(September 20, 2021). Any music blogger worth his weight in text couldn’t let the weekend go by without giving a listen or two to Lil Nas X’s newborn release Montero, the long awaited full-length debut album by the most mercurial rapper on the planet today.
The album was practically unavoidable given its two-year promotional campaign (for which the young rapper definitely deserves an A+).
Ever since the shine wore off of LNX’s massively successful No. 1 debut single, “Old Town Road” two years ago, the 22-year-old rap-pop star has been teasing fans about his full-length debut. And like this season’s two other high-profile releases by Kanye West and Drake—both of which topped the chart this month—the marketing for Montero has been in hyperdrive nearly all summer, culminating with the rapper’s “pregnancy” and the metaphorical birth of his album on Friday (September 17).
Contributing to the hype was the pre-release of the album’s tracklist and list of Lil Nas X’s collaborators, including current hot girls Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and Miley Cyrus, plus rising Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow and the legendary Elton John. That list is commendable for an album containing just 15 songs, especially the Elton John grab (although it turns out his only contribution is a subtle piano piece on “One of Me”).
But what made headlines (well, one of the many things that made headlines) was the absence of any other Black male rappers on Montero, particularly a fan’s tweeting of that fact and LNX’s simple but painfully honest and relatively humble response to it: “maybe a lot of them just don’t wanna work with me.”
This prompted almost immediate support from fellow rapper Kid Cudi who called out the “homophobic cloud” hanging over hip-hop and who wrote in a Time Magazine article honoring Lil Nas as one of its “100 Most Influential People”: “We have to stand with him. I’m going to do whatever I have to do to let him know—(he has) my support.”
Since coming out as gay in 2019, that support has been in short supply from the hip-hop community, particularly fellow Black male rappers. Most notably, Boosie BadAzz—a rapper who hasn’t had a hit album in eons—went out of his way to protest what he believes is a threat to straight men and heterosexual lifestyles everywhere. He used homophobic attacks against LNX and later doubled and tripled down on them (including threatening to beat the younger rapper’s ass), without apology. This came on the heels of superstar rapper DaBaby insulting gay men and spreading misinformation about HIV during a concert in July.
But even as this hate has swirled all around him, LNX has largely remained above the fray—not being pulled into personal beefs or lobbing attacks against fellow artists who attack him, and even showing uncharacteristic restraint (with that simple Twitter response discussed above) when it was noticed that the only other male rapper on Montero is a 23-year-old white guy from Shelbyville, Kentucky (who, by the way, has plenty of swag and flow; check out his debut album, That’s What They All Say, from December 2020).
It turns out, however, that LNX may not have needed his Black rap brethren after all. One or maybe two listens to Montero and you’ll find that those guys are all over the album—in spirit at least—as the young wunderkind has channeled their styles and cadences on several tunes.
For starters, the second track “Dead Right Now” opens with a cadence that is straight-up DaBaby—no pun intended—with a delivery that continues through the song’s second verse.
The irony there is too easy to point out—given Baby’s recent troubles—but listeners will appreciate LNX’s near dead-on rendition of the North Carolina rapper’s penchant for not waiting for the beat to start to begin his lines, at times using every second of his bars to get his points across. Lil Nas X does that to perfection on both “Dead” and later track, “Dolla Sign Slime” (featuring Megan Thee Stallion).
Two songs after “Dead,” on “That’s What I Want,” which is perhaps the album’s catchiest song, LNX not only channels the legendary Andre 3000 (from OutKast), but he and his producers interpolate nearly the entire structure of OutKast’s biggest hit “Hey Ya,” beginning with its “2-3-4” count-up and continuing with its acoustic guitar-driven, handclap-infused beat. It’s a clear nod to Andre 3000’s own willingness to push the boundaries of hip-hop beyond both its traditional genre limits and its hyper-masculinity, as the fellow Atlanta rapper did on the song’s iconic video in ‘03.
Later, Lil Nas borrows a little bit of Quavo’s “skrrrt” cadences on the track “Scoop” (featuring Doja Cat) where LNX effortlessly moves from his baritone to tenor in each chorus while punctuating them with a falsetto-delivered “scoop” at the end of each line. For good measure, Doja Cat also does a good Nicki Minaj on the song’s bridge.
Ironically, Minaj—an artist who LNX has openly stanned in the past—is one of two rappers the “Panini” singer recently cited as people he wanted to collaborate with on Montero, but didn’t. The other was Drake.
In Minaj’s case, LNX said he didn’t receive a response to his request. Drake, X explained, was unavailable as he was still working on Certified Lover Boy, which was released two weeks before Montero.
No matter, though, because LNX even manages to channel different versions of Drizzy on the songs “Industry Baby” and “Scoop.”
Lil Nas also gives you a bit of emo rapper a la the late Juice WRLD (or any number of other emotionally charged, expressive rappers out there) in the sing-songy chorus of “One Of Me,” which features a low-key piano contribution from the legendary Elton John. Two more songs with emo tendencies are the hauntingly torchy “Life After Salem” and LNX’s collabo with Miley, “Am I Dreaming,” two of several ballads that close out the album.
In fact, upon repeated listens, there are really only a few tracks that one might identify as uniquely and exclusively Lil Nas X, including most notably the title track and lead single, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” as well as the 13th track “Don’t Want It.” While all 15 of the songs are clearly his, and elements of his personality are contained throughout, it’s apparent that he’s also been influenced by many of his peers.
Some might call that biting off of others’ styles, but it almost feels like a tribute coming off of LNX’s mic.
Montero is a solid hip-pop album that stands on its own merits, largely because the songs are well-crafted with melodious hooks that should hold radio’s (and consumers’) attention for longer than the average pop or hip-hop product does.
But it’s also because LNX is clearly a talented rapper and singer who has proven his versatility (no pun there either, folks) by being able to blend not only different genres of music but the styles of the various rappers who’ve influenced him over the years.
If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then—musically speaking—this album should please a lot of rappers out there, particularly the Black male ones who don’t appear on it.
Technically speaking, that is.
DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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