On Monday, in one of those conversations that happens when you work on a holiday and have absolutely nothing to do, my co-workers and I started debating today the greatest hip-hop artist of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Now, this was a rich time in the world of pop/hip-hop, with T.I., Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, and Puff Daddy all making their debuts, and the debate got a bit heated. But in my mind, the mind of a white girl from a suburb that was so lacking in diversity that the only black kids in my school were the ones they bused in from the city, there was one artist who emerged from this time that was just light-years ahead of all of the rest. While you may now know him as the guy in the Cheerios commercial with the bee who is not Usher, there are those of us that consider the artist formerly known as Cornell Iral Haynes, Jr. to be one of the greatest lyrical minds of our time. That’s right, my friends, I am talking about Nelly.
You’re probably like, “What? Nelly. No way.” But you can’t fight the numbers, and as of June 2014, Nelly has sold a total of 21,815,000 albums, which makes him the fourth best-selling rap artist in the U.S. – ever. Of course, that factoid was documented before his 2015 arrest for felony possession of drugs, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia… and the revelation in 2016 that he owed over $2,000,000 in back taxes, but that’s neither here nor there. His legal issues don’t dull this bright, shining star. So let’s put a Band-Aid on our faces for no reason and take a look back at some of Nelly’s greatest hits.
“Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” (2000 – from “Country Grammar”)
If you don’t sing this every time you see a Range Rover, you aren’t doing life right. The first, and if you ask me, the best Nelly song. It’s got to be hard to come so strong out of the gate and try to follow it up with hits, but the original St. Lunatic was more than capable as the rest of this list demonstrates. P.S. I appreciate Nelly repping the Lou with his clothes in the video, but what are the odds he’s ever been to a St. Louis Blues game? Literally no one goes to Blues games.
“E.I.” (2000 – from “Country Grammar”)
I didn’t know this was a song about oral sex until I googled the meaning of “E.I.” about 10 minutes ago. Feeling a little embarrassed about the number of times I’ve sung this song in public right about now. Moving on.
“Where the Party At” (Jagged Edge featuring Nelly) (2001 from Jagged Edge’s “Jagged Little Thrill”)
This one is actually a Jagged Edge song featuring Nelly, but A.) it’s amazing and B.) we all know Nelly totes stole the show here.
“Ride wit Me”(featuring City Spud) (2001 – from “Country Grammar”)
So many flip phones happening in this video. And a bunch of girls in the back of a tracker trailer actually screams sex trafficking ring, but the times where different back in 2001. Must be the money.
“Hot in Herre” (2002 – from “Nellyville”)
Normally, I am hugely annoyed by the intentional misspelling of words, but I can overlook it for this ode to taking off your clothes. I mean, the man rhymes gracious and bodacious, which is probably the reason this jam won Nelly the 2003 Grammy for Best Male Rap Solo Performance as well as scored him his first number one hit.
“Dilemma” (featuring Kelly Rowland) (2002 – from “Nellyville”)
Nelly’s next song was also his next number one hit. This time, he got a little bit of help from a member of Destiny’s Child (not Beyoncé, the other one). It also got him another Grammy, this time for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Seriously, who the hell knew Nelly won two Grammys?
“Air Force Ones” (featuring Kyjuan, Murphy Lee and Ali) (2002 – from “Nellyville”)
You’ve got love a guy who is totally unashamed to pimp himself out to sponsors, which is exactly what this ode to Nike’s classic basketball shoe is. Hate if you want, but the song gave Nelly his third top five hit off “Nellyville” and deal with Nike for his own limited-edition shoe.
“Shake Ya Tailfeather” (with P. Diddy and Murphy Lee)(2003 – from “Bad Boys II Soundtrack”)
The best song from the soundtrack of one of the best movies ever made? Sold. Although I could have done without the first minute and half of the video.
“Over and Over” (featuring Tim McGraw) (2004 from “Suit”)
I have no idea how this song came about. Do Nelly and Tim McGraw even know each other in real life? Apparently so, because they actually wrote the song together, but honestly, who even cares how it happened? This unappreciated gem is the perfect combo of hip-hop and country, right down to the video.
“Just a Dream” (2010 from “5.0”)
Yes, Nelly made music between 2004 and 2010, but nothing of any note. Yet he burst back onto the scene with this triple-platinum slow jam that was covered in Pitch Perfect.
“Cruise” (Remix) (Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly) (2013 from Florida Georgia Line’s “Here’s to the Good Times”)
Nelly probably figured another country collab’ was the way back to prominence, and he was right…for the few weeks this song dominated the airwaves, until it disappeared.
Of course, Nelly certainly has more than these eleven songs, but honestly, as a seasoned Nelly connoisseur, I can tell you that these are his best jams. So go ahead, and shimmy shimmy cocoa what? Listen to it pound.
Check out “The Essential Nelly Playlist” on our playlists page!