Album: Nelly

Nellyville, Universal
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The Independent Culture

Where would hip hop be without feuds? The current spat between the agit-rap veteran KRS-1 and the Midwest slacker Nelly serves merely to underline one of hip hop's basic truths: that, however articulate and well-argued socially conscious rap might be, it's never going to stand a chance against the rapscallion potency of gangsta rap. That's certainly the case here. It's easy to see what KRS-1 objects to in Nelly's worldview: it's not so much the hedonist amorality of "Pimp Juice" and the single "Hot in Here", or the bonehead materialism of "Splurge" and "#1" that bothers him, so much as Nelly's offhand scoffing of "Forty acres and a mule?

Fuck that! Forty acres and a pool!" in the title track, a throwaway line that tramples heedlessly over a symbolic principle of racial emancipation in the States (40 acres and a mule apiece being the American government's unkept promise to its former slaves). But there's no denying the infectious appeal of the grooves cooked up by producers Jason Epperson and Waiel Yaghnam, nor the slick staccato interplay of Nelly's skipping-song delivery, the syncopated vocals slotting neatly together like a percussive jigsaw in tracks such as "On the Grind" and "Oh Nelly". Whatever he's on about, it just sounds more fun than KRS-1's furrowed-brow lectures on morality and culture. And yet, the paranoia underlying the materialism of tracks such as "Stick Out Ya Wrist" – in which Nelly is quizzed by a potential lover about his wealth – seems brutally depressing, a far cry from the genre's glamorous protestations. Nellyville – a nice place to visit, maybe, but you wouldn't want to live there.