In Lil Nas X’s “MONTERO,” the rapper finds his sound in an impressive way

| Senior Cadenza Editor

On Sept. 17, burgeoning pop star Lil Nas X released his debut album, “MONTERO.” The title track is the opening number, setting the tone for the album: Lil Nas X is here with deeper, more hard-hitting material, but he still wants fans to be able to dance it out to his songs.

Lil Nas X is known for making controversial artistic choices and then cheekily twisting them to his advantage on social media. He has continued this trend with “MONTERO,” pulling stunts like sliding down a stripper pole into hell during the music video for the title track and doing a pregnancy photoshoot, turning the saying that an album is an artist’s “baby” into a cleverly realistic marketing scheme.

Despite the comedic marketing, “MONTERO” has some notably darker themes than Lil Nas X’s prior work. The second track, “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” talks about the rapper’s struggles before fame and how certain people have switched up on him since his ascension. Lil Nas X addresses tensions with both of his parents, and later raps “If I didn’t blow up, I woulda died tryna be here/ If it didn’t go suicide wouldn’t be here.” It’s rare for artists to make more than vague social media statements about mental health issues, so it’s powerful to witness Lil Nas X open up about his own struggles. While the lyrics are somber, he juxtaposes them with a trumpet-heavy, bass-laden beat. The forward-moving beat reflects the trajectory of Lil Nas X’s career. 

Though it’s the blooming rapper’s first album, “MONTERO” is stacked with an incredible list of features including Elton John, Megan Thee Stallion and Miley Cyrus. While these stars have established careers, Lil Nas X is still able to keep pace with them, and they all make for great additions to the album. “SCOOP” is probably my favorite feature track on the album, because Lil Nas X and Doja Cat’s tongue-in-cheek bravado works together perfectly. On top of the danceable instrumentals, Lil Nas X raps about getting in shape — wittily saying, “You ever seen a n***a hit Pilates?” — working hard and hooking up with whomever. In the same vein, Doja Cat comedically and confidently shows her prowess on the track with lines like, “Can’t call me stupid with this big ol’ f*****g forehead motherf****r.”

“MONTERO” is an all-around stellar album, and it becomes even better when audiences think about how unapologetically queer it is. Lil Nas X is a dark-skined Black artist rapping openly about being gay, which is incredibly inspiring to see. As far as visual aesthetics, Lil Nas X gives Satan a lap dance in the “MONTERO” music video, and the video for “THATS WHAT I WANT,” a song about the rapper wanting a happy, fulfilling relationship, includes a love scene with another Black man, Lil Nas X in a wedding dress and a cameo from openly gay star Billy Porter.

Ever since “Old Town Road” was released, it was clear Lil Nas X was primed to blow up on social media, and he now boasts 7.2 million Twitter followers and 24.7 million TikTok followers. “MONTERO” is a wonderful debut album which shows that Lil Nas X is just as artistically talented as he is social media savvy.

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