Nelly has straddled the spheres of US hip-hop and mainstream pop
Louis Pattison 2008-09-12
The cover art features Nelly stripped to the waist, fists bandaged and clenched tight like a middleweight boxer out to defend his belt. If you're familiar with his oeuvre to date, though, you'll know this St Louis rapper isn't the sort to return throwing punches, fighting off the competition: it's really just a neat device to show off a hot six-pack (he's not a Sean John underwear model for nothing). Since 2002's breakout hit Hot In Here, Nelly has straddled the spheres of US hip-hop and mainstream pop with seemingly little effort, his Missouri drawl the perfect vehicle for a brand of Southern rap that prefers parties and broads to guns and beef.
No doubting this music's broad appeal, though, going on the cast list: over 14 tracks, everyone from Snoop Dogg, R Kelly, Usher, Chuck D, Akon, LL Cool J, Ashanti and Fergie crop up, which might look like a ruse to cover up for a shortage of ideas, but at least means Brass Knuckles feels like it, y'know, goes places. LA is a whistle-stop trip round Los Angeles' key landmarks, from stressed-out gangstas to silicone breasts, Snoop and Nate Dogg acting as cheerful tour guides on the chorus. Party People collars Fergie, but it's a rowdy crunk-tinged number rather than pop crossover, powered by punchy kicks, digi-claps and chopped-up funk horns. And the Chuck D cut, Self Esteem’ is most uncharacteristic - a funk jam with a 70s flavour that approaches the black condition with cool self-belief rather than righteous anger.
Over the long haul, though, Brass Knuckles is not without its patchy moments – Lie is a pretty unpleasant riposte to some girl who has the temerity to suggest she might have once had a bit with Nelly, while Who F**ks Wit Me, with its Latin guitar and glossy swing, suggests its maker can't help being a lover even when he's trying to be a fighter. Bless his sensitive soul.