Oh, Fecal Matter! Nelly is Naughty.

Published the week of October 11-17, 2000

The champagne flowed, the players whooped and hugged; it was a glorious scene for all St. Louis to relish on TV Saturday as the Cardinals celebrated their playoff thrashing of the Atlanta Braves.

Everyone in the clubhouse danced around to the intoxicating hip-hop sounds of "Country Grammar," the red-hot hit single of St. Louis' own budding superstar rapper, Nelly.

Uh-oh.

Bleep-bleep! Parental-control emergency!

Hit the mute button and hide the women and children. There's inappropriate language in the house.

Nelly, the artist formerly known as Cornell Haynes Jr. (as a kid on the streets of North St. Louis), last week was declared unsuitable for official recognition by Mayor Clarence Harmon. It turns out that mayoral due diligence uncovered a secret known only to the 3 million-or-so people who have purchased the Country Grammar CD: The title single is actually called "Country Grammar (Hot Sh*t)," and that asterisk on the CD is there for a pretty darned good reason.

Personally, I was stunned at the mayor's finding that this was indeed an "offensive" reference. My friends and I had been debating whether it was "Country Grammar (Hot Shot)" or "Country Grammar (Hot Shut)," so imagine our surprise to find that "most Americans would object to the word" that the term "Sh*t" actually was intended to convey.

Actually, Harmon must share credit with our own St. Louis Post-Dispatch for educating the public about the insidious truth of "Country Grammar (Hot Sh*t)." The paper's hilarious coverage of Harmon's recent refusal to issue an official proclamation for Nelly was what truly made this story, well, the sh*t.

First there was the news story last Friday. It began by telling us the title contained a "vulgar word." Then it boldly revealed that this word "referred to fecal matter."

Wait a minute. Fecal matter. Sh*t. Hmmm.

"Hey, everyone, this 'sh*t' stands for shit. Holy sh*t."

Then things only went downhill with an astounding Post editorial Monday lauding Harmon for turning down a request to issue a proclamation in Nelly's honor when the rapper was here two weeks ago for the Gateway Classic college-football game.

In the editorial, which said Harmon acted "to his credit," the Post found still another way to reference "sh*t," this time calling it "a common barnyard epithet." Then, in the solemn spirit of investigative journalism, it further revealed horrific lyrics from the chorus of another track on the CD, titled "St. Louie," including the words "Some got jobs and some sell yea'/Others just smoke and (deleted) all day."

Yes, my sources tell me, "(deleted)" has something to do with the way babies are made.

In its conclusion, the Post editorial again praised the mayor's snub of Nelly: "Mr. Harmon didn't make a big deal out of it. He just did it. Good for him."

Politically speaking, it probably was good for him, because there's relatively little electoral downside in standing down controversial rap lyrics. President Bill Clinton established this principle pretty clearly in taking on Sister Souljah in 1992.

And, as RFT music editor Randall Roberts explains this week (see "Radar Station," page 72), Harmon's act of Nelly-fication can at least partially be explained by poor staff work all around. Between a mayoral staff that hadn't heard of the hottest-selling musical artist in the city's history (at least they can't be accused of reading the RFT) and unreasonable lateness on the part of Nelly's team in making the proclamation request, it was indeed a fiasco.

But this isn't just about a stupid proclamation. It's about stupidity in the city.

In a dream year for St. Louis on the entertainment front, with the Rams winning the Super Bowl and the Cardinals poised to make their first World Series run in 13 years, it would seem that the uplifting story is made only better by the historic rise of the Cardinals' own clubhouse musical favorite, a kid from North St. Louis now known as Nelly.

Whatever one thinks of rap lyrics -- and there's plenty of room for debate on the subject -- the fact remains that hip-hop is a sizzling genre and Nelly is shooting to the top. Now in its 14th week high on the Billboard charts -- including six at No. 1 -- this 21-year-old's CD has sold 3 million units, exceeding what the late, great Miles Davis sold in 41 years.

And it's not just about the money. Nelly has been nothing less than a civic booster throughout his amazing run, featuring numerous St. Louis scenes in his videos, proclaiming affection for his hometown wherever he goes.

"St. Louis has a lot of blues and jazz history -- it's a soulful place, and I incorporate that," he told Rolling Stone magazine.

Two weeks ago, in USA Today, the fellow with the "offensive" lyrics garnered this publicity for the city that couldn't lower itself to recognize him:

"Nelly's goal when he released Country Grammar was to put his hometown of St. Louis on the hip-hop map. But after the album's five-week run atop the pop charts, he could wind up making it one of the genre's newest capital cities.

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