You can probably blame OutKast. Hip-Hop albums were already filling every last drop of a CD with skits, skats, remixes and all sorts of nonsense, but when Speakerboxxx/The Love Below dropped last year you could feel the collective ears prick up. Here was a whole double album of good stuff, with scarcely a skit in sight. And it sold ten million...
So, fair play to Nelly for, quite literally, following suit. Highlighting the sort of quick-buck opportunism needed to get ahead in modern day hip-hop, he'supped his royalties by giving us two full-price albums to be released on the same day.(A double album by any other name.)
The result is the nattily-attired Suit, all done up to the nines and ready to escort you to the restaurant of your choice, and the more laidback Sweat, which would probably rather takes you to a hotel which charges by the hour.
Of the two records, Sweat is by far the stronger. Nelly is hardly the worlds greatest rapper, but, given the right set of beats, he makes a superb cheerleader. His past triumphs were built almost solely on making you move and, at its best, Sweat certainly accomplishes that.
The standout track is "Na-Nana-Na", which doesn't so much rock the bells as rocket them, kicking an old school beat into the twenty-first century. The Pharrell Williams collaboration "Flap Your Wings" is another back-to-the-future winner, with the pair lasciviously begging a girl to 'drop down' and 'get your eagle on.'
Other high-profile cameos come courtesy of Christina Aguilera on "Tilt Ya Head Back" (which is essentially nothing more than "Hot In Herre" set against the bass motif from Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly") and Missy Elliot, whose surprisingly sweet croon battles against both 80's synths and Mobb Deep on "Playa". Nelly himself contributes little beyond an 'uh', some 'ahs' and a little mild bragging.
The guests on the more R&B orientated Suit,are probably more interesting (even if the music isn't).The still-exquisite falsetto of Ronald Isley mixes it up with Snoop Dogg on "She Don't Know My Name", and there's the unlikely appearance of country artist Tim McGraw on "Over & Over". "N Dey Say" is built on the hook from Spandau Ballet's "True". Good news for Gary Kemp, but not for the rest of us.
The inclusion of tacked on remixes of "Ride Wit Me" and "Dilemma" only compounds the feeling that Nelly's overstretched himself by at least half-an-hour. It might create fertile ground for downloaders, but you're unlikely to swallow the whole experience in one go. Sweat/Suit may justprove to be hip-hop's Use Your Illusion, but let's hope the double album theme is nipped in the bud before someone makes the urban version of Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans. --Jack Smith
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