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Beats Per Millennium - Nelly: Brass Knuckles

Nelly: Brass Knuckles

Surprise! Nelly is still making music!

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Nelly was just a St. Louis kid with a fresh sound, an ear for a good pop song, and a refreshing civic pride in a place other than New York or California. “Country Grammar” was fun that summer. Then he put out “E.I.” and “Ride Wit Me” and it turned out he was able to do it more than once. Pretty impressive. But Nelly should have been a blip on the radar. He should be an answer on those trivia games they have at bars. Instead he is still on the charts eight years later.

The problem is Nelly’s sing/rap style was fresh and fun for a while (and “Ride Wit Me” still sounds great on the first warm day of the spring) but it just wasn’t sustainable. Eventually it would get old and Nelly’s career would go the way of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. To his credit, Nelly was smart enough to realize this and he ditched the carefree summer afternoon sound for a more generic pop rap sound. Instead of sitting back on Country Grammar money, he has reinvented himself into a regular old (read: generic) commercial rapper.

And if it is regular old, generic pop rap that Nelly is going for, he hits the gold mine on “U Ain’t Him,” the first track on Brass Knuckles. It’s your typical “you-ain’t-gangsta” tripe. And in case we don’t believe that the guy who acted across from Adam Sandler in the remake of The Longest Yard is a hustler, he brought along Rick Ross to help accentuate his point. That guy is such a thug that he gave himself the exact same name as an ACTUAL THUG! Nelly…ok? I get bored when Lil Wayne and Jay-Z make tracks mocking the softness of this never-named, abstract Everyman, and those guys can actually rap (and hustle, for that matter.) Show some faith in America and don’t let this be your next single.

Then there is “L.A.” Yup, Nelly put out a California song. Sorry, but I have to say it again. Nelly…ok? I get bored when The Game and Dr. Dre make tracks telling me how badass their home state is, and those guys can actually rap. And you don’t even live in California! I realize that Snoop and Nate Dogg guest on the song, but it is your damn album. Why not make them talk about St. Louis?

Elsewhere it is sex, sex, and more sex. The less said about miserable singles “Party People” and “Body on Me” the better. Period.

But when Nelly does venture into socially conscious territory, on the horribly contrived “Self Esteem,” the sex songs suddenly sound a lot better. The poor guy may have meant well here but the shoe just doesn’t fit. Not even a WTF appearance by Chuck D, who drops in for a quick, lazy verse that recycles the first line of “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” can save this one. But I suppose this is to be expected. Nelly is, after all, quite possibly the only rapper to ever volunteer for a social cause and be told by said social cause that his services were not wanted.

So Nelly continues to put out albums well past the point where he ran out of ideas. I suppose you really can’t blame the guy. People keep giving him money and all he has to do is spit a few half-assed lines about sex. The blame for Nelly’s worn out welcome really should rest with his enablers, the major rap and pop stars who continue to guest on his albums. I’m looking at you T.I., LL Cool J, Snoop and Nate, Pharrell. Every one of you could be doing something much more interesting than helping out a guy who, on a fourteen track album, only appears by himself on ONE freaking track. He needs you guys. Without you he will be forced to give up rap and chill at the Bobcats’ game with MJ.

But don’t get too excited. Word is Nelly is working on something with Springsteen.

Posted by Mike Denslow at Sep 16, 2008 11:01 PM



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