The last time I wrote about Nelly, for the underwhelming Brass Knuckles, the St. Louis vet was battling the worst case of Ashanti Syndrome we’d seen since, well, Ashanti. For those without my sterling medical credentials, an artist is diagnosed with Ashanti Syndrome when they’re enormously successful and then, for no discernible reason, the public tires of them and kicks them out of the spotlight. It’s a condition that struck Nelly so suddenly many have already forgotten that, for a time, he was one the highest selling artists in music. Period. And then the party …
DJBooth Album Review
Incredible, while Ashanti herself seems to still be afflicted, Nelly appears to have found the cure for Ashanti Syndrome on his new album, the somewhat confusingly titled 5.0 (nope, it’s actually his sixth album). And what is the magic elixir that has restored his health and status as an influential artist? Simple: pop. 5.0 is a veritable hip-pop blueprint. If this album were a country, it’d be Popistan, and its citizens would eat Pop Tarts while drinking soda… .you get the point. Largely gone are the drive by references of Country Grammar and the Tip Drill stripper anthems, replaced by sugary sweet records that find Nelly often sounding almost completely unrecognizable, which, depending on your perspective, is either a tragic shame or a welcome change. No matter your feelings, one thing about his submersion into the world of hip-pop isn’t up for debate – it’s made Nelly popular again. Pun intended.
Ask around. Everyone knows that if you need a crossover hit you call up Jim Jonsin, and sure enough the master craftsman put together Just a Dream, a light rock influenced single that has Nelly singing his heart out to a girl he mistakenly let walk away in a style much more Backstreet Boys than St. Lunatics. Ironically, by washing away his distinctive, Midwestern hip-hop style, Nelly emerged clean, sparkling and with a huge hit on his hands. 5.0 goes back to that well often, and it must be said successfully. Nothing Without Her is a piano ballad that few will easily recognize as Nelly; if it wasn’t on his album, I would never guess the heartbroken crooner was the same man who once proclaimed that it was Hot in Herre. Similarly, the more adult Making Movies does find Nelly doing some rapping, but along with Rico Love, mostly plays the pure R&B role. Hell, he even tried to recapture the Kelly Rowland-associated magic of Dilemma with Gone, although this time around it’s hard to tell who’s the singer, and who’s the rapper.
I’ll admit I may be going a little far in my description of 5.0 as a pop album. By contrast Flo Rida still makes him look like N.W.A., but even the more hip-hop oriented joints lack a real sense of danger, at least from Nelly himself. For the first two-thirds of its existence the silky Long Gone seems like it should belong to the category above, until Plies unexpectedly shows up to drop an expectedly goonish guest verse on the back end. Interestingly, it’s a formula that’s repeated again on Broke, a cut that at first blush is a pure club dance jam, until noted white-pusher Yo Gotti rasps and swags his way onto the stuttering beat. And I’m not going to say that if Biggie were still alive he’d be ashamed to have his voice appear on the Diddy-affiliated 1,000 Stacks, but…..
The one time 5.0 truly stikes a balance between rap and pop is on She’s So Fly, featuring T.I., who knows a few things himself about crossover hits, but on the whole, from the Euro club sounding Liv Tonight to the Usher-esque Don’t It Feel Good, 5.0 is only a hip-hop album in the loosest sense of the word. Nelly has always had mainstream sensibilities, but in 2010 he’s transformed himself into a finely tuned hip-pop machine, and in the process has reinvigorated, and in some sense reinvented, his career. Think about it like this: if you’re the kind of person who can’t get past the fundamental idea of plastic surgery, 5.0 will be hard to get close to. But if you don’t really care, as long as the end product looks good, Nelly’s latest will be looking pretty damn attractive. Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here for years.
Listen to More: Nelly Written by Nathan S.
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