There are at least thirty people within earshot of my desk, which happens to be in an open plan office that has no walls between computers. Lucky for them, because I took my headphones out today and jacked ‘Hot In Herre’ at full volume after lunch for absolutely no reason. Ok, I lie. It’s 41 degrees (106 Farenheit) in Sydney today, and a similar temperature across the country, and it’s like walking out into a different version of hell every time I want to get a coffee. Even the most crowded, sardine-esque room – like the one I found myself in for Hudson Mohawke last week – couldn’t compare to the blast of fire that we’re in right now. And sometimes, the only solution to a problem that can only be rectified by an ocean far away from your office is to crank tunes that acknowledge the inherent fallacy of somehow acknowledging that you are in a room which is hot and yet being completely unable to leave. Obviously nobody wants to deign Nelly with some inflated sense of higher order thinking, but St Louis’ biggest star of the new ‘mill-Nellyium’ certainly locked down a certain mood like very few others did in 2002. And he did it all with a stupid band-aid on his face, which must make him at least a Level Three deity.
It may be hard to remember, but a decade ago Nelly wiped his feet with the charts and spat the rest out of the window of his gold-plated Cadillac. The sing-song, sometimes-yelping rapper sold so many records and had such a steady sequence of hits that no other artist could touch him. ‘Hot In Herre’ was a huge deal when it came out; audiences couldn’t figure out if it was totally brilliant, utterly stupid or both. At a time in highschool when my brother and I were starting to properly research producers as well as the artists on a track, it became obvious that while Cornell’s (yep, that’s his real name) swagger sold this song, the real meat and potatoes came from The Neptunes. chad hugo and Pharrell were having their own blaze of glory at the time, taking their minimal space-synth approach and striking oil nearly every time they went drilling for beats. The sonic palate that popularised ‘Hot In Herre’ was also put to great use on Mystikal‘s ‘Shake Yo Ass’, *NSync’s Girlfriend and Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’, the latter of which came out in the same year. By keeping the template relatively light; a smattering of keys there, a smart bass lick there, The Neptunes opened up the floor for a talented personality (like Kelis on ‘Milkshake’, for instance) to come through and turn it into a smash. They provided 85% of the goods, and relied on the talent to bring the rest. More often than not, they exceeded the brief.
Nelly’s great talent to me, aside from his ability to shape-shift and become a balladeer/slick operator/gangsta at the drop of a hat, is his generality. You can vibe to ‘Hot In Herre’ even if you don’t know the words to the verse, but unlike many of his ilk, Nelly doesn’t go out of the way to make it difficult. In fact, lines like ‘I was like/Good gracious ass is bodacious’ and ‘I got a friend in a pole with a basement/I’m Just kidding like Jason/Unless you gon’ do it’ are deliberately ridiculous. You’re going to remember them because they will make you a hit at parties, the kind of party we all saw Nelly having a great time in for the video that accompanied this song. And yes, it’s highly unlikely that any of us can walk up to a beautiful woman, tell her the temperature and ask her to take her clothes off simply because it’s higher than normal this evening. But the world is full of dumb young men shooting for their dreams for our general enjoyment. It’s the basis of Judd Apatow’s entire career as a filmmaker. Party rap in the ’90s was about drugs, drink and gang violence. Always the smartest guy in the room, Nelly realised that innocent white kids in the suburbs wanted a jam too, but they didn’t necessarily want to shoot anyone. Thus we have a hit rap song which combines elements of white and black music, high and low culture, lofty and base aspirations, delivered in a voice that could be holding a tune but is probably just bleating at you. Sure, she might not actually take her clothes off over at the next desk, but at least we got a damn good tune out of it.
Nelly – ‘Hot In Herre’