What is Cornell Haynes rocking that’s “5.0” this go around? Is it a new turbo-powered engine in a super-expensive foreign luxury car? Is it a custom line of Air Force Ones that you can’t buy at retail? Is it a bottle of champagne that’s so exclusive they numbered it and shipped it to Nelly directly? Well as it turns out Mr. Haynes has multiple meanings for it – and one of them is automotive after all – a shoutout to his beloved Ford Mustang. He also says it’s the fifth “drop date” for an album, but that’s a little bit of a stretch. If you don’t count “Da Derrty Versions – The Reinvention” you could reduce his number of albums since 2000 from 7 to 6. You then have to combine all the different versions of “Sweatsuit” (which all had their own drop date) to reduce his total number of albums from 6 to 4. At that point you could claim “5.0” is the fifth album in his catalogue, but it’s easier to assume the number implied something fly for marketing purposes. A Porsche sounds cool, but a Porsche 911 sounds cooler.

Nelly has reached a comfortable level of superstardom that doesn’t really require a marketing gimmick though. His name itself is the gimmick – an instantly recognizable one word introduction that itself is a status symbol. Sting. Diddy. Cher. Biggie. When you need no more syllables than that to sell an album or sell out tours, you’re truly balling. Nelly has long since stopped needing that bandage on his face to be recognized in public – after all few rappers before or since him can claim sales figures in the tens of millions. Any rapper who thought about dropping an album on November 12th of this year probably reconsidered it immediately when hearing that’s when Nelly’s latest shit was coming out. He’s got that Lil Wayne stature where you can find his album in stores just about anywhere – Target, Best Buy, Wal*Mart, FYE, and of course through Amazon. That leads to a marketing gimmick the public DIDN’T expect for “5.0,” but before we address that let’s focus on Nelly’s lead single “Just a Dream”:

“I was at the top and now it’s like I’m in the basement
Number one spot, now she found her a replacement
I swear now I can’t take it
Knowin somebody’s got my baby
And now you ain’t around, baby I can’t think
I shoulda put it down, shoulda got that ring
Cause I can still feel it in the air
See her pretty face, run my fingers through her hair
My lover, my life
My shorty, my wife
She left me, I’m tight
Cause I knew that it just ain’t right”

Even for a rapper known for his silky smooth singing flow, this Jim Jonsin and Rico Love produced track is UBER smooth. Nelly pours his emotion over the lush instrumentation, letting his heart cry a river on the song about a woman that’s obviously long gone. The chorus finds Nelly trying to travel back to his past figuratively and literally in an attempt to get her back, only to recognize his “dream” is ultimately futile. Emotional (some might say emo) hip-hop is definitely in right now – just ask Drake or Kanye West – so it’s not surprising Nelly went to the top on the Billboard Pop Charts or that the single was certified platinum. Of course that’s nothing new for Nelly, a rapper so accustomed to success he wrote a song called “#1” and pissed off KRS-One in the process. In fact the opening track on “5.0” revisits that concept in the guise of “I’m Number One,” though he enlists the help of the “#1 Stunna” Birdman and “We the Best” DJ Khaled to even more thoroughly emphasize his point. It wouldn’t work without the brassy and sassy Infamous beat, but when Nelly proclaims “Ballin – way before Jim Jones; I gots to be the richest nigga with this skintone” he might be right.

The obvious question whether this is album number five, six, seven or eight is what’s new since we first heard about this album coming out in oh-nine? Well in 2010 with physical album sales declining and more people going digital it’s all about the gimmicks – and I don’t just mean a catchy album title that implies fast cars or expensive brands. “5.0” is available in multiple different versions, and depending on which one you buy you’ll get different bonus tracks. We’ve linked to the “Deluxe Version” in this review, which as of this writing was available at both Amazon and Best Buy. It comes with three extra songs – “Go” featuring Ali and Talib Kweli, “If I Gave U 1” with Avery Storm and “k.i.s.s.” with Dirty Money and Murphy Lee. I’m gonna skip the bullshit and get right to the point here – if your copy doesn’t come with these tracks don’t take the shrinkwrap off – take it back.

That’s not to say the main album doesn’t have some dope songs. Nelly reunites with Kelly Rowland for a worthy sequel to their first hit on “Gone,” fellow rap superstar T.I. drops in with a speedy flow on the uptempo “Long Gone,” and a singing overdose comes when Nelly combines with Akon & T-Pain on the Bangladesh & Dr. Luke finger snaps of “Move That Body.” These are all fresh songs but long time Nelly fans who recognize the St. Lunatics as part and parcel to his work would (rightfully) be mad as fuck to not have the bonus tracks featuring them even if they weren’t fresh (and they are). It’s not only that – how many opportunities are you going to have to hear a St. Louis staple like Nelly and a Brooklyn rapper like Talib Kweli collab’ on one track? Not many. Unfortunately for many labels the multiple variations of an album’s release may have the opposite effect intended – fans will opt out of getting a physical CD and try to get ALL the songs digitally. Even that can be difficult though as the Amazon and the iTunes version of the same album can be totally different. If you’re willing to put up with the headaches of finding and acquiring the right version though, “5.0” is a worthy follow-up to “Brass Knuckles” that should keep his millions of fans well satisfied.

Nelly :: 5.0 (Deluxe Version)
7Overall Score