With an album cover that is scarily reminiscent of LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out (that is, Nelly: buff, shirtless, oiled, and in black & white), it’s obvious Nelly has taken influence from James Todd Smith. Like a modern day Cool J, Nelly is less concerned with making classic records, and more focused on churning out enough “hot” club records to get him through the year, and he proves this once again on Brass Knuckles.
Case in point is “Party People”, which largely draws it’s strength from Pollow The Don’s robust track and an infectious hook shared by Nelly and Fergie, who bring out their best for the album’s lead single. The flipside of this is the more unassuming, less abrasive daytime radio drivel that takes the form of “Body On Me”, as Akon and Nelly casually sing about – wait for it – a fine girl. Third of the trio of singles is the Jermaine Dupri helmed “Stepped On My J’z”, which, like “Party People”, borrows the “Grillz” formula, carrying on Nelly’s new signature sound, as Nelly and crew lament about getting their Air Jordan’s scuffed, working as one of the LP’s better selections.
As far as Nelly’s album is concerned, the tracklist itself speaks volumes about the content contained within, as virtually every song on the album includes one or more guest artists, suggesting Nelly can’t hold an album on his own. That being said, Nelly attempts to play to each collaborator’s respective audience, such as on The Neptunes produced “Let It Go”, which could have easily fit in on a Pharrell album, or the Snoop Dogg / Nate Dogg featured “L.A.”, a lazy attempt at getting some West Coast love, playing off the already dated minimalist piano beat sound Dr. Dre beat to death on Kingdom Come (here produced by Neff-U). Or even worse, Nelly’s attempt at a conscious hip-hop song, “Self Esteem” (featuring Chuck D), which attempts to channel Curtis Mayfield, but instead comes off more like the Flight of The Concords Marvin Gaye parody “Think About It”.
That’s not to say that all of Nelly’s collabo’s don’t work however, the strange pairing of Nelly, T.I., and Uncle L himself on “Hold Up” is a battle of egos that actually comes off quite well, as each rapper ups the ante over a dark track by the Free Agentz. The same can be said for the album opener “U Ain’t Him”, a boastful, braggadocios bating of studio gangsters, ironically featuring Rick Ross, despite being a romp in rapper fantasyland.
Much of the rest of the album is forgettable, especially when Nelly is the bigger star than his collaborators. “Chill” featuring the less-than-stellar St. Lunatics is laughable, as one of them, at one point, claims “the Flavor Flav of the game cause I hype shit up” (actually, Flavor Flav is the Flavor Flav of the game, dummy.) The same can be said for the group’s other collaboration “Lie”, which finds Nelly and St. Lunatics dealing with rape accusations and trying to be funny about it. Yawn.
All in all, Nelly proves again that he knows the formula for making hit records, and has the clout and relationships to make them happen, but simply lets the chips fall where they may when it comes time to complete the rest of the album. Listening to this LP, one can tell that Nelly truly believes in his mind that he is creating a classic LP, but truth be told, these Brass Knuckles don’t hit. – Pizzo
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