By Terrance Turner
Sept. 17, 2021
The debut album from Lil Nas X is finally here.
The 15-song project opens with the title track, which shot to No. 1 amid a storm of controversy fueled partly by its provocative, Biblically subversive video. “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” is inspired by the acclaimed 2017 film, a gay love story starring Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Nas uses his own real name in the title, a reference to the film’s famous line “Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine”. Amidst a strumming banjo and synchronized handclaps, Nas paints a vivid picture of a tryst gone bad.
On the track, Nas goes to the home of a potential hookup, only to find the guy is closeted — and partying it up with weed, alcohol and cocaine. “Lookin’ at the table, all I see is weed and white/Baby, you livin’ the life, but nigga, you ain’t livin’ right/Cocaine and drinkin’ with your friends/You live in the dark, boy, I cannot pretend,” Nas sings. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting to hook up. The song’s mix of raw sexuality (“I want the jet lag from f—king and flying/Shoot a child in your mouth while I’m ridin'”) and emotional longing (“Tell me you love me in private”) make it one of the most explicitly queer songs on the album.
“It was, like, the most real and the most — even vulnerable, at times — I’ve ever been on a song,” he told Genius. But Montero is packed with vulnerability. For every moment of cocky bravado, there’s at least two more of reflection, regret, or deep sadness. For all his confidence, Lil Nas X emerges as someone who wants — needs — to be loved.
On the next track “Dead Right Now”, Nas at first appears to be lashing out at a guy who won’t call back. But the verses are unexpectedly revealing, flashing back to when he dropped out of school at the University of Georgia to pursue music. Living with his sister, he’s confronted by his father about the direction he’s taken in life: “Left school, then my dad and I had a face-to-face in Atlanta/He said, “It’s one in a million chance, son,” I told him, “Daddy, I am that one,” Nas realls on the track. Then he pulls the rug out from underneath the listener by discussing his fraught relationship with his mother: “My momma told me that she love me, don’t believe her/When she get drunk, she hit me up, man, with a fever,” he sings.
The mood switches from confessional to cocky with the third track, “Industry Baby”, a defiant response to those who doubt his success. Responding to backhanded compliments like “I hope he saves his money” or “He’s funny — I don’t know about his music, though,” Lil Nas X fires back: “You was never really rooting for me anyway.” Defying those who labeled him a “one-hit wonder”, Nas responds: “I ain’t lost since I began, yeah/Funny how you said it was the end, yeah/Then I went, did it again.” The track features rapper Jack Harlow, who echoes Nas’ mindset: “I must be gettin’ too flashy, y’all shouldn’t have let the world gas me/It’s too late, ’cause I’m here to stay.”
Montero goes in a completely different direction with the next song. “That’s What I Want” is a pop-punk hybrid that’s one of the sweetest cuts on the album. “I want someone to love,” Nas belts on the chorus. “I need someone who needs me/’Cause it don’t feel right when it’s late at night and it’s just me and my dreams.” But 30 seconds later, Nas veers from love to lust with “Scoop” featuring Doja Cat. “I ain’t trying to be your baby,” Lil Nas sings on the track. “I don’t wanna lie/I really only need you for tonight.”
And so it goes. The rest of the album shifts constantly between a series of moods. Nas thumbs his nose at the haters, boasts about his success, expresses a need to be loved, and reveals painful feelings of sadness and even suicidality. On “One of Me”, Nas embodies the haters who dismiss him as a gimmick, a flash in the pan:
You’s a meme, you’s a joke, been a gimmick from the goFrom “One of Me”
All the things that you do, just to get your face to show
Oh, you think you big s–t, big pimpin’, let me know
Ain’t the next big thing, you the next thing to go […]
I don’t see you lasting long, and that’s just me being honest
Even if your album okay, it’s floppin’, that’s a promise, oh!
On “Dollar Sign Slime,” Nas fights back, reminding naysayers of his meteoric rise:
Got a new whip and it’s navy blue (Navy blue)“Dollar Sign Slime”
Top of the game, only twenty-two
Look at me, n–ga, thеn look at you […]
I’m sorry that I gotta say the truth
Thought I went pop but I popped on you n–gas
Now I’m with thе hits like I’m Babe Ruth
The track features a guest verse from Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion, who contributes a similar sentiment: “They can’t stop me/Say I can’t do it, bitch, watch me (Watch me)/All you lame hoes turned hatin’ to a hobby,” she spits. “I been gettin’ money, I ain’t new to this.” Nas cockily adds: “I walk in Neiman’s and Marcus, I’m buried out.”
Sandwiched between those two cocky cuts is “Lost in the Citadel”, which Nas later revealed is his favorite song he’s ever written. It’s also one of the most downcast. “I need time to get up and get off the floor. I need time to realize that I can’t be yours. I need time to give up just like before,” Nas sings, atop a bed of percolating synths. He revealed on Twitter that the mournful lyric is about a relationship that he realized would never work:
Why I thought it was forever?“Lost in the Citadel”
I only see you maybe never
Why I thought we’d be together?
When you treat it like whatever?
Later, on “Sun Goes Down”, Lil Nas X is as vulnerable as he’s ever been. Nas flashes back to his 10-year-old self, grappling with his race (“Why my lips so big? Was I too dark?”) and sexuality (“These gay thoughts would always haunt me/I prayed God would take it from me”). He even faced thoughts of suicide, as he reveals on a plaintive chorus:
I wanna run awayFrom “Sun Goes Down”
Don’t wanna lie, I don’t want a life
Send me a gun and I’ll see the sun
Nas counsels his younger self, saying: “I know that you want to cry/But there’s much more to life than dying over your past mistakes/and people who throw dirt on your name.” The message could double as a message to his many young, queer fans. This is important because, according to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to seriously consider suicide, to make a plan for suicide, and to attempt suicide than their peers. “I’mma make my fans so proud of me,” Nas sings on “Sun Goes Down”.
But it’s possible that he already has.