Since being catapulted from relative obscurity to superstardom with 2019’s record-breaking hit “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X, born Montero Lamar Hill, had a high bar to meet on his first full-length album. “Montero,” which Nas finally released following an outlandish and on-brand album announcement in the form of pregnancy photos, shows that Lil Nas X is more than a one-hit wonder.
Although “Montero” lacks the cohesion that would traditionally mark an outstanding album, its inconsistency comes from Lil Nas X’s willingness to experiment with each track. The variety of songs, featured artists, explored themes and background instruments bring listeners into an unexpected but alluring world that keeps them engaged for the album’s 41-minute run time.
“MONTERO” is at its best when it follows the formula that made “Old Town Road” a success: catchy choruses, notable artist features and well-executed beats. The first and titular song is the most “country trap” of the album, with a guitar twang underscoring the rise and fall of X’s homoerotic lyrics. “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” is proof that Lil Nas X knows his strengths as an artist and is unafraid to play to them.
As a response to his own success, “DEAD RIGHT NOW” deals directly with the rapid climb to fame Nas has experienced since “Old Town Road” went viral. In one verse, Nas recounts a conversation with his dad in Atlanta, Ga., right before his breakout: “He said, ‘It’s one in a million chance, son / I told him, ‘Daddy, I am that one-uh.’” This track is one of the more vulnerable on the album, serving as a sort of diary entry documenting Nas’ difficulty entering the limelight.
The vulnerability of the opening of the album quickly shifts to shameless chest-beating as the trumpets rise in “INDUSTRY BABY,” one of the album’s most popular tracks thanks to TikTok and the internet’s love of its feature, rapper Jack Harlow. Kanye West also assisted on the production, and his influence comes through in the song’s mixed use of club beats and orchestral instruments. Harlow takes on most of the vocal heavy lifting on this track, with Nas singing a catchy, motivating chorus.
In contrast to these successful tracks,“Montero” struggles on a handful of tracks where Lil Nas X seems to have forgotten that his voice is not best suited for pop-style singing. He is a gifted producer, rapper and writer, but his vocals are not quite strong enough to carry the weight of an entire song himself. This is best seen on pop-oriented songs when Nas’ songwriting is too ambitious for his vocal range, like “TALES FROM DOMINICA” and “THAT’S WHAT I WANT.”
The notable exception to Nas’ vocal overreaching is the final song on the album, “AM I DREAMING,” featuring Miley Cyrus. The track is simple, with only two verses and an oft-repeated chorus, but the harmonies of Cyrus and Nas create a beautiful backdrop to the well-written lyrics. In this song, Nas begs his audience to “Oh, never forget me / And everything I’ve done.” Lil Nas X, after climbing so quickly to stardom, muses on the possibility that he could just as quickly fall.
A testament to the artist’s collaborative skills, “Montero” is strong when Nas combines his strengths of production with a more vocally experienced artist to carry the rest of the weight. “SCOOP,” featuring Doja Cat, is a funk-infused melody that puts each artist’s individual skills on display, using Doja Cat’s unique voice and Nas’ strong beat to create an impressive song. “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” featuring Megan Thee Stallion follows the same formula, letting Megan Thee Stallion’s energetic rapping bring the song to a triumph.
Although “MONTERO” may falter in its disorganized structure and in Nas’ occasionally weak vocals, the debut album reminds listeners that 22-year-old Lil Nas X is in the process of building himself a notably collaborative niche in the music industry. Once Nas finds the sound that works best for him and builds out his vocal strength, he will be truly unstoppable.