X’s careers to date. Harlow, who blew up after his song “WHATS POPPIN” was released in January 2020, has had a streak of successful tracks including collaborations with Eminem and Ty Dolla $ign. The music video, whose story line was also written by Nas X, centers around a successful escape from “Montero State Prison.” At the conclusion of the video, viewers are encouraged to donate to the Bail X Fund, a collaboration with The Bail Project to pay cash bail for incarcerated people whose pretrial release relies entirely on a bail payment. While New Jersey effectively eliminated cash bail in January 2017 with the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act, other states will still hold presumed innocent suspects in jail pending a cash payment.
Other notable songs on the album include “ONE OF ME” featuring Elton John and “AM I DREAMING” featuring Miley Cyrus. John’s feature on “ONE OF ME” is went unnoticed by many at first, with one comment on the YouTube video for the song noting, “I really thought Elton would be singing. It wasn’t until the end that I realized he was on the piano the whole time.” The “Rocket Man” performer can be heard throughout the track on the piano but most notably in the beautiful outro for the piece. That piano feature is reminiscent of a similar feature in Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights” from West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” The song was originally teased on Instagram Live and Twitter over two years ago with slightly different lyrics than the final release, but throughout both the teaser and actual track the themes of success beyond being a “one hit wonder” are present.
“AM I DREAMING,” the closing track of the record, is a somber ballad pleading with the audience to “not forget” Nas X or Miley Cyrus, the featured artist, and hints at the struggles that come with artistry at a high level. Cyrus, daughter of the artist Billy Ray Cyrus, who was featured in “Old Town Road,” sounds better than ever. Both she and Nas X have experienced growing up in the public eye to some extent, with Nas X spending his adolescence on the internet and Cyrus being a child star on the show “Hannah Montana” from a young age.
The album overall was very well put together with solid production throughout. All of the songs and skits on the album have an accompanying video — a testament to the time and effort put into the album by Nas X and his whole team. The features are incredibly well placed and never feel like they don’t belong, an issue on plenty of other modern albums. For a record that has been in the works for literal years, every song sounds fresh and current. Hill has put together what I consider to be a perfect debut album. I rate it 5 out of 5 crabs.