Sporting dual career-defining singles in “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma” (featuring Kelly Rowland), the album went platinum a whopping seven times in the US and an additional four times in Canada. But has it stood the test of time?
20 years later, how has Nellyville aged?
By Matthew Fraser, Editor in Chief
Cast your mind back to 2002; headbands, oversized jean shorts, baggy t-shirts, and extra extra large sports jerseys are the style du jour. Back then, Nellyville was the sophomore album by Texas-born rapper Nelly. Riding high on the success from his debut album Country Grammar, St. Louis’s hottest star aimed to make a statement the second time around and he did not disappoint. Sporting dual career-defining singles in “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma” (featuring Kelly Rowland), the album went platinum a whopping seven times in the US and an additional four times in Canada. The US numbers were impressive enough to cement Nellyville as the 14th best-selling rap album in the US, according to a 2013 article by Complex. But has it stood the test of time?
The title track opens the album and sees Nelly narrating the utopia that Nellyville would be if he were mayor and could have his way. This is maybe the third most lyrical song on the album but it is in no way a lyrical masterpiece. “Nellyville” essentially shows that Nelly can make more than just a hot hook, but it doesn’t display him as a true lyricist.
Curiously, the very next song is a skit featuring TV personality and businesswoman La La and Missouri-born comedian Cedric the Entertainer. The skit serves as a brief moment for Nelly to trumpet his popularity and little else. However, “Hot in Herre” follows. Owing in no small part to the beat-making skills of Pharrell Williams, this song has actually aged incredibly well. It’s still catchy, infectious and danceable all these years later and the recent Buss It Challenge that tore through TikTok in 2021, shows that there’s still life left in this jam.
“Dem Boyz” which features his old rap group the St. Lunatics, follows immediately with solid swagger and Midwest attitude. True to Missouri’s position as a not quite southern state, the song almost feels like it could be a southern anthem but it holds back from a proper southern drawl. “Oh Nelly” is just as enjoyable and arguably more fun as Nelly flexes a cocksure time and a half flow. The whole song feels like a fresh white tee on the way to the club.
“Pimp Juice” continues the swagger but at a slower pace. In a lot of ways, this song is the spiritual father of 50 Cent’s later “P.I.M.P.” However, Nelly may have won the award for most backlash as his song (and its accompanying drink) spawned a memorable backlash and even forced him to cancel a charity event.
“Air Force Ones” is one of the greatest tributes to clothes in the history of music. In a manner, this song is thoroughly dated and screams early 2000s; at the same time, it is unbelievably fun and I dare you not to drawl “I need two perrrs” obsessively after you hear this. The whole St. Lunatics crew returns to express their shared love for the Nike classic before a second Cedric the Entertainer skit commences.
“On the Grind” is a decent song but it suffers from preceding the evergreen “Dilemma.” From the very first “Aaaah” you’ll be wrapped in the magic of this classic song. Much like “Hot in Herre” this song is still fresh 20 years later. As a matter of fact, the breezy, laid-back vibe that Rowland and Nelly carry throughout this track will probably never get old no matter how much time flies. But despite the quality of “Dilemma,” “Splurge” manages to do the near-impossible trick of following a career-defining song without being dramatically overshadowed. Here, Nelly’s cocky rhymes and near careless opulence shine in a way that only rap can.
“Work It” features Justin Timberlake and isn’t a bad song but it’s not all that good either. “Roc the Mic” features two of Rock-a-Fellas best MCs in Beanie Sigel and Freeway; the two lyrically outclass the other rappers on the song and it is relatively clear that this isn’t supposed to be a lyrics heavy album. However, “Roc the Mic” has one of the most out-of-the-blue disses flying at KRS-One.
“The Gank” is overall a better song just because it relies on Nelly’s melodic strengths rather than a lyrics-forward approach. The story isn’t particularly deep but it certainly is a fun listen. “#1” is an all-purpose diss track that was not directed at anyone. Though it served as a single for the also classic Training Day, it isn’t all that good on its own and sits somewhat in line with “Work It.”
“CG 2” is probably the most forgettable if not the worst song on the album, which is forgivable as it is so close to the end. “Say Now” rounds out the actual songs as a heartfelt narration of the crime in St. Louis. Though Nelly does not have the lyrical chops of Nas or a Scarface to bring this downbeat story to life, he still does the track justice over its 5-minute run.
All in, Nellyville is actually still a good album 20 years on. Though it will never be a classic in the same vein as much of Jay-Z’s discography, or as iconic as Ready to Die, Nellyville, is still worth a listen even years down the line.