Nelly – “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)”

Released: 2.29.00

Peak: #7

Chart rap’s great subject has turned out to be the celebratory ascendance of new money, and few MCs have guided us through that process with Nelly’s charm and guilelessness. Flaunting neither the knowing sartorial flash of newly re-kinged nouveaux Yorkers nor the primitive accumulation of trinketry that dazzles proudly ig’nant southerners, the bandaged cutie offered simple exuberance, as well as an idiosyncratic sing-song flow both breathless and laid back, all anchored by that telltale double-r accent. Hell, even his automotive boasts sounded more Beach Boys than they did Jay-Z.

“Who say pretty boys can’t be wild niggaz?” Nelly asked on “Country Grammar,” and we can be happy that the song leaves that question rhetorical. Too impressed with his unfurling wordplay to wax violent or sexist or even self-obsessed, Nelly interpolated the playground game roller coaster, puff-puff-pass, a bit of Beenie Man, and something about Hannibal Lecter that I’ve never quite decoded. For the track itself, under-sung producer Jay E played off the twittering hi-hats that had come to define the Dirty South, but with more melodic bass rolls.

“Country Grammar” was the first regional hit from the Midwest to blow up nationwide, though aside from his crew, the St. Lunatics, St. Louis had little else to offer, unless Chingy counts.* And like so many regional rappers, Nelly had little to say about his actual town, his source of pride being that the Loop’s where he hails from. But Nelly cleverly marketed St. Louis, once the crossroads of black American music, as a hayseed backwater, just as a provincial from Bed-Stuy or Compton would imagine it. And that sense of emerging from nowhere added to his appeal.

Just two singles later, on the guitar-driven “Ride Wit Me,” Nelly was already seeming to lament the party life. “Why must I live this way?” he asked, and his boys dutifully chimed in with the obvious answer: “Must be the money!” But Nelly’s boasts made clear just how low numbers we were talking: He’s proud of his acceptable credit rating, his ability to pay cash for a plane ticket (that could have run him like $500!) and schmooze with Vanna White. Maybe he never did actually “blow 30 mill like I’m Hammer,” as he brags on “Country Grammar.”  But charm and guilelessness proved more easy to squander.

* He doesn’t.

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  • Pete Scholtes  On January 14, 2010 at 10:23 am

    I was a dummy for not taking him seriously immediately–this song is amazing.

    But hold on, East Coast: “Little else to offer”? I once drove through St. Louis toward New Orleans on a clear Friday night, tuning into an unusually powerful community radio signal simulcasting a rap/spoken-word concert benefit that had to do with someone imprisoned. I listened for nearly two hours, riveted, to freestyles that were funny, brilliant, and from the heart.

    I imagine St. Louis has as rich an underground as every other large city does.

  • Colin Rink  On September 13, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    i’m pretty sure the hannibal line is referring to hannibal missouri, mark twain’s home town

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