2003 Music Awards

The readers spoke, and the RFT music staff listened. Find out who's large and in charge on the St. Louis music scene.

 Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.

Best Rap Recording of the Year
Nelly/St. Lunatics
We've gotten a fair amount of flak for writing about Nelly so much, mostly from people who seem to suffer from the delusion that music writers were ordained by God to supply press-kit fodder to unknown artists who, like, totally need the support, dude. "Nelly already gets so much ink" goes the monotonous refrain. "He's rich and famous, and he's already sold a shitload of records -- he doesn't need your help!" This naive but surprisingly widespread argument rests on the premise that music writers serve musicians -- as cheerleaders, or pro bono publicists, or self-esteem coaches. News flash, whiners: Any critic who isn't a shameless whore is loyal to the readers first. This mission involves not only introducing readers to worthy obscurities but also reporting on artists they already know and love.

And St. Louisans love the St. Lunatics -- especially Nelly, the superstar cuddlethug whose two solo CDs have sold more than 15 million copies. Nellyville, which took the honors in the Recording of the Year category, came out a year ago and has already been certified six-times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America -- way to handle the "sophomore slump" issue, dirty! Since last year's RFT Music Awards, when Nelly and his crew won in Best Rap and Recording of the Year (for the St. Lunatics' Free City), the self-described clown from U-Town won his first two Grammy Awards, for his megasmash singles "Hot in Herre" and "Dilemma." (Yeah, we know: Who even cares about the stupid Grammys when you've already got a bunch of plastic trophies from the poll formerly known as the Slammies?) Rumors about Nelly abound: He's buying a club downtown; he's starring in his own sitcom; he's starting his own label; he's buying a recording studio right in his hometown; he's dating Eve and Kelly Rowland and maybe both of the Bush twins (OK, it's entirely possible that we dreamed that last one). Even people who claim he's a no-talent prettyboy pop sellout who can't come up with a decent rhyme to save his life are still talking about him, gawking at him, wondering if their asses would look bootylicious or merely doughy in those cute Applebottom jeans he's hawking these days. Wake-up call to all haters: Obsession is a form of love, too.

Tim Murphy

When Nelly unleashed Country Grammar on an unsuspecting public, he didn't just put St. Louis on the hip-hop map (itself no small achievement); he parlayed his fame and influence to help underachieving and at-risk inner-city kids. After his sister, Jacqueline Donahue, suffered a leukemia relapse earlier this year, Nelly started another charity, Jes Us 4 Jackie (www.jesus4jackie.com), which aims to educate the African-American community about the importance of becoming bone-marrow donors. He could have become just another vacant celebrity, jet-setting from coast to coast, but instead he chose to remain in his hometown. Rest assured, St. Louis: Nelly loves you back. -- René Spencer Saller

Best Rock
Things have changed for Nadine, but that's nothing new. Over the course of six years, since the band's debut, Back to My Senses, the lineup has been as stable as geopolitics. Longtime friends and collaborators Adam Reichmann and Todd Schnitzer parted musical ways last year, leaving only multi-instrumentalist Steve Rauner and Reichmann at the core. Bassist Anne Tkach, who joined in 1999, has helped provide some semblance of rhythmic continuity as the group spent three years shuffling drummers and keyboard players. As a result of these shifts, Nadine's sound, especially on stage (the proving-ground of any rock band), has never fully gelled. What sounded thrilling and expansive on disc only occasionally translated into live shows. Although the band toured Europe, dates outside of the safe confines of St. Louis were few and far between.

"That's always been one of my criticisms," Tkach says of Nadine's slow evolution into a true rock band. "I came into the band to help it become a live outfit. We've gotten more confident about playing live, and we've done it in so many different permutations, but we feel really good about this line-up now."

The latest additions to the band, Jimmy Griffin and Brian Zielie, have finally taken Nadine from an accomplished and inventive studio band to genuine rockers, where live performances are not an afterthought or a burden (Schnitzer, for all his talents, wasn't always thrilled to be onstage). Griffin, his silver-spangled axe and rack of effects, brings a sweet, glam-metal charm to the stage, and Zielie, who counts Ringo Starr and David Garibaldi among his idols, pounds the skins as hard and steady as any drummer Nadine has known. Another new addition, manager Jeff Jarrett, has pushed Nadine even further. This summer the band will tour the east coast with Gingersol, and rumors point to a few shows with the Wallflowers. The band has recently signed a licensing deal with Trampoline Records, a label started by Wallflowers' keyboardist Rami Jaffee, whose stable includes Pete Yorn, Peter Himmelman, the Jukebox Junkies and the Minus 5. Nadine's Trampoline debut, Strange Seasons, their finest, purest and most energetic rock album yet, will hit the stores the first week of September.

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