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Who is Montero?

Lil Nas X sheds facade to reveal “Montero” on debut album

Lil Nas X’s debut album, “Montero,” has been ages in the making. The rap-pop star rose to fame in March 2019 with his single “Old Town Road,” which broke the record for longest running No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. In the two years that passed between Lil Nas X’s meteoric rise to fame and the release of “Montero,” the “Panini” singer scored three top-five hits, innovated the ways artists utilize social media for promotion and connection with fans and amassed insane amounts of controversy for his critique of Christianity and his expressions of his gender and sexuality. 

Part of Lil Nas X’s appeal lies in his ability to craft an internet personality of someone who is unabashedly queer, Black and entirely memeable — he knows how to poke fun at himself and at others. Consistently on the cusp of stan twitter, this sort of playful, braggadocious energy is present on songs like “Dolla Sign Slime” and “Scoop” with Megan the Stallion and Doja Cat, respectively. “Dolla Sign Slime” is full-on braggadocious. Lil Nas X lets his detractors know that they are “flops,” and unlike them he is the “n—a that's killin' it.” Produced by Take a Daytrip, the song is carried by an irresistible horn riff that feels complimentary to the one on “Industry Baby.” 

“Scoop” is a hip hop-oriented track which sees Lil Nas X get his most explicit about a gay experience. Lil Nas X does away with relationships in favor of being the “daily scoop.” He knows he looks good and is in search of a quick hookup — no strings attached. Both “Dolla Sign Slime” and “Scoop” are hits in the making, but not quite anything different than what listeners have seen Lil Nas X do before. 

“Montero” truly finds its footing in songs like “That’s What I Want,” “Sun Goes Down” and
“Tales of Dominica.” On these tracks, the rapper reveals that his uber successful internet personality is just that — a personality. Underneath the masquerade is a young, gay Black man learninig to navigate a world that despises him for how he looks and who he loves.

“That’s What I Want” and “Sun Goes Down” speak to the experience of being gay and Black.  “That’s What I Want” works as the antithesis to “Scoop.” The track is backed by a plucky acoustic guitar and an anthemic sung chorus. Lil Nas X gets vulnerable about his search for love in a dark-skinned, “afro black boy with the gold teeth.” He sings, “These days, I'm way too alone / And I'm known for givin' love away, but / I want (I), someone to love me.” 

“Sun Goes Down” is the most melancholic song on the album. Lil Nas X discusses his attempts to avoid suicidal thoughts when the experiences of being Black and gay become too overwhelming. He raps, "Why my lips so big? / Was I too dark? / Can they sense my fears? / These gay thoughts would always haunt me / I prayed God would take it from me.” In such a traditionally hard and guarded genre like rap — it is awe-inspiring to see Lil Nas X be so open about his experiences, especially since such experiences are probably alien to a large majority of his fan base. 

“Montero” is far from a perfect album. The lyrics on tracks like the chorus of “One of Me,” despite its beautiful piano accompaniment from Elton John, feel undercooked. The production on “Life After Salem” is heavily rock-inspired. While a sonically interesting venture for Lil Nas X, it ends up seeming like he is competing with the track rather than complementing it due to its loudness.

Despite these critiques, the album is a culture revolution for gay, Black men everywhere. Lil Nas X is showing those just like him that it is okay to be truly yourself — embrace who you are and who you love without pause, but that such embrace does not come without pain and hardships. 

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