Nelly's debut album, Country Grammar, was a left-field surprise smash hit, racking up a number of hits and turning the Midwestern pop-rapper into an overnight superstar. It's perhaps little surprise then that his follow-up, Nellyville, sticks to the script. Like Country Grammar, it's produced almost entirely by newcomer Jason "Jay E" Epperson, and it too relies on catchy, singalong hooks that are more pop than rap. Moreover, there are some clear, clever rewrites here, with "Pimp Juice" in particular relying on the same slow-grooving rhythm that made "Country Grammar" and "E.I." such jams two summers earlier. Nelly also retains his tough-guy posturing here -- he's no gangsta, nor is he an outright thug, but he is awfully damn cocky and a lot gruffer than your typical teen pop star. All of this makes Nellyville just as good as its predecessor. What makes it two or three notches better, however, are the few occasions where Nelly tries something new -- namely on "Hot in Herre," "Dilemma," and "Rock the Mic," three well-calculated, standout moments. The first is a trademark Neptunes production with an infectious hook, tailor-made for radio and club play; the second is a straight, saccharine interpolation of Patti LaBelle's 1983 hit "Love, Need and Want You" that features a duet with Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland, and is as likely to appeal to those who are old enough to know the original as those who are too young to realize how much of a straight cover this is; and the third is a remix of Beanie Sigel and Freeway's previously released hit for Roc-a-Fella, and is one of the only pure hip-hop moments here, and a welcome one at that. All of this amounts to a sure-fire pop-rap album that should not only please anyone who enjoyed Country Grammar; it should also attract yet more fans who will be drawn in by the few aforementioned standout moments of pop calculation. And that's not even mentioning the Justin Timberlake feature, which should be a draw in itself for many teen pop fans.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
feat: Murphy Lee
feat: Waiel "Wally" Yaghnam