In 2000, Nelly burst onto the scene with Country Grammer. Boosted by the success of its title track and the single Ride Wit Me in the charts, the album was an instant hit, debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and quickly climbing to No. 1. Nelly capitalized on the album’s success with its follow-up, Nellyville, which soared to No. 1 in the charts and produced the chart-topping hits Hot in Herre and Dilemma. After being billed as one of the biggest stars of the early 2000s, Nelly has continued his success with each subsequent album, and now ranks as the fourth best-selling rap artist in US music history. Here’s how we rank all the Nelly albums from worst to best.
For his sixth studio album, 5.0., Nelly invited a bunch of big names along for the ride, including Kelly Rowland, Keri Hilson, DJ Khaled, Baby, Sophie Greene, Ali, Plies, Chris Brown, T.I., Yo Gotti, T-Pain, Akon, Talib Kweli, Avery Storm, Murphy Lee, Dirty Money and Sean Paul. Unfortunately, even all that star power couldn’t elevate the album from mediocrity. Commercially, it was a success, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Top Rap Albums chart. But while the hooks are sticky, there’s nothing that would encourage you to hit the repeat button. Nelly seems short on ideas, low on inspiration, and out of the punchy rhymes that made his name. Despite its commercial success, it’s by far his least essential album.
If you like country rap, then take Heartland for a whirl. If you don’t, this isn’t the album to convince you of its merits. A slightly cynical attempt to cash in on the success of his appearance on the Florida Georgia Line mega-hit, Cruise (Remix), Heartland is a collection of songs that seem purpose-built to get Nelly as much crossover play as possible. There’s a big list of artists on hand to support, from Florida Georgia Line to Kane Brown and Jimmie Allan. The tracklist is pleasant enough, with the Tyler Hubbard duet Country Boy Do and the deeply mellow Someone Somewhere standing out as highlights. The problem is, in trying to make a record for everyone, Nelly has only succeeded in creating an identity-free album for no one in particular.
6. Brass Knuckles
Brass Knuckles was Nelly’s first album not to go Platinum. It’s not a bad album, but by 2008, Nelly’s market position was in decline. Despite a jaw-dropping list of famous assistants (Snoop Dogg, Fergie, Chuck D, Pharrell, Akon, LL Cool J, Ashanti, and Ciara all feature), this wasn’t the album to re-establish him as a contender. Hedonistic cuts like Party People showcase his skills to perfection, but there’s too much generic filler and pointless fluff to make the album work. For all that, it still managed a reasonable amount of chart success, peaking at No. 3 on the Billboard 200, No. 20 in the UK, and entering the top 40 in numerous other countries.
By 2013, Nelly’s star had fallen. He was still picking up airplay, but his days of being one of the biggest and brightest stars in hip hop were over. He needed to recapture the public’s attention, badly. M.O. wasn’t the album to do it with. Like most of Nelly’s albums, the guest list is impressive, with Nicki Minaj, Pharrell, Future, T.I., Daley, 2 Chainz, Trey Songz, Fabolous, Wiz Khalifa, Florida Georgia Line, Nelly Furtado and Yo Gotti all getting a mention. It opens brilliantly, with a stunning cameo from Nicki Minaj on the Pharrell track, Get like Me. But from there, it starts to go downhill. The songs aren’t necessarily bad, but neither are they particularly memorable. A serviceable record, but not an exciting one.
Sweat, Nelly’s third album, was released in September 2004 to critical and commercial acclaim. It’s crammed with uptempo, high-energy treats – the Neptunes-produced Flap Your Wings and the Christina Aguilera duet Tilt Ya Head Back are all highlights, while the appearance of Tim McGraw was surprising, but not unwelcome. As Rolling Stone said in their review, Nelly “mixes hip-hop energy and pop ebullience like it’s no sweat at all:” here, the payoff was a place at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and a Platinum-selling record.
Following hot on the heels of Sweat was Suit. Both albums were released on the same day, but stylistically, they couldn’t have been more different. Whereas Sweat is all bump and grind, Suit is a refined, seductive album with less energy and more melody. Like Sweat, it was a critical and commercial success, with All Music praising it as “well-done popcraft” and fans appreciating its maturity enough to take it to No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
2. Country Grammer
Described by Rolling Stone as the best thing to come out of St. Louis since Redd Foxx, Country Grammer was released in 2000 to widespread acclaim. Its titular track peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100 and No. 1 on Hot Rap Tracks, leading the way for the album to climb to No. 3 on the Billboard 200. In 2019, it became only the ninth rap album in history to be certified Diamond by the RIAA after selling over 10 million copies in the US.
Nellyville, Nelly’s second studio album, is where everything came together. Well calculated, expertly crafted, and packed with catchy rhymes, it took the early promise of Country Grammer, multiplied it by a hundred, and came up with one of the biggest hits of the early 2000s. Led by the success of the singles Hot in Herre and Dilemma, the album spent four weeks at No. 1, certified 6x Platinum, and, as of 2011, ranks as the 14th best-selling rap album of all time.