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MONTERO might be the most powerful and emotionally raw R&B release of the year.

After Lil Nas X’s “Video of the Year” win at the VMA’s for his song MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name), I impatiently waited for the rest of his album. In an interview with Jimmy Fallon back in the spring, Lil Nas X warned that the album was “honest, it’s one-hundred percent me . . . I’m exploring my sexuality, myself, it’s like a coming of age story, my heartbreaks . . . it’s everything man”.

Despite his cautions, I was still shocked by the change in musical style of the album as well as the severe shift in tone; Lil Nas X has previously written lighter songs mainly about his success, but in this album you can truly see a piece of who he is as a person. The album unflinchingly delves into a variety of different subjects, from heartbreak to family trauma to deeply rooted insecurities, all of which are uncommon from men in the R&B genre. Lil Nas X is already admired for being influential in the LGBTQ+ community, and he continues to break down gender norms with this album. The artist’s general style of music may not be for everyone, but this album has something for everyone, and his lyrical and vocal talent cannot be ignored.

"The album unflinchingly delves into a variety of different subjects, from heartbreak to family trauma to deeply rooted insecurities..."

One of my favourite songs on the album is TALES OF DOMINICA, partly because of the unique soulful violin, but mainly because of the lyrics. Lil Nas X talks about growing up in a broken home, having to hang onto the last shred of hope to avoid losing faith in himself. He delves into his issues with his mother, who he left when he was nine due to her drug addiction. In one of the album’s most potent moments, Nas harrowingly sings, “I've been living on an island made from faith, can't go running back to home, I can't face her face”. Here, Lil Nas X again explores an issue that many other male R&B artists have shied away from.

Another highlight on MONTERO is DONT WANT IT, which is one of the more upbeat moments on the album. While I would consider this a flex song, the deeper lyrics cast Lil Nas in a far less arrogant light. The song talks about how hard work and drive can get you to your goals – Nas declares, “I’m fuckin’ living proof that if you want it you can have anything right before your eyes”. Coming from a lower-class, Black, gay artist who grew up in a single-parent household, this song is clearly about far more than flexing his success.

The penultimate song on the album, LIFE AFTER SALEM, is also my favourite; from the angsty guitar to the rawness of the lyrics, this song left me feeling weak. Lil Nas X describes the kind of love that makes you want to give everything you have to another person, despite knowing you will get nothing in return. The track captures the final moments of desperation of a couple who are no longer in love – once again, this is a topic that I’ve never heard from a man in the R&B world. Nas goes from delicate lines like “our scars, they’ll dance with each other” to shrieks of, “What you want from me?” to finally muttering, “you played me, I let you win again . . .  and you’re taking, you’re taking everything,” depicting heartbreak, desperation, depression, anger and emptiness across just three and a half minutes. The instrumentation in this song alone is worth applause, combining with Nas’ vocal range and bravery with the lyrics to make this easily the best song I’ve heard in a long time. Even if you’ve never experienced the situation Lil Nas X describes, this song drags you through the emotional gauntlet.

Yes, some songs have repetitive melodies and could have a larger instrumental range, but the lyricism, creativity and talent make this an incredible debut album. MONTERO opens the door for men to speak more freely and deeply about their emotions, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. Despite his insecurities, Lil Nas X shows true bravery with his willingness to put a huge piece of himself into his work. This album is one you must listen to, if not for enjoyment then at least to appreciate the bravery of a young artist.

Top Track: LIFE AFTER SALEM
Score: 9/10


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