Throughout the early 2000’s, Nelly was a force to be reckoned with. He churned out hit after hit, produced a series of multiplatinum albums, and was considered one of the most successful artists of the decade in many circles. These successes only make the St. Louis rapper’s new album, M.O., all the more disappointing. Despite—or perhaps because of—the litany of famous guests, the album feels hollow and uninspired. He leans heavily on the his impressive rolodex of big guests, but too many don’t deliver.
Nicki Minaj sounds lost on the bouncy opener “Get Like Me,” repeatedly rhyming the same words as she works to uplift Pharrell’s repetitive chorus and production. Worse yet is the appearance by country duo Florida-Georgia Line. The oddball chemistry that worked so well on this summer’s hit “Cruise (Remix)” is absent on “Walk Away,” a mid-tempo snoozer suffering from tepid delivery. The person who seems most lost on the record, however, is Nelly himself. On one hand, he dials up the pop factor in a major way with songs like “Heaven” and lead single “Hey Porsche” in what feels like a bid for radio play. On the other, he seems to be playing some sort of paint-by-numbers catch-up to today’s rap game. 2 Chainz feature? Check. Punch line about Manti Te’o? Check. Lame molly reference? Check. (Side note: “Maryland, Massachusetts?” Really?)
The end result is an album that feels like it’s trying too hard to be relevant. Classic Nelly bangers in the vein of “Hot In Here” or “Country Grammar” are few and far between. Instead, M.O. opts for dated cuts like the disco-tinged “Rick James,” a pop culture reference that might have fit better a decade ago on Nellyville. Even his attempts at more rhythmic sounds, like on the Daley-featuring “Heaven,” are awkward. “Never hate the ladies who make the babies/Girl you can be anything you want,” he sings. This, from the man who once brought us “Tip Drill?”
Fortunately, not everything falls flat. “Give U Dat,” an R&B collaboration with Future, compliments Nelly’s softer sensibilities. Elsewhere, the aforementioned