2021 will forever be remembered as the year of Lil Nas X. The man proved himself to be a marketing genius on the level of Madonna with his ability to court controversy. He also delivered top notch live performances at this year's BET Awards and VMAs. There's also the fact that Nas had two of the year's biggest songs with "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" and "INDUSTRY BABY." "MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)" gave Nas another number one on the Billboard Hot 100, while "INDUSTRY BABY" debuted at number two.
But all of that was merely a lead up to what would be his debut album, "MONTERO." Released on September 17, the album was highly anticipated with a rollout not usually seen with new artists. Nas took advantage of the hype by posing with a pregnant belly for People Magazine. He used this birth metaphor for several TikTok videos in the weeks leading up to his album release. Nas also had a YouTube livestream counting down to midnight the night his album dropped. The livestream contained a parody talk show, the premiere of his new video, and a video of himself giving birth to his album (literally).
Based on the image Nas has cultivated this year, one might expect this to be an album of in-your-face bops. Those people would be wrong. One of the pleasant surprises of "MONTERO" is the vulnerability and introspection that dominates the album. While this is unexpected, perhaps that was Nas' point all along: expect the unexpected and never get too comfortable. It not only keeps fans guessing, but it proves him to be a real artist.
Even though Nas has proven himself to be successful, there's been doubt as to whether there's any artistic depth behind his work. Sure, Nas writes his songs and is an undeniable part of the creative process. But most of the songs heard by the public have been catchy tunes with great pop hooks. Of course, this doesn't rule out depth or seriousness and Nas already gave us hints of that.
"SUN GOES DOWN" was one of the lesser-known singles off this album, which got overshadowed by the continued success of the album's title track. The song opens with a catchy, can't-miss guitar riff by the talented Omer Fedi (Fedi and Take a Daytrip serve as the album's executive producers). Lyrically, the song is a conversation between past Nas and present Nas. Past Nas sings the chorus, while present Nas sings the verses.
it delves into Nas' adolescence and the pain he experienced during those years. It talks about bullying, racial insecurities, and trying to pray the gay away. It also talks about suicidal thoughts, but Nas' present self is there to shut those down. "There's much more to life than dying over your past mistakes and people who do dirt on your name," he sings.
This song gave us a glimpse of the heart of "MONTERO." Despite what the videos and live performances hinted at, this isn't an album about sex and picking up guys. While there is some of that, the real heart of this album is about working your way out of a confining situation and achieving your dreams. This is a theme most, especially young LGBTQ people, can relate to and it will no doubt inspire many.
This kind of vulnerability is what holds the album together. What makes this so fascinating is how it contrasts with Nas' confident, provocative image. However, this also proves how talented this young man truly is. On "VOID," Nas showcases his vocal range and hits some beautiful high notes. It's the album's longest, possibly best song, and with good reason. When fully immersed in the world of "MONTERO," this is a song the listener won't want to end.
That kind of atmospheric bliss is also evident on "LOST IN THE CITADEL" and "TALES OF DOMINICA." Both songs convey an emotional pain wrapped up in pretty melodies. The first song talks about an unrequited love and the latter talks about uncertainty on the way to achieving one's dreams. Nas continues that story and does a victory lap on "DON'T WANT IT," where he proclaims that "if you want it, you can have anything right before your eyes."
"DEAD RIGHT NOW" deals with the downside to success, particularly loved ones attempting to leech off Nas because of his fame and money. Nas' father sings a brief background vocal on the track. This gloomy tale of betrayal segues perfectly into the victorious "INDUSTRY BABY," complete with its infectious hook and empowering horns. Kanye West co-produced the track, along with power-duo Take a Daytrip.
The two were also behind tracks like "SCOOP," "DOLLA SIGN SLIME," and "AM I DREAMING." Those three tracks feature Doja Cat, Meghan Thee Stallion, and Miley Cyrus, respectively. The features on this album would show up on most people's wish-lists if they were to make an album. Elton John even plays piano on "ONE OF ME." That song deals with those who insisted Nas was merely a one-hit-wonder after "Old Town Road." It's safe to say he proved them wrong with this album.
While "SCOOP" and "DOLLA SIGN SLIME" are ego-driven songs, which are welcome mood-changers among the more introspective cuts, "AM I DREAMING" sees the star already contemplating his own legacy. This pretty song is short, but sweet, and Nas' vocals fit with Cyrus' beautifully. With the barriers Nas has already broken down, it's safe to say he won't be forgotten, as this song pleads. However, one can hope he has many more years of music still to come.
While there are many features, it doesn't remove Nas from being front and center on this album. He rocks out on "LIFE AFTER SALEM," a song with blazing guitars and a vocally-charged chorus. He also goes full pop on "THAT'S WHAT I WANT," with its catchy chorus and infectious melody. This is the album's latest single, which debuted at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. On this album, Nas displays a kind of versatility and diversity that gives his work artistic merit.
With his debut album, Nas has continued to destroy people's preconceived notions about him. He's proved that he's not only good at creating memes on social media, but he's a talented songwriter. He's not only good at causing controversy, but his songs are good enough to remain hits. He's not only a marketing genius, but he's a great singer. The man has incredible range and his debut proves that there will be many more albums to come.