By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Like most megaplatinum crossover acts, Nelly gets a lot of grief from people who should know better: the ones who say he's a sellout for hangin' with Justin and Kelly, the ones who say he's a drugged-out thug, the ones who say he's a female-objectifying, suburban-sprawling conspicuous consumer with inferior flow. Poor, misunderstood Nelly! It's not for nothing that he calls himself "the Bill Clinton of the Lou.
"Yeah, right. If selling a gazillion records and landing a deal to star in your own sitcom occasion mucho hateration from prudes, has-beens, grumps and stiffs, well, boo-fucking-hoo. Nelly might be everything his critics say he is, but that's the genius part. Like a true superstar, the man's got facets. In his own way, he's every bit as com -plicated as angrier, whiter, fellow chart-dominating Midwesterner Eminem, who's dripping with critical slobber despite -- or, more likely, because of -- his antisocial tendencies. Eminem crosses over to the mook-rock side and remains a "serious rapper," whereas Nelly flirts with a little R&B flava and suddenly he's not making "real hip-hop."
Whatever, dude. Record-breaking sales notwithstanding, our beloved clown from U-Town has done us proud. Rest assured that if "Hot in Herre" and "Pimp Juice" had been originally released as outtakes from Beck's Midnite Vultures and not as Nelly tracks, legions of poseurs would have decreed them genius. Nellyville's current radio smash, "Air Force Ones," the crunkest St. Lunatics joint yet, is sublimely stupid or stupidly sublime, perhaps the greatest song about athletic shoes since Run-DMC dropped "My Adidas." And with his comical, deadpan drawl driving the hit's best verses, Murphy Lee not only steals the show but posits himself as the best hope for the St. Lunatics franchise. For the time being, though, it's Nellyville: The rest of us just get to live here.