9.23.04 Editor’s note – Thank you to one and all who pointed out that from Nelly’s perspective (seen through his own eyes) “Suit” would actually be his left, while “Sweat” would be his right.
Does this look a little schizophrenic to you? Or maybe you see these album covers and you think “left brain, right brain.” There’s a lot of complicated research behind the understanding of the human mind (and most of it has just barely scratched the surface) but in a general way doctors and scientists agree that the left half controls logic and reason, while the right half is creative and artistic.
That’s pretty much the opposite of what you see here. Nelly looks like he’s dapper and formal on the right, while he’s hanging loose and taking chances in his sweats all on the left. Which Nelly is the real one? Well if you played along with the Universal Records marketing strategy here, they both are. Like the human brain, the left half and the right half are each important on their own, but need each other to function cohesively. So if you combine the mind of Nelly from these two albums into one, you get “Sweatsuit.” Joining the two linguistically means the importance of “suit” becomes lost; because the mental image the term “sweatsuit” creates has nothing to do with a suit and tie. Now at last the concept is clear. Keeping these two albums seperate instead of packaging them as one double-album may be an attempt to make you fork out more money at the cash register, but it also allows Nelly to play mind games and create two distinct images of what kind of artist he is. He’s the dapper don AND the casual thug. Nelly has something for everyone.
On the “Sweat” side, Nelly immediately pumps out the adrenaline to emphasize the concept. Press play and you’ll hear some victorious brass announcing his arrival, and the sound of the St. Louis native breathing hard like he’s on the last leg of a marathon. That’s the “Heart of a Champion” pounding away on the beat, and if this wasn’t already enough emphasis Nelly has the Lincoln University Vocal Ensemble putting the extra wind under his sails as he comes across the finish line the triumphant winner. Nelly couldn’t be more cocky:
“I put mo’ money in the community than you got in yo’ budget
I wipe my ass with yo’ advance to the toilet then flush it
My last stance be a stance of a General Custard
I hot dog cause I can, I got the cheese and mustard
I got the stats of a hall of famer – in just two records
That’s why I’m back up at the Superbowl – with Julius Peppers
I got that cain’t stop, won’t stop, in my veins
That’s why they cain’t stop, won’t stop, screamin the name
Those who have dismissed Nelly’s lyrics or sing-song style over the years have basically missed the point. Not only is it more sophisticated than he is given credit for, he swings it over booming beats with a very crisp breath control and the right amount of emphasis on the right words and lines. Combined with his St. Louis accent and slang, Nelly’s unique style made him a household name and one of the most imitated rappers this century. There are plenty of carbon copies (Chingy, J-Kwon, Pretty Willie) but there’s only one Nelly Nel. That’s why this disc’s lead single “Flap Your Wings” soars high while all the rest are left on the ground in his dust:
“It’s summertime and I’m back again
Done went to VA yo and got my friends
Say wassup Pharrell! (These motherfuckers now)
Yeah! But let’s show ’em what’s a-bumpin now
BLING! 100 thou’ couldn’t get ya one of these (not one of these)
I guarantee there ain’t a flaw in one of these (in one of these)
200 thou’ couldn’t get you in the league
And 300 thou’ you couldn’t even buy the keys
I think ya need to add 50 mo’ G’s
Now shall I proceed?! (YES INDEED!)
Ho! I need to see ya take it down to the flo’
Spread your wings if you’re real ma, fly real low
Pause for a second ma, grind real slow
And if you do it right, Rodeo we’ll go”
Nelly’s taste in beats for “Sweat” is almost impeccable, and it’s easy to imagine three or four of these songs all being singles. “American Dream” with the St. Lunatics would be a good choice, thanks to T-Mix’s Mo-Sauve Production. Of course on the Jamaican riddim side of t’ings, “River Don’t Runnin” featuring Murphy Lee and Stephen Marley would be just as good a choice, thanks to the laid back flow from Doe of Mo’ Beats. Then again the pop fans are just as likely to gravitate towards “Tilt Ya Head Back” featuring Christina Aguilera, while old school funk fans will appreciate the Curtis Mayfield “Superfly” backdrop. Want to know something scary? All four of these songs are back to back – that’s how good “Sweat” is. You can get grimy and hardcore with tracks like “Grand Hang Out” featuring Fat Joe and Remy Martin, “Playa” featuring Missy Elliott and Mobb Deep (I know that sounds like an odd combo, but trust that it’s the illest) or even Big Gipp and Lil’ Flip on the crunked out “Boy.” If you want it a little mo’ casual check out the bouncy “Getcha Getcha” featuring the ‘Tics, or the headnodding “Another One” where Nelly basically reiterates what this review’s been saying – there just ain’t nobody like him. The darkest track would be “Spida Man,” cause this dirty dirty beat ain’t nothing like your friendly neighborhood webslinga. The lightest other than “Flap Your Wings” would be “Down in Da Water,” with a trumpet section that jumps along like a Trick Daddy track with a smoothly sung chorus like some Bubba Sparxxx shiznit.
