Music in Review: “MONTERO”

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The Winonan’s music reviewer rates “MONTERO” 3 of 5 stars

Matthew Drewry, features reporter

Lil Nas X, real name Montero Lamar Hill, is a rapper, singer and performing artist from Atlanta, Georgia. Hill first gained fame as a social media figure on Twitter making a variety of Nicki Minaj fan and meme accounts.
In October 2018, Hill released “Old Town Road.” Harnessing his social media presence, the song gained traction and became viral on Tiktok, eventually being removed from the Billboard country charts in a publicity scandal that only added to
its notoriety.
The song spawned a variety of commercial and musical collaborations including a Wrangler Jeans x Lil Nas X collaboration and multiple remixes including Billy Ray Cyrus. The track dominated the number one charting position, eventually being certified diamond, being the fastest record to ever do so in the United States.
Hill took advantage of this publicity by promptly releasing a short EP “7”, which largely felt like a rehashing to saddle the popularity of “Old Town Road” and it’s remixes to carry itself to the top of the charts.
After a fairly mediocre Christmas single “Holiday”, we’re brought to the album at hand; “Montero.” Drawing equal ire and publicity with the controversy surrounding its release, it’s prominence is nearly unavoidable regardless of your cultural viewpoint.

The lead single “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” drew both popular acclaim, debuting at number one and simultaneous criticism from religious circles for its borrowing of Abrahamic imagery. The music video depicts Hill in a paradise, then eventually being judged and descending to a stereotyped portrayal of hell, giving Satan a lapdance then killing him and taking his crown.
It is this stylistic outrage strategy that Hill has mastered in his short career so far. Clearly he is a proponent of the “any publicity is good publicity” school of public relations. This also includes his collaborative marketing of custom of Nike Air Max 1997 “Satan Shoes”, featuring a pentagram and a drop of real human blood, eventually stifled by an injunction from Nike.
By stoking this outrage, Hill draws universal attention to his music and remains in the news cycle with a variety of antics. The second single for “Montero” is no different. “INDUSTRY BABY” features a campy prison with Hill cast as the flamboyantly gay shot caller, leading a prison break and various choreographed dances in the showers and the yard.
I thought these visuals were pretty fun, and had their desired shock and awe value for the album rollout, but this review is about the music.
“MONTERO” is a 41 minute high gloss, high budget pop rap album that focuses on Montero Lamar Hill as the main character, describing largely his personal experiences with his sexuality, and fame. If I had to make a comparison for this album, it would be a very expensive, poppy, “Blonde.”
I continually focus on the budget of this album because it is the defining characteristic. Hill and Co. clearly spent several million dollars on the production, recording, rollout and visuals for this album, much to its merit. The features even carry a couple of the songs when Hill doesn’t quite show up in full form, such as Doja Cat on “SCOOP”, or Miley Cyrus on “AM I DREAMING.”
The beats across this album are fantastic, and feature a myriad of catchy, triumphant horn lines (Hill plays the trumpet) and beautiful spanish and electric guitar lines. The drums are great and there are even some glamorous string passages on some tracks, so credit where credit is due for producers Take a Daytrip, who did fantastic work all over the album.
Hill basically has two moods all across this album; triumphant about his success and his sexuality, and conflicted about his sexuality and success. Even the title connects with this theme, in using his real name, Hill is denoting a coming of age but also seeking to be seen as who he is. The two singles each communicate the themes perfectly from a different angle.
“MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” is about Hill’s desire to legitimize his relationship with his partner by using their real names. Despite its earworm status, it is a nuanced emotional track about being recognized in the eyes of his partner. “INDUSTRY BABY” is a victorious, brass backed jaunt celebrating Hill’s sexuality, success in the industry and staying power as an artist. It quite reminds me of Kanye West’s “Touch the Sky” and Jack Harlow’s rapping provides a great relief for Hill’s singing.
Beyond these singles, I particularly loved “TALES OF DOMINICA”, a nervous meditation on a broken homelife compounded with the uncertainty of living alone for the first time. The hook in particular just strikes me as so clever, referencing sleeping on a leaky blow up mattress, a beautiful metaphor about poverty but also its cyclical nature.
While I am largely impressed by this album there are some lackluster tracks. “THE ART OF REALIZATION”, “LIFE AFTER SALEM”, “VOID”, “DONT WANT IT” and “LOST IN THE CITADEL” feel very short lived and not notable. Overall, I find that Hill leans heavily on his features (especially Megan Thee Stallion on “DOLLA SIGN SLIME”) and production to keep the album substantive and fresh, not that that’s really problematic, especially on a debut album.
On a technical level, Hill’s singing sounds fantastic, and his rapping is pretty catchy, with some fantastic hooks. He does have a plurality of writers, but so does any album of this prominence in 2021.
In conclusion, for the debut of a twitter character turned superstar rapper/singer, I’m pretty impressed. For a debut album, Hill is a solid performer and the themes of this album are cohesive and personal. There are a good variety of styles and features and Hill sounds pretty comfortable on the entire album albeit rather amateurish on some cuts. This just isn’t really my cup of tea when it comes to genre and the album clearly benefits significantly from a ton of money and industry connections. I think for fans of Hill and this sort of music, it will be a great album. Personally, I’m ambivalent and think the album lacks the depth necessary to have great long-term replay value. I rate “MONTERO” 3 of 5 stars.