Nelly is a classic example
of an artist who doesn't know his own strengths.
The St. Louis rapper sold
more than 15 million copies of his 2000 debut "Country Grammar" and its 2002
follow-up "Nellyville," thanks to his ability to craft uplifting, virtually
irresistible, mindless-in-the-best-way party jams.
ideal grooves for your house party wasn't enough for the former Cornell
Haynes Jr., who took off his trademark Band-Aid and overreached last fall by
releasing two albums at once, the bouncy "Sweat" and the laid-back "Suit,"
neither of which lived up to the commercial or artistic expectations set by
Nelly, it seems, wants
to be a "Serious Artiste." He would also like to be a hip-hop entrepreneur
on the level of Jay-Z or P. Diddy, and to that end, he is tirelessly pushing
the mediocre roster of his Derrty Ent record label.
Those two factors
combined to drag down much of the rapper's show at the Arie Crown Theatre
Friday night. The evening started with a pathetic revolving-door revue of a
half-dozen Derrty Ent acts, including Prentiss Church, Taylor Made and
would-be diva Keyshia Cole. Each artist was more generic, forgettable and
inept than the last.
In a significant
injustice, hip-hop veteran Fat Joe, more popular now than at any point in
his career, was consigned to the second slot on the bill and given a mere 20
minutes to work his magic. Although he took the stage with about two dozen
members of his Terror Squad posse, he held the spotlight throughout, proving
that his charisma is even bigger than his sizable girth.
As the former Joseph
Cartagena was joined by a star-struck local concert winner, his celebratory
rendition of the smash hit "Lean Back" -- with its brilliantly silly chorus
of Said my niggas don't dance / We just pull up the pants / And do the
Roc-away / Now lean back -- provided the evening's gleeful highlight.
The penultimate slot
before the headliner went to the much-buzzed, crunk-flavored Atlanta rapper
T.I., whose second album recently went platinum. He has proclaimed himself
"the king of the South," but the artist is strictly a generic gangsta,
spewing all the usual sexist and violent cliches, and he seems to be
succeeding more on the strength of his pretty-boy boxer good looks than his
Finally, it was Nelly's
turn to show us what he's made of, and he took the stage with great fanfare
by descending an oversized staircase -- the night's only stage prop -- to
the tune of the absurdly bombastic "Heart of a Champion."
The effect probably
wasn't what Nelly was shooting for. He wanted us to think, "How cool is
that?" Instead, I was left wondering, "Do you think he had to clear that
sample with NBC and the NBA?"
From that point on,
through much of the 75-minute set, the poppy rapper seemed lost among his
own posse, including his St. Lunatics crew and a bevy of scantily clad
dancers. Yes, he delivered many of the foolproof booty-shakin' hits --
including "Shake Ya Tailfeather," "Hot in Herre," "Where the Party At" and
"Ride Wit Me" -- but he spent far too much time turning the mike over to his
buddies, Murphy Lee and Ali.
Nelly also brought out
Derrty Ent's Avery Storm for a duet on the soggy, overblown "In My Life." It
stopped the party dead in its tracks when Storm, like every other artist on
Nelly's label, not only couldn't sing, but couldn't even lip-sync.
Some critics have
suggested Nelly may be distracted by the recent death of his sister, Jackie
Donahue, from leukemia. But the rapper also has failed to realize that
party-leading toastmaster is the role that suits him best.
The sooner Nelly
abandons the notions of being a star-maker and a hip-hop auteur, the quicker
he'll rise to the level of former glories.