Now over on the “Suit” side of things, you’ll find the single that’s currently making the most noise on the charts and airwaves out of either disc. “My Place” f/ Jaheim walks that fine line between being hip-hop and being so smoothed out that it’s R&B, but Nelly has been pulling that trick off for more than a minute now. The list of samples and interpolations found within is really too long to list, but suffice it to say that they paid heavily to make this track taste so sweet. It’s no wonder they’d put Jaheim on it and pimp the hell out of it, but you’ll be hard-pressed to hate even if you hear it 20 or 30 times – it’s that damn good:
“I used to pride myself on, bein the other man
But now it’s flipped and I don’t want you with no other man
Why can’t you understand that anything I’m offerin
I gave you the world, but you just wanted arguin
From the time I picked you up, until the time I dropped you off again
Even done flipped out on me at the mall again
“It’s all his fault again” that’s what you tellin all ya friends
I ain’t pointin, fingers ma, I just wanna call again
See how ya day goin, I know they stressin on ya
I know them times get hard, that’s why I’m checkin on ya
It’s yours truly ma, I got little message for ya
Anything he can do, girl I can do better for ya”
With game that tight, you’d better be nervous if you see Nelly macking on your girl. The list of potential singles on this disc is also long and deep. The breezy “Paradise” is about a fly ghetto queen, she of the same name and also the place Nelly hopes she’ll take him to. On the other hand when Nelly hooks up with Ron Isley and Snoop Dogg, he’s left saying “She Don’t Know My Name.” Yeah it’s tough to ball with two macks that large on the track, but you know Nelly Nel still holds it down:
“Hey yo it’s three in the mornin and the party’s still goin
Bass still knockin, +Pimp Juice+ still flowin
‘Tics in the back, you can smell the chronic blowin
I got girls all around, I got my Hef’ game goin”
Nelly pushes crossover so far on a few of these tracks a few of his more hardcore fans may be turned off, but frankly since this is a concept album songs like “N Dey Say” are what I expected from “Suit.” Then again, sampling “True” from Spandau Ballet seems to be in fashion these days (no pun intended). Just when you think Nelly’s about to lose his edge though he’ll come back with some ish like “Woodgrain and Leather Wit a Hole” just to prove he hasn’t forgot about riding, and “Nobody Knows” with Anthony Hamilton to prove he’s struggled to get everything he’s got today. Normally I front on country music like a muh’fucka (especially since I had to endure way too much of it in my childhood from my rap-hating peers) but I’ll even give Tim McGraw some props for getting nice on “Over and Over.” Quite frankly, I’ll take Nelly and McGraw over Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. any day of the week.
If there’s a bottom line to this review, it’s that this writer was knocked off his fucking socks. I expect good things from Nelly (and often take flack for it from his detractors) but I wasn’t really sure Nelly could pull off the two album gimmick without having one contain all the best material and the other be a dud. Even if both albums were better than mediocre, I wasn’t sure the gimmick of having a harder album and a smoother album would actually work that well. You know what though? Even though they packaged it as two seperate releases, this might actually be one of the best double albums hip-hop has seen since “Wu-Tang Forever” or “Life After Death” – and better in some ways since “Sweat” and “Suit” have fewer mediocre tracks between them than either. There’s really no point recommending one disc over the other, although some people will probably buy only the Nelly style they prefer anyway. They should just cop both though while they’re on sale, because surprise surprise, they’re both worth it. Props to Nelly for pulling it off not just once, but twice.