With his 2000 debut album, Country Grammar, St. Louis rapper Nelly not only redefined what it meant to be a midwestern hip-hop artist, he proudly put on for his city while elevating the culture. Nelly has a robust and diverse discography: The band-aid clad rapper is just as comfortable concocting raunchy club anthems (‘Hot in Herre”) as he is cranking out captivating slow jams (‘Dilemma”). He boasts an impressive career, countless No.1 singles and an immeasurable impact on hip-hop. These are the best Nelly songs.
Nelly, The Chart Topper
Nelly’s arsenal of hits is undeniable. The rapper has had a slew of hits top the Billboard charts, sold over 20 million records and won three Grammy awards along the way.
Nelly’s debut single was one of gargantuan proportions. 2000’s ‘Country Grammar” unexpectedly transformed a children’s rhyme – ‘Down, Down Baby” – into one of hip-hop’s most memorable choruses. This track redefined midwestern rap and introduced the world to an artist determined to shift the culture.
Hot in Herre
Nelly’s first No.1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 is one of his most acclaimed. ‘Hot in Herre,” produced by The Neptunes, is a quintessential party anthem that masterfully interpolates Chuck Brown’s ‘Bustin’ Loose” with Nelly’s signature and syrupy drawl. His unforgettable opening line: “I was like/Good gracious, ass is bodacious” served as a jaunty prelude to a story about a raucous – but fun – evening.
‘E.I.” captures the essence of Nelly. His energetic flow – especially on its playful chorus (“Andele, andele, mami/ E.I. E.I./Uh-oh/What’s poppin’ tonight?”) – is downright infectious. Nelly is at his best when things are light and frothy, and this track is a perfect example.
Nelly, The Sh_t Talker
Few rappers talk sh_t as well as Nelly. Whether he’s touting his lyrical prowess, seducing a woman or simply showing off how successful he is, Nelly oozes confidence.
Nelly tried his hand at sonic sultriness on 2002’s “Pimp Juice.” Although some baulked at its lyrical content, Nelly simply leaned into one of the most notorious caricatures in the history of rap. On it, Nelly insisted that everything from his shoes (“anything from Timberland to Gators”) to his ride (“that seventy-four Coupe Deville”) made him irresistible to the opposite sex. (It also inspired an energy drink of the same name.)
‘#1” appeared in the 2001 film Training Day as well as Nelly’s sophomore album Nellyville. It’s unfiltered braggadocio at its finest. A chorus full of quips declaring the rapper’s innate superiority is both effective and insanely catchy. It went on to peak at No.20 on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart.
As you might expect from the title, ‘Batter Up” has plenty of baseball metaphors. The song focuses on Nelly’s climb (along with his group St Lunatics) to the top, with a lyric about the crew making it to the “big leagues”. But the real marker of success here is getting the one and only Sherman Hemsley to appear in the music video. The ultimate cosign.
Nelly, The Lothario
Most of Nelly’s catalogue switches between hypermasculinity and feel good tracks, but there’s a rich trove of tunes that have him tapping into different emotions. Whether it’s notable collaborations with R&B personalities or bellowing on a track solo, Nelly has made a habit out of using his sensuality to keep fans on their toes.
‘Dilemma” is more R&B ballad than straightforward hip-hop joint. But it remains one of Nelly’s (and Kelly Rowland’s) biggest hits. The collaboration sampled Patti LaBelle’s ‘Love, Need and Want You,” and revealed both Nelly’s vocal (and emotional) versatility.
The only thing smoother than Nelly’s whispery chants on ‘My Place” are Jaheim’s rich and sensual vocals. The lead single from 2004’s Suit boldly samples Teddy Pendergrass’ ‘Come Go With Me” for its chorus. They pull it off, though: Nelly and Jaheim are a formidable pair with undeniable chemistry and melodic fluidity.
Although this song was only released as a bonus track on Nelly’s fifth studio album, Brass Knuckles, it still remains one of his most endearing songs. Sampling the piano line from K-Ci & JoJo’s ‘All My Life” proved fruitful for the rapper; he layered it with an unceasing chorus in which he attempts to holler at a potential muse. Nelly’s brand of romanticism has always been rooted in persuasion.
One & Only
‘One & Only” pays homage to synthy 80s lovesick ballads with Nelly’s trademark flare. The track is one of his more expressive moments. You won’t hear more Nelly more tender than when he’s pleading and insistent about both giving and receiving love.
Nelly, The Fashion Renegade
Nelly’s personal style – which included the infamous band-aid, du-rags, oversized chains and sports jerseys – is iconic. It’s clear that fashion has always been a huge priority.
Air Force Ones
‘Air Force Ones” is a perfectly penned ode to the classic Nike sneaker. Alongside Ali, Murphy Lee, and Kyjuan, the rappers trade boasts about the colors and designs of the shoes they’re buying, and how it nearly feels like a sanctimonious act. A thunderous beat brings home the feel of Nelly “stomping in [his] Air Force Ones”.
Nelly’s jewel-encrusted mouthpieces take front and centre on the aptly titled ‘Grillz.” Having a grill is practically considered a rite of passage in hip hop, but Nelly took the tradition to new heights with this No.1 single. You can practically hear how proud he is as he described one of his favorites: “I got a grill they call penny candy, you know what that means/It look like Now and Laters, gum drops, jelly beans”.
Stepped on My J’z
Alongside Ciara and Jermaine Dupri, ‘Stepped on My J’z” shows Nelly narrating the aftermath of having his Air Jordans sullied. The theatrics only heighten the energy of the track. As Nelly and Dupri exchange bars about their sneaker obsession, Ciara sleekly reminds everyone listening that women partake in the culture as well.
Nelly, The Experimental Crooner
One of Nelly’s most admirable musical traits is his willingness to explore. Although he initially came on the scene as a hip-hop artist, he quickly made his interest in other genres clear. Whether it’s pop, country, or rap, Nelly’s sonic malleability hasn’t just translated to immense album sales – it’s also inspired the next generation to be more adventurous.
Ride Wit Me
One of Nelly’s most successful songs is a complex anthem that manages to oscillate between pop, country, and hip-hop. Its enticing guitar intro, mellifluous soundscapes, and soft cadences are simple, and that’s the point. The song is ultimately a showcase for Nelly’s dynamism. ‘Ride Wit Me” paved the way for rappers looking to widen their sound.
Over & Over
The second single from 2004’s Suit featured a memorable cameo from country superstar Tim McGraw, with both wallowing in the pain of potentially losing a lover. Although McGraw says he never considered ‘Over & Over” a country song, the track nonetheless pushed the boundaries of both genres. ‘Over & Over” is a prime example of when worlds successfully collide.
Just a Dream
‘Just a Dream” showcases Nelly’s savvy pop inclinations, but it also demonstrates his lyrical and emotional maturity. It’s hard to imagine early career Nelly rapping about losing the love of his life, let alone pensively evaluating the role he may have played in what happened.
On M.O.’s lead single, Nelly went full-on pop star. It was a risky move for the artist. Although he’s ventured in genre-bending before, this particular song is bolder in its radio sheen. ‘Hey Porsche,” in all its synthesized glory, reaffirms the rapper’s confidence and devotion to crafting inescapable mainstream anthems.
Nelly, The Party Starter
If you were in a hip-hop club in the 2000s, chances are you heard a Nelly song (or two). Transforming risqué dance moves into cultural trends is no easy feat, but Nelly makes it look easy.
Shake Ya Tailfeather
There’s nothing quite like club staple ‘Shake Ya Tailfeather.” It’s one of the most infamous songs from 2003’s Bad Boys II soundtrack, and it’s also got one of Nelly’s most quoted lines. (“Is that your ass or your mama half reindeer?”)
Flap Your Wings
“Drop down and get your eagle on!” That’s the infamous dancefloor command from ‘Flap Your Wings,” but it would have little power if it weren’t backed up by a typically simple, typically excellent Neptunes production. The Neptunes’ spare, tribal beats are the perfect backdrop for Nelly’s lighthearted, melodic flow.
This Fergie assisted track was featured on the deluxe version of her debut record, The Dutchess, as well as Nelly’s fifth studio album Brass Knuckles. It’s unapologetically loud and boisterous. Its monstrous beat is the perfect backdrop for Nelly’s strident and blustery yells. On ‘Party People,” hedonism reigns supreme as the pair insist that their version of clubbing is paramount.
Think we’ve missed one of the best Nelly songs? Let us know in the comments section below.