Nelly is a critically acclaimed rapper from St Louis. He has released many chart topping hits including “Hot in Herre,” “Dilemma,” and “Over and Over.” He has six studio albums under his belt, with a seventh one expected to come out before the end of the year. For better or for worse, O.E.MO is Nelly’s first mixtape, produced by Derrty Entertainment.
Mixtapes have become a way for artists to stay relevant and popular in the eyes of their fans, while simultaneously exposing their material to a larger audience. Typically, an artist will release a mixtape before releasing a studio album to build hype for an upcoming album, or to give away music that otherwise wouldn’t have been released. For rap artists, the best mixtapes feature the artist in their purest form, when they are unconstrained, “raw”. An artist typically has more freedom, as there is no direct financial incentive.
Half of the songs on O.E.MO are original songs with original beats. Unfortunately, these are the songs that generally were the least interesting on the album. The production sounds dated; Nelly seems to be stuck in the southern rap drawl that popularized him in 2002. It is commendable whenever an artist decides to stay true to his or her form and style, but after ten years one would hope that the artist would have experimented and expanded their musical pallet. Nelly’s single for this mixtape is “Country Ass Nigga.” It could have been chosen at random, I saw no reason why this track should stand out from any of the others. In my humble opinion, T.I. has the best verse on the song.
The other half of O.E.MO features Nelly rapping over beats popularized by various artists from last year. This includes tracks like “Wild Boy,” “Pyro,” and “5 O’Clock.” In terms of his “remixes” I liked “The Motto” the best; it features Nelly doing a quick one-minute rap over T-Minus’ beat that was popularized by Drake. The recycled beats sounded the nicest: crisp, modern, and groovy.
For the most part though, the southern style hooks work for whatever it is Nelly seems to be going for. “Pimp C,” “How Do You Getcho Money,” “Hello Goodbye” are examples of this. The songs were decent but they were missing, for lack of a better word, energy. It just felt like Nelly and his associates were going through the motions they think their audience wants. I wasn’t inspired or excited after listening to any of the tracks. Most of the lyrics are characterless and generic sounding. None of the tracks dared to do anything different. The only exception to this is “Ghetto,” where Nelly and his group, St. Lunatics, rap about the struggles of inner city life.
Nelly has arrived late to a game that many other rap artists have been participating in for years. Maybe that’s why the mixtape does not sound like a mixtape. It sounds like an attempt at a studio album. None of the songs were particularly stimulating, and the best club songs were the songs where Nelly raps over someone else’s beats. I hope that Nelly has saved his best for last, and that his upcoming album will be full of either the bumping club songs that we know and love him for, or an attempt at delving into unfamiliar, new, and exhilarating territory. Either would be better than neither.