This probably isn’t what you expected to be reading and that’s perfectly fine. And, I’m pretty sure by now many of you have ditched the band-aids, Air-force one’s, and have packed his CD’s in a corner in the basement. So, I bet you’re probably wondering why out of all of the artists I could’ve chosen, I decided to roll with Nelly. Let me be very clear; I’m in no way, shape, or form, saying Nelly was the Greatest Rapper of All Time. So, I don’t want to hear any Biggie vs. Tupac articles or anybody yelling, “What about Nas?!”. I can admit he wasn’t the best lyricist and I’m sure he won’t make the cut for most people’s “All Time Great” list, but in terms of doing it #ForTheCulture, Nelly truly was an icon ahead of his time.
- For beginners, he put his city on his byke (back, in layman’s terms), and brought us “Country Grammar” at the turn of the century. Not that St. Louis wasn’t an already well known and well established city, but this was a different tune. And, it was a different strand of southern reality than what we had been served up by Outkast and Goodie Mob. Andre and Big Boi brought us deep, layered, intellectual rap sprinkled with comedic relief and quick jabs of wit. Goodie Mob gave us detailed, vivid portraits of the struggles of Black life in the South. “Country Grammar” was neither of these. It was a prideful anthem of everything that makes St. Louis so great. It’s geographic location nearly in a no man’s land allowed him to give us a taste of Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta all in one and that’s exactly what it did. Nelly said it best himself, “I’m from the LOU and I’m proud!” and he made it known all the way from the first track to the last. The accompanying visuals only amplified Nelly’s pride. Instead of using a gimmick or going along with the trends of the time, he decided to use what he knew the best to propel himself and the St. Lunatics to the frontlines of the mainstream media, and let the rest of the world know that the Midwest had something to offer to Hip-Hop, too.
- Nelly is single-handedly responsible for the beginning, middle, and end of the BET Uncut/After Dark era. Tip Drill, anyone?
For anyone who is unfamiliar, BET Uncut was a late night segment that made its debut in 2001, airing Wednesday through Friday at 3am. Considering the showing times and a rating of TV-MA, you can probably imagine what appeared in these videos. In a way, this was simply an introduction to what we would consider normal for music videos today.
- In 2002 Nelly really began to chisel his face into the Mount Rushmore of Hip Hop. Before J-Kwon announced that ERRRRbody in the club was getting tipsy, Nelly let us know it was getting “Hot in Herre”. Even though this was the second official single on “Nellyville”, it was a massive success. Nelly received a Grammy for Best Male Rap Solo Performance, which was a brand new category at the time. “Hot in Herre” is certified platinum in Australia and New Zealand and went 2x platinum in the US. In 2008, VH1 listed the track at #36 on it’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.
He decided to dig a little deeper and provide us with a love song. It was a love song like no other. For a moment we’re going to forget about the fact Kelly was using Excel on her phone and wondering why she wasn’t receiving any texts. This wasn’t the typical love song with a rapper talking about this one woman he was chasing or the one that got away. This was a love ballad duet in which all the young lovers could enjoy simultaneously in the same space. Yes, there’s was the 03 Bonnie and Clyde. Yes, LL Cool J told us all he needed love. Yes, Ja Rule reminded us that every thug needs a lady, but “Dilemma” offered us something different. Not quite Usher and Alicia, but a perfect blend of light rap without the edge and smooth R&B.
As for the icing on that year’s cake, he convinced us all we needed two paaaaaairssss when he gifted us one more cultural gem with “Air Force Ones”.
- Just when we thought he couldn’t push the boundaries of the genre any further, he takes another leap creating a collaboration with his country cousin, Tim McGraw. This Country-Rap mashup was one of the earliest of its kind. It was a detour from what we had become used to hearing from Nelly, but we shouldn’t have been surprised considering the country undertones of his music thus far. It’s important because it wasn’t just an attempt at something new. It was actually a success. “Over And Over” peaked at #3 in the US and reached the #1 spot in Australia. Not only was this song a success, but it led to a future collaboration between Nelly and Florida Georgia Line, “Cruise (Remix)”, which was certified 2x platinum in Canada and Diamond in the US.
In 2005 Nelly continued to further the legacy and culture of southern rap by bringing “Grillz“ to the mainstream. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a new phenomenon that he discovered or made by accident. He wasn’t the first to mention grills or even have them, but there was something special about listing all the ways in which one could light up a room with a diamond-encrusted grill.
- This many contributions in such a short time span should be enough to solidify any artist among the greats. Nelly had more to contribute outside of his music. Like many other artists, he ventured into clothing. This venture is different than that of other artists because he actually had two lines and not just one. The first was a lesser known line, was called VOKAL (http://www.vokal.com/2003/). VOKAL was a line made for men featuring sweatsuits, tank tops, t-shirts, and jerseys. The other line which is most remembered is Apple Bottoms. Most of us know this line later became part of a hook we still sing along to now.
Honorable Mentions: 2003 brought us “Shake Ya Tailfeather,” the unofficial Bad Boys II theme song and perfect instrumental to hit the chickenhead real quick. In addition to that, Nelly introduced us to his the one touch sunroof in “Pimp Juice.”
One more thing: He also managed to make it socially acceptable to wear an accessory for an imaginary permanent injury by wearing a bandaid on his face which was likely to match his durag.
I’m not entirely sure if there is a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, but if there is, I’d like to make a motion to put St. Louis’s finest, Nelly, on the first ballot.