It looks like hip-hop has been taking some nuclear physics
classes. For what seems like the umpteenth time, a rapper made like
the Greek god Janus and carved himself into two separate
personas.

Beth Dykstra
This is all the ice I can afford. (Courtesy of Universal)

With Nelly’s new releases Sweat and Suit,
there’s only one thing left to say: The cyclotron is just too
full. OutKast managed their way through a respectable — but
wildly overrated — double because they are two different men
with two very different agendas. Jay-Z’s double was a flop,
and let’s not even talk about R.Kelly’s choice to
self-divide.

Nelly has always been a great singles artist and it’s safe
to say that any “best of the ’00s” collection
that gets printed in the next decade will be crammed with plenty of
his songs, from “Country Grammar” to “Ride Wit
Me.” Such mercurial energy is awfully hard to maintain over
an album, and both of his full-lengths, Country Grammar and
Nellyville, hit dramatic lulls after about four songs.

Each of these new releases is, not surprisingly, Nelly’s
personality split into two separate quarks of his St. Louis energy.
Sweat is the bottle-poppin’, whip-pushin’
hoodlum whose sound most closely resembles “Hot In
Herre” or “EI.” Like those party anthems, Nelly
pulls a surfeit of samples from the vault. Curtis Mayfield’s
classic soundtrack from “Superfly” provides the back
beat and bubbling drums for the Christina Aguilera/Nelly duet on
“Tilt Ya Head.” Hell, he even samples John Tesh’s
“NBA on NBC” theme and gets help from the Lincoln
University Vocal Ensemble on “Heart of a Champion.”

Don’t get your hopes up. Nelly tosses almost everything
possible against the wall and precious little sticks. The
Neptunes-produced lead single “Flap Ya Wings” has a
tinny, cheap drum machine that sounds way too discount for the
Pharrell Williams hit-maker

In a delightful turn, Suit, the romantically loyal, good
natured, boy-next-door album is the far superior of the two. Once
you get past the diabetic-sweet “My Place,” listeners
run into some pretty decent tracks. Nelly raps to a recently-single
mother, “Please don’t despise and hate all brothers/
have hatred and take it out on others.” It’s not
exactly lyrical innovation, but genuine concern is a new thing for
Nelly. Give him a chance. The Neptunes get back on track with
“Play It Off,” a jam with deft synth effects and some
choice Nelly catchphrases.

Maybe the set’s ultimate shortcomings are in the bizarre
guest appearances and lack of a dazzling single. Tim McGraw sings
the hook on “Over and Over” like a Super Bowl show and
Jazzie Pha on “Pretty Toes” just sounds foolish.

Let’s chalk this experiment up to bandwagon attitudes and
a desperate attempt to reclaim the party throne from the Dionysian
Lil’ Jon. You have to figure Nelly gets at least two more
solid shots to reclaim his position as partier-laureate. There can
only be one.

Music Review:  2.5 out of 5 stars

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