New Lil Nas X album is heart-wrenchingly amazing
By Lauren Schifley, Art Director
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or are painfully cishet), you’ll know that Lil Nas X released his debut album “MONTERO” on Sept. 17. Coming off the heels of big releases like Kanye’s “Donda” and Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy,” the self-described “power bottom rapper” and “talentless homosexual” promoted this album with witty billboards and several pregnancy-themed stunts including a birthing video on the release day. Enough about the artist: let’s talk about this iconic album.
We start off with the titular “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name),” which already had an infamous music video and marketing campaign surrounding it. The title comes from Lil Nas X’s first name, while the subtitle is a reference to a prominent queer film based on a book titled “Call Me By Your Name.”
Shifting moods, we move into “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” which gets personal with Lil Nas’s career and family struggles before his success with “Old Town Road.” Most notably, this track discusses his mother’s struggles with addiction and her disapproval of his sexuality. Lil Nas X’s father even features at the end of the song with some background vocals, as he is a gospel singer himself.
It is from this point that we head into another pre-released single, “INDUSTRY BABY.” This song features Jack Harlow, another American rapper. This is your typical flexing track that talks about Nas’s past successes and what’s to come in the future. The accompanying music video features Lil Nas X being sentenced to Montero State Prison over the controversial “Satan shoes” and featured rapper Jack Harlow helping him escape.
Then comes one of the best songs on the whole album, “THAT’S WHAT I WANT.” Lil Nas expresses his desire for love and support in a way that perfectly encapsulates this yearning that is, in a way, entwined with the queer experience. This track also hints to specific struggles Nas faces with homophobia in the black community and racism in the gay community. The music video, which dropped on the same day as the album, shows references to another significant queer film, “Brokeback Mountain,” and includes a cameo from gay actor and singer Billy Porter.
This leads into a spoken word track titled “THE ART OF REALIZATION,” in which Nas philosophizes about his life with a line many can relate to. Nas says, “I been drivin' a lot, just drivin' in life. With no actual direction, not heading towards any specific place. It's like for who? Is it for me? Am I happy?” The background instrumental then fades back in with a lead into the next track.
This catchy track, “SCOOP”, has a verse from popular rapper Doja Cat. In this song, Nas talks about wanting to stay relevant in the media and working hard to be the person he wants to be. “SCOOP” is repetitive in a way that makes it perfect for background noise no matter what you’re doing. (I highly recommend that you consider adding this hit to your workout playlist.)
Another mood swing lands us in “ONE OF ME,” which features gay, pop-culture icon Elton John. This track addresses Lil Nas X’s haters, as well as his own self-doubt, that told him that he was just a one-hit wonder after the success of “Old Town Road.” The lyrics show Nas’s fears and self-awareness under the guise of critiques that have been launched against him.
This self-awareness and raw emotion carries into “LOST IN THE CITADEL,” which carries on the pervasive themes of the album: longing for a genuine love and religious symbolism in relation to Nas’s sexuality. The song speaks of a one-sided love after a falling out and moving on in that situation in a hauntingly relatable fashion.
In order to bring the mood back up, Lil Nas X raps alongside sensational rapper Megan Thee Stallion in the following song, “DOLLA SIGN SLIME.” This certified BOP is more on the playful side compared to other songs on the album. On top of that, it solidifies Lil Nas X’s title as a rapper and showcases his ability to match Megan’s energy, which is something that many others have failed to do. Megan Thee Stallion crushes it — as usual — by adding her unique flair and clever wordplay to the track.
In the most abrupt switch on the album, we move to “TALES OF DOMINICA,” where Nas dives deeper into some of his mental struggles. This vulnerable song shows his fears of not being able to make it in the music industry, and he references his struggles in his early music career after dropping out of college with frayed family ties and not much money to his name.
Lil Nas X’s mental struggles are further elaborated in the next track, “SUN GOES DOWN,” which was released as a single prior to the album release. In the song, Nas speaks to a younger version of himself telling him to keep going despite all of the negativity, homophobia and criticism he receives. Furthermore, Nas talks about how he was heavily considering committing suicide if his music career didn’t work out. He ends the last verse by clarifying how happy he is now that everything has worked out and expressing his desire to make his fans proud to support him.
We continue the talks of mental struggles and yearning for a meaningful relationship in the next track, “VOID.” The first verse speaks of Nas hitting a low after the success of “Old Town Road,”' despite outwardly seeming on top of the world. In the chorus, Lil Nas X references Blue, which is speculated to be a nod to another predominant queer film “Love, Simon” in which the titular character talks to another gay teenager at his school who uses the screename Blue because he is still in the closet. The line “I’d rather die than live with these feelings'' hits close to home for a lot of other people in the LGBTQ+ community and validates their internal struggles with their identities.
Lil Nas X brings the mood back up with the triumphant “DON’T WANT IT.” Although Nas still discusses heavier themes regarding his past struggles and resurfaced problematic tweets, this track features an overarching brightness that the others don’t. The line “Tell the devil I can't have him inside” is theorized to be a playful nod to the music video for “MONTERO,” in which Lil Nas X infamously gives the devil a lap dance after sliding into hell on a stripper pole.
“LIFE AFTER SALEM,” the next song on the album, seems to be a sort of sequel to “LOST IN THE CITADEL,” in which Nas offers himself up to his lover with no expectation of love in return despite his referenced want — or rather, need — for love throughout the album.
We then move into the pièce de résistance of the entire album, “AM I DREAMING.” In this song, he shows off his vocal ability in a beautiful, emotional duet with Miley Cyrus. Nas and Cyrus sing about the criticism they’ve faced regarding their sexuality, as well as the desire to be remembered and celebrated through their music. The lyrics also touch on their music allowing them to control the narrative and tell their stories as queer artists that have gone through tough times. This song also pushes the water motif that has shown up throughout the album as Nas talks numerous times about sinking feelings, many tears and an “oceanless sea.” This concept is emphasized at the end of the song with a water splashing sound effect, followed by a rumble of thunder.
Overall, the album is a masterful work of art and storytelling. The perspective is one that we don’t often see in popular music, especially in the rap scene, and it is deeply emotional in a way that touches those who have had similar thoughts and feelings before. The features are all wonderful and topical and add their unique styles that blend well with the rest of the songs. The themes of mental and family struggles and a longing to be truly loved, mixed with the religious references and water motif, create a compelling auditory experience that is everything I wanted from this album and more. This album gave exactly what it needed (and promised) to and leaves me excited to see what else he will do.