Music

Nelly: Brass Knuckles

Nelly takes a turn toward a more hard-edged sound and somehow manages to not completely destroy the aesthetic that's made him so famous.


Nelly

Brass Knuckles

Label: Universal Records
US Release Date: 2008-09-16
UK Release Date: 2008-09-15
Amazon
iTunes

Nelly is arguably the greatest singles rapper of all time. Love him or hate him, few artists, if any, have hovered around the Billboard charts like Nelly. Simply put, dude can write a hook. Be it through his breakout smash "Hot In Herre", the grinding and singable "E.I.", or the playful "Air Force Ones", Nelly has become a staple in the pop world, elevating himself above the status of hip-hop kingpin to that of pop superstar.

A legitimate baseball player, one with the possibility of going pro, Nelly seemed like he could do anything. He was like a kid spinning a globe of dream professions and putting his finger down on rapper. Because of his excessive success, Nelly's hits were always littered with lighthearted joy. Music seemed like an afterthought. He essentially just made music that he enjoyed and could party to. Even when he tried to be slightly more serious on his 2004 Sweat/Suit double album, he still got his wild'n-out on with tracks like "Flap Your Wings".

It's disappointing, then, that on his latest release Brass Knuckles, Nelly has almost completely lost the excitability and mindless cheer that was so crucial in his previous success. As evidenced by the record's "holy shit is that really Nelly? Has he been juicing with Dr. Dre and 50 Cent lately?” cover, Brass Knuckles is the record where Nelly finally commits to this hip-hop thing, when he tries to rise above the status of MTV celebrity Jock Jam freak athlete and bubblegum rapper.

In keeping with his new, buff (Photoshopped?) look, Nelly gets downright hard on Brass Knuckles. The opener "U Ain't Him", typical of most tracks throughout the disc, is better suited for a T.I. comeback album than a Nelly disc. The production on most of the record sounds more like David Banner than Mannie Fresh, boasting the southern aggression more reminiscent of the crack rap coming from Jeezy and T.I. than anything Nelly has even flirted with before. Most notably, the prepubescent "Ohs" and childish yelps are strangely lacking and ineffective throughout the disc, something that truly pinpoints Nelly's turn away from the lighthearted power of his previous records.

Strangely though, Nelly can actually kind of pull this sound off. His ability to write hooks saves what is otherwise a disastrous production choice for such a Top 40-minded rapper. The choral, crescendoing chorus of "U Ain't Him" doesn't sound wholly alien to Nelly's clubs-vocals. "Hold Up", which features a T.I. that sounds like he’s been smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, is carried by Nelly's dual, dubbed vocals that, while clearly out of place, find a way of endearing themselves to the track.

What has suffered on Brass Knuckles because of this turn are the singles. Lead single "Party People" is undeniably the worst single he's ever released. The track tries to combine the party sound he's known for with the hard-edged sound he's aiming for, resulting in what sounds like Fergie aping a Three 6 Mafia production. "Body On Me" is carried solely by Akon and Ashanti's airy vocalgasms while Nelly floats around awkwardly like a thumbless drunk trying to do some tactile function that requires thumbs. And though "Stepped On My J's" is the perfect complement to "Air Force Ones", its general anger of Nelly having his new kicks stepped on is more off-putting than booty-shakingly poppy.

For all of Brass Knuckles's problems though, it is probably his most consistent record. There's nothing that's boldly offensive or immediately dismissible, save a few slight missteps ("Lie" and "Who Fucks With Me"). It's possible then that Nelly's turn toward hip-hop legitimacy actually did make him a better rapper. But I really just want someone to tell me to take all my clothes off; we've already got enough T.I. wannabes.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.