Brass Knuckles


Universal, 2008

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


This year, I’ve been listening pretty much exclusively to hip-hop, probably due to a lack of inspiring rock and pop records out there at the moment. Of all the current rappers, Nelly is by far my favorite for a number of reasons, but mainly because of his insanely catchy hooks and fun lyrics. Too many rappers feel the need to use their music as a weapon against the world in which they live and anyone who questions their morals or artistic direction. 

I love Nelly because, for the most part, his music (a great meshing of R&B and hip-hop) is about having fun, and when he does have a beef with something or someone, his music never suffers.  He never comes off sounding anything other than a guy in control that loves what he does. The dude can really sing, and I suppose being easy on the eye can’t hurt, but it’s his fantastic music that is his most potent asset and although Brass Knuckles (his fifth album) isn’t his best offering (that would be Suit from 2004), it gets the job done nicely and is a great mixture of heavy hooks and sharp humor. 

Nelly is one of these rappers who puts together an album featuring a different artist on almost every track, employing a cavalcade of producers to direct the action. More often than not, this method (in my opinion) backfires for most rappers because I’m not always sure who’s album I’m listening to. This is oddly something that Nelly seems to avoid because I think his sound is unique and he never loses control of his own stuff.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

His knack for taking any phrase, be it a schoolyard chant or a nursery rhyme, and turning them into his own tongue-twisting lyrics is a talent all of its own, and there’s plenty of it on display here. This is never more evident than on “Party People” (featuring Fergie), which was the album’s first single and one of its best tracks. “L.A.,” which features a couple of Doggs in Snoop and Nate, is another stellar cut that finds the boys up to their old tricks again (“Better watch the girls with them L.A. chests / A lot of plastic in them L.A. breasts”). 

“U Ain’t Him” opens the album with a more sinister mood than the party atmosphere that’s prevalent throughout the album, but it’s one of the most powerful tracks to be found here. The heavy lyrics are countered though by an anthemic arrangement that again boasts a massive hook.  “Hold Up” finds Nelly taking some shots at his competition and throwing down the challenge to step up or “sit yo ass down.” 

“Long Night” is another favorite of mine mainly because Usher guests and offers some of his smoothest work, which I really dig. “Self-Esteem” is the most uplifting track on the album and it’s also the most radio-friendly, which staggers me as to why it was never used as a single. It’s one of Nelly’s best songs and his singing has never sounded better. “Stepped On My J’Z” is laugh-out-loud funny and again, seriously groovy. 

More highlights follow with Pharrell Williams rapping on “Let It Go Lil’ Mama” and the Latin-flavored “Who F***s Wit Me.” There are, however, a few too many tracks here and the album could have done without throwaway stuff like “Chill” and “Ucud Gedit.”  “Wadsyaname” is better, but it was used as a single in 2007, so it really didn’t need another outing on this set. 

Overall, though, Brass Knuckles – along with Suit and Country Grammar (his 2000 debut) – is my favorite of Nelly’s albums; it travels with me everywhere, from the beach to the gym to the er, boudoir.

Rating: B+

User Rating: A-



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