Rooted Rap Album Reviews: Nelly's Country Grammar



Do you remember the novelty of purchasing a CD in the store? Not downloading it, even if you did pay for it (sucker). No, I’m talking about the discipline of saving your allowance and the elation of tearing open that finicky thin plastic wrapping.

To this day, I still remember the first rap album I ever purchased in a store. Well, technically first two albums. I remember it so vividly because it may have well been my peak. I hit up my local Media Play (hell of an establishment) and FYE (another gem) in the same day — the latter outlet of which arguably changed my life.

The albums I’m talking about are Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise and the one I want to break down for you today: Nelly’s Country Grammar. 

To begin, Country Grammar became the first bit of music I ever indulged that my mom completely ignored the Parental Advisory sticker on. See, Beth was a fan of edited versions because it omitted the ‘f-word’ (among many others). I mean, little did she know that I heard it every day at school, in any movie I was watching, or even around the house from my family. But bless her heart for trying to shield me from it in the music.

Regardless, Country Grammar was different for reasons unexplained. She knew I loved the music. I’m not sure she ever knew why, or how, or where the hell the love came from. But with Nelly, she definitely saw it was there.

So it’s the year 2000, and I’m 10 (now you get the Parental Advisory thing). I’m from the suburbs, and I really like rap music — specifically, I love the rap music I hear on the radio. The club anthems and “bangers” you hear every day on Power 101. Nelly. Diddy. Murphy Lee.

“Mmmm you can find me in St. Louie, where the gunplay ring all day, some got jobs and some sell yay’, others just smoke and fuck all day.”

I’ll never forget that intro. The sound of a car’s ignition, the phone ringing, a jilted Cedric the Entertainer attempting to do business with Nelly, who is seemingly ducking his calls. What ensues is St. Louie — an anthem for an entire city.

Understand one thing about Nelly and Country Grammar, specifically. Nelly put an entire city on the map with his debut album. It became the mating call for anyone from ‘The STL.’

Its music videos featured black dudes in baseball jerseys and hockey hats. Its swagger initiated the backward football jersey trend in hip-hop, and who can forget the lasting image of a band-aid on the cheek?

Perhaps no city in this country has naturally meshed its music culture with the sports teams that it shares a community with. Nelly was to the Cardinals jersey what Jay Z was to the Yankees hat.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s a comparison that didn’t dawn on me until well later on in life. Initially, I vividly remember how different this album sounded from anything else I had listened to. Was it appropriate for my age? Doubtful. Did that really matter? Hell no.

Gliding through the album, certain moments resonated with me on a level I couldn’t really explain to anyone at the time; except for my 14-year-old cousin Mitch. That dude is the fucking guy who taught me all about rap music, Halo, and women back in the day.

Mitch and I wore that unedited CD out. From the in-your-face St. Louie intro to monumental hits of “Country Grammar,” “Ride Wit Me,” “E.I.,” and “Batter Up;” my mind damn near hit capacity every time.

Reliving those experiences over my speakers as I write this this evening, the feelings haven’t changed all too much. Sure I’m older. Much older at that, and Nelly has all but faded into the hip hop abyss. But listening today and having more appreciation for music as a whole, that St. Louis sound is still something special. Its influence in music today has no bounds.

Catapult back to today. I recently read this in an article on The Fader about the hottest producer in the game right now:

Metro was a 7-year-old kid in St. Louis, Missouri, when Country Grammar, the blockbuster debut from hometown hero Nelly, dropped. From his mother’s collection, he’d heard everything from MC Lyte and Ice Cube to Yo Yo Ma and Faith Hill. But he fell in love with Nelly, and that’s when he decided he wanted to make rap music. He also wanted his mother to take him seriously. So he picked a different job title, one that sounded to him more respectable. He told her he wanted to be a producer.

That’s right. There’s no Metro Boomin today without Country Grammar. Go ahead and let that settle in for a moment and then understand Metro Boomin has been one of the most influential producers in the careers of rap giants like Future, Young Thug, and Drake.

Making a throwback playlist for any party starts with Country Grammar. Nelly’s VH1 “Behind The Music” was one of the best editions the series produced, and while his bravado may have faded – the lasting impact of this album has not.

Country Grammar launched hip hop music into the new millennium and single-handedly put an entire city on the map. It taught young suburban kids everywhere what an ‘L’ was, and bridged the gap between a mother’s view of what’s parentally acceptable and simply what her child loves.

Decent resume for a supposed one-hit wonder.