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Nelly gets ‘derrty’

Arienne Thompson | Thursday, February 19, 2004

Nelly’s latest effort may disappoint those fans expecting a disc containing entirely new music, but his remixes of old songs -“Derrty Versions,” as he prefers to call them – will surely please those who appreciate a good musical makeover and artistic innovation.By restructuring and reformulating the beats, melodies and even lyrics of many chart-toppers from the past albums Country Grammar (2000) and Nellyville (2002), Nelly (Cornell Haynes) and his gang of producers, most notably David Banner and Jason “Jay E” Epperson, prove that the “Nelly sound” is rooted in musical creativity and clever reinterpretation. Perhaps taking a cue from the troubled king of the remix R. Kelly, Nelly proves that making over an old song is a great strategy for creating a new hit. The somewhat unsavory but thumping remix of the 2000 hit “E.I.” is the prime example; it has received substantial radio play and is accompanied by a quasi-pornographic video enjoying regular rotation on a late-night cable show. On the guitar-heavy “Air Force Ones,” Nelly delivers a totally new rap with the help of David Banner and Eightball, injecting his now-popular brand of fast-paced humor and mild-mannered thuggery. In what has become a popular technique in rap, he shouts out to popular Southern cities, claiming them as allies of his hometown of St. Louis, saying “This for [anybody’s] city that used to be a plantation … / We hold it down for country folk / [Cuz] we in the same boat / Trippin’? Get that ‘Force One’ print on your throat / It’s no joke.” Employing another technique from the rapper’s handbook, Nelly is no stranger to the collaboration, as he enlists the help of Ronald Isley on the even funkier version of “Pimp Juice” and the voice of Destiny’s Child star Kelly Rowland on the pop smash “Dilemma.” The most unexpected of these collaborations, however, occurs on the “derrty” version of an ever-popular party song, “Ride Wit Me.” Cleverly combining genres and musical interests, the remix is guided by an interpolation of college-favorite John Mayer’s breakthrough single “No Such Thing,” which Nelly hails as one of his favorites. Despite these successes, some of the remixes fail to be anything more than lazily recycled versions of their former selves. This is especially apparent on “Country Grammar” and “Hot In Herre,” which ironically are the two singles that catapulted Nelly into stardom during the summers of 2000 and 2002, respectively. The attempts to “reinvent” these singles show that some things are better left untouched. Sprinkled among the remixes are a few new songs from soundtracks and compilation albums, including “If” from the Neptunes’ latest album. The most prominent of this group is the frenetic and fun “Iz U,” released for last year’s Eddie Murphy stinker “The Haunted Mansion.” The song is backed by an interpolation of the theme from television’s “People’s Court” and features Nelly’s standard female-oriented banter about cars, sex and money. With this album and its hits, Nelly manages to tweak an old adage by showing that you can fix it even if it ain’t broke. He certainly “reinvents” past hits with a competence and strategy that point to a seasoned understanding of the need to remain fresh and consistent in an industry of flops, favoritism and finances. Sure to add to his already mammoth popularity, Da Derrty Versions will satisfy those fans and newcomers with an ear for creativity and enough patience to wait for the next group of new hits coming this summer.

Contact Arienne Thompson at athomps1@nd.edu