Cornell “Nelly” Haynes, Jr. had black people bumpin’ Tim McGraw in the hood, so he’s always gon’ be good. Not “good” as in superior mediocrity, but as in legendary. The six-time platinum selling album, Nellyville, stands as a more-than-notable second to its diamond-selling predecessor, Country Grammar. The resurgence of a hypebeast-cultured psalm (one that Nellyville is home to) equates, if not surpasses, that of the OG Run DMC track, “My Adidas.”
More simply put, the now 15-year-old project provides the ideal recipe for an album that literally made the culture pop.
No other hip-hop artist during his run could compare to the impact-charting success combination that Derrty Mo engraved in the early years of the new millennium. His first four albums all matched or exceeded RIAA platinum status. The next rapper to compare to the St. Lunatic would be Ludacris, whose crates hold statuses that don’t surpass the three-time platinum rank.
Many don’t credit the STL rapper for the contributions he’s made to the culture. But if the culture purveyors don’t credit the “5000” rapper for anything, he deserves his chops for impeccable charting success while initiating the harmonized-rhyme trend that remains so popular today. One of the biggest contemporary artists who indulge in this rapping style is Aubrey Drake Graham. And according to a source that will remain unnamed for obvious reasons, “Drake is Nelly’s son”… and that goes for all other singing-a** rappers too. Before the generational-acclaimed mainstream hip-hop savior, Drizzy, transformed from his Degrassi moniker, “Wheelchair Jimmy,” the culture already produced a lyricist who achieved unthought-of mainstream status. Nelly produced one of the best-selling hip-hop albums in 2002 with effortless authenticity and organic “cross-genre” collaborations and sonic infusions. He found himself striking “a nerve in old MC’s wanting a comeback.”
Despite the fact that Haynes’ most major charting feats lie within his debut studio album, Nellyville still holds a monumental place in Nelly’s history.
Sneakerheads far and wide celebrated the anthem that either catapulted the Swoosh brand to the staple sneaker company or provided the rhythm to a beat Air Force Ones were already marching to. Whether the latter or former are true—I was too young and hype to notice—the classic sneaker model became a principal design that weaved itself into the culture of hip-hop. The Nike-celebrated track embodied all the “scuffed” fears that could f**k up your whole night and an eternal love that forced you to “buy ‘em by the cases.” And the video made our kicks-loving fantasy a reality displayed on boxed televisions across the nation. Visually segmenting the complementing cultures of sports, music, and footwear, the video features St. Louis athletes Marshall Faulk, Torry Hault, D’Marco Farr, Ray Lankford and Ozzie Smith, in addition to Cash Money royalty duo, Big Tymers, Mannie Fresh and Birdman. The influence of the St. Lunatic posse cut still reigns supreme today. Fellow “Gateway City” native, Smino, faithfully played the track on his Nelly break during the finale of his ‘Swanita’ tour in the Missouri city. Not to mention, he’s never without a pair on his two feet, and neither are his crutches.
Due to the intro and the eerie superficial comparisons, one may think the sole influential connection to make would be Drake. But two budding colonists of a new generational rap landscape (both of whom hail from St. Louis) list Nelly as a major influence. Arguably, one of hip-hop’s favorite flute-taunting, Future-supported producers of the new gen, Metro Boomin’ reveals in his 2016 spot with The Fader that Nelly was the reason he decided to make rap music. “But he fell in love with Nelly, and that’s when he decided he wanted to make rap music,” the writer said.
Smino’s allegiance to the “Hot In Herre” rapper runs a tad deeper than solely nodding Nelly as his reason why. In the 25-year-old rapper’s interview for his NEXT feature, he told us, “Nelly just carried the city on his back… It meant the world to see somebody going crazy in the Lou like that.” Decked in the boldest colors of Air Force Ones you’ll ever see, Smino trekked across the country this year, ensuring that his crowd would remember the name and lyrics of the man who put his city on the map.
With Country Grammar, Nelly stamped his mark on the hip-hop scene as the savior for the Lou. But by the time Nellyville came to fruition, he ensured that he put on for the style of his city. Here enters the phenom of the band-aid. The 2000s style trend was born amidst the promotional run for the Nellyville album, but it was more than a fashion statement for the Missouri lyricist. It began fulfilling its practical use, concealing a cut the rapper got playing hoops. It eventually evolved into paying homage to fellow St. Lunatic, City Spud, who was incarcerated at the time. Whether the masses knew the reason behind the bandage or not, sporting his staple “accessory” on the cover of his second studio album started a craze that we’re not too sure anyone would’ve believed would’ve sparked from a first aid item.
The 6x platinum-selling album definitely catered to the popular music culture but maintained unwavering elements of Nelly’s roots. The balance of pop and rap, melded with sounds native to his Midwest origins, propelled the then-27-year-old into collaboration opportunities that weren’t available to those in the realm of gangsta rap that the artists initially wanted to break out under. His first major cross-collaboration was on the remix of *NSYNC’s “Girlfriend.” This was also the first time Haynes was on a track produced by The Neptunes. Other than the expected collaborations with R&B artists like Kelly Rowland (“Dilemma”), Nelly ventured out into collaborations with artists like Justin Timberlake. Their track, “Work It,” catapulted the St. Louis rapper into a space that would allow him to sample sounds that were off limits to his lyrical architect counterparts.
“He changed the game when St. Lunatics and himself came in, it was something we never seen before, their style of rapping, their style, just the way they carried themselves were just so different. People jumped on board and they really took over, that wave was so crazy.” —LaLa
A New Spin On The Party Anthem
As for the sounds that were already well-matriculated into the school of rap, Nelly had a different way of serving them to the world. Party anthems were nothing new, but Haynes explains that his approach to “Hot In Herre” made its mark on untouched territory.
“It’s more of a story of a party record. And I think that’s what did it,” the Nellyville artist began. “Because people can relate to the process of the club… It’s the whole story rather than the typical, ‘Everybody throw your hands up’ or something like that. And I think that’s what lasts longer because nobody had told that story in a party vibe.”
Even though the album had already been submitted, the “Shake Ya Tailfeather” rapper admits that the album was missing the “fuse to the bomb” which would be known as “Dilemma” and the party anthem single. Thanks to Pharrell and a little confirmation from a zealous Busta Rhymes, the world was gifted two times platinum-selling track. Could you imagine Nellyville without it?
A memorable contribution to the project was Derrty Mo’s aforementioned single with Kelly Rowland. The Destiny’s Child member joined forces with the Midwest rapper to deliver us a situationship track before the term was even invented.
The 4XL tee and headband-sported video adds just the right amount of dramatization to allow a glimpse into how much of a dilemma Nelly and Kelly’s situationship was. Aside from the fact that Kelly had “a man and a son, though,” the St. Louis rapper just played his position “like a shortstop,” picking up every shot that Kelly swung in his direction—including the Excel spreadsheet text from her Nokia phone. And as the saying goes, “it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.” By the end of the video, the “Dilemma” that everyone was hoping would end with a romantic collaboration between the two artists, went south.
Although situationship tracks thrived before and after the duo’s single, Nelly told the narrative of their “Dilemma” in a light other than from the perspective of the frustrated and faithful counterpart or the creeping side piece. The narrative set the tone for songs like Fab’s “Situationships” and Kehlani’s “Distractions.” Unsure of whether that’s a good or bad thing, we’re still just as salty as Kelly was when she saw Nelly walking out of the movie theater with another girl.
It’s hard to discuss the legacy of anything Nelly without talking about his hybrid rap-singing style. Upon his breakout into the industry, it was hard to find a track where the Missouri-bred artist wasn’t in full hybrid mode like on posse track, “CG 2.” There were also, the rare, but much-appreciated times the rapper broke out his gruff singing voice, which were often met with raspy falsettos as in “Pimp Juice.” Whether we were dealt the former or the latter, the rapper never fell short of incorporating his Midwest authenticity in the mix.
For your reading convenience, the next five ingredients to the Nellyville recipe have been grouped under the umbrella of swag. When sprinkling the truth behind the STL rapper’s “Say Now,” paired with the somewhat fantasy lifestyle of the intro, “Nellyville,” we’re given a sneak peak into the reality of St. Louis, paired with a reclusive town, Nellyville, that the rapper is creating for his family and loved ones with his newfound success.
“Nellyville – 40 acres and a pool/Six bedrooms, full bath with a jacuzz’/Six-car garage, pavement sooth/Both front and back deck ‘nough room to land a jet/And you ain’t reached the city, that’s just the projects” —Nelly, “Nellyville”
In celebration of his success and “feelin’ good about [himself],” the “Dem Boyz” rapper incorporates mounds of dough so he can “Splurge” a little bit. To go along with his designer name-dropping habits, the Universal Music Group artist poured in a cup of “Pimp Juice” and sensuality to nearly top off his style components. Supplying top-notch player vibes, pressing play on the track entered you into a more lavish ideation of a Hustle & Flow world filled with “Coup DeVilles/With the power seats, leather, wood on [the] wheels” and a dash of Snoop Dogg. Pair the “Pimp Juice” with the perspiration rolling off the bodies of the nearly-bare burning bodies in “Hot in Herre,” two of the remaining three ingredients for the swag component are in. For the final ingredient, grate in an ounce of unapologetic grind to complete the swag component of the recipe and move on to the next ingredient.
An album that hosts a diss track catapults its worth solely due to the suspense and hype revolving around the culture of the diss. But, when the media-labeled “pop” rapper debuted Nellyville with perceived and definite diss tracks, “#1” and “Roc The Mic Remix,” respectively, a boycott against the album, described as “the will of God,” debuted right along with it.
KRS-One believed Nelly’s “#1” was a diss to his relevancy due to one verse and fired back for the young rapper challenging “a sovereign power.” The battle-rapping legend certified, “The MC part of it, I can slap him around for days!”
“Ayo, I’m tired of people judgin’ what’s real hip-hop/Half the time you be them n***as who f**kin’ album flop” —Nelly, “#1”
KRS-One’s interpretation of the track was misled by one of his tracks of a similar title, “I’m Still #1,” paired with an issue already brewing from KRS critics that complained about his real-and-fake-hip-hop arguments.
Even though the lyricist provided an explanation and email stating truce to Nelly’s camp, the “Roc The Mic Remix” rapper fired back with an assist from Beanie Sigel, Freeway and Murphy Lee on the Just Blaze-produced track. If the acronymic diss wasn’t enough to infuriate The Blastmaster further, we wonder what news of the six-time platinum status of the album did to the lyrical legend.
One of the most cherished ingredients of any hip-hop album are the skits that glue each track together enhancing the narrative. Nellyville was fun but authentic, so it made sense that the skits mirror that. He recruited comedic sensation, Cedric The Entertainer, and then-MTV host, LaLa. In a time long ago, when physical copies were the main source of sonic pleasure, Cedric and LaLa’s contribution echoed the reality of Nellyville’s sold-out success. And if you let LaLa tell it, “When I see Nelly, we still laugh today: ‘Yo, remember when we were doing Nellyville and we were doing those skits?’”
Nelly’s ability to touch different audiences while remaining himself at the core was exactly what enabled him to “show these cats how to make these milli-uhns.” All the singles from his sophomore effort touched at least five of Billboard’s charts. “Hot In Herre” and “Dilemma” both peaked at No. 1 on the Hot 100, Pop Songs, Hot Rap Songs, and Radio Songs charts. While “Hot In Herre” peaked at the No. 4 spot for the R&B/Hip-Hop year end ranking.
But what represents Nellyville’s greatest feats are the fact that the project did well in both the mainstream and hip-hop spaces. While Nelly’s second studio album was able to peak at No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums lists and get recognition on the accompanying year-end chart, it held a peak position of No. 1 on Billboard’s 200, while clocking in at No. 24 on the year-end ranking. The year-end ranking jumped eight times that of its freshman counterpart.
Nellyville joins an elite group of the best-selling hip-hop artists of all time on Billboard’s G.O.A.T. 200 Albums charts meeting MC Hammer, Slim Shady, OutKast, 50 Cent, Lil Wayne and Kris Kross. But the “Pimp Juice” artist was the only one of the group to have two albums on the list. Not one of the contemporary singing rappers were welcomed on the list. The candor of Nelly’s Midwest origins translated through a hybrid delivery of mainstream tracks is what helped propel Nellyville into the perfect recipe to make the culture pop.