Lil Nas X Is No One-Trick Pony on 'MONTERO'

Lil Nas X Is No One-Trick Pony on 'MONTERO'
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When Montero Lamar Hill burst onto the music scene as Lil Nas X in 2018 with "Old Town Road," his country-rap song about cowboys and horses, most people thought of him, like the track itself, as a funny passing fad, a meme that would eventually fizzle out, a one-hit wonder. But as his witty social media presence and elaborate music videos and visuals grew, so did his sound and talent. Two years later, Lil Nas X has finally given birth to a beautiful baby, and it shares a name with its parent: MONTERO.

After "Old Town Road" picked up traction on social media, became a staple in memes on Twitter and TikTok and was re-released by his new label home of Columbia Records, Hill was catapulted into the public eye, collaborating on remixes with the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus and Nas. After cobbling together his debut EP 7 to mixed reception, Hill decided to take his time on the follow-up, working on the project for over a year. He's likened the process to therapy, where he learned to let go of people's perceptions of him — after all, as an out and proud gay, Black artist, Hill is no stranger to conservative backlash. With producers like Omer Fedi, Roy Lenzo, Take a Daytrip and Kanye West as well as star-studded features, MONTERO lives up to its wild marketing campaigns and is equally as heartfelt and dark as it is bold.

It's evident within the first few tracks that MONTERO heavily explores themes of queer love and heartbreak, Hill's adjustment to fame, his earned pride in his accomplishments, and reflections on his life before he was Lil Nas X. The titular "MONTERO (Call My by Your Name)" was teased by Hill months before it was released as a single this year, with Hill casually sneaking snippets of it into videos on social media. Its infectious Spanish guitar licks and proclamation of brazen queer desire proved to be worth the wait and serve as the perfect opening track on its namesake album. It's followed by the Olympic-opening-ceremony-sized trumpets of "Industry Baby," where Hill and special guest Jack Harlow sound like they're having an absolute blast.

Hill is no one-trick pony. An array of musical influences are on display here, as seen in the inclusion of a gospel choir on "DEAD RIGHT NOW," which is downright heavenly on the ears. "Lost in the Citadel" looks back at a failed romance and has an energizing pop-rock energy, making it a unique stand-out on the tracklist and another showcase of Hill's versatility.

Along with Harlow, a handful of features appear throughout, the strongest of which is "Scoop" featuring Doja Cat. It's impossible not to move when hearing the glossy, plucking strings and booming bass. Doja's cheeky, snappy bars and squeaky voice slide in smoothly, the pair almost sounding like musical siblings. "DOLLA SIGN SLIME" featuring Megan Thee Stallion brings back the triumphant horns, and Meg's brazen line of "I should have my own category in porn" is satisfying to no end. (On the other side of the feature spectrum is Elton John's appearance on "ONE OF ME," in which he doesn't sing, and his piano playing is only noticeable at the very beginning and end of the track.)

As funny and charming as Hill's persona is online and in interviews, the last five songs on MONTERO take a dark, introspective turn, showing the lonely, anxious, self-doubting side that he's largely hidden from the public. On "TALES OF DOMINICA," he explores his anxieties surrounding becoming more independent and imagines living alone on an island. On "SUN GOES DOWN," he looks back at the racism and homophobia he faced in his adolescence, ultimately finding hope as he looks toward the rest of his life: "I know that you want to cry / But there's much more to life than dyin' / Over your past mistakes / And people who threw dirt on your name," he croons. The unadorned plucking of a lone guitar and Hill's hurt-filled vocals on "VOID" proves he can pen sombre, heart-wrenching ballads in addition to the grand singles he's known for.

The album closes out with "AM I DREAMING," a forlorn duet in which Miley Cyrus's trademark raspy vocals provide a nice contrast against Hill's smoother tone. Still, it would have been nice to end on a higher note after a period of so much darkness, and the final line of "Never forget me and everything I've done" followed by the sound of splashing water has some sinister implications that will no doubt be analyzed by fans. The abrupt tonal shift on the latter section of MONTERO sounds like a different album to the album's opening half, almost as though it could be its own separate EP. But even if it doesn't quite fit, it impressively showcases Hill's vulnerability in his storytelling.

With all eyes on Hill, and his ambitions as a serious musician in question, he gives a definitive answer on MONTERO. He proves that he is a fully-fledged, multifaceted person who can do it all, and has all the makings of a modern yet ever-evolving pop star. He just remembers to have a fun, honest time while doing it. (Columbia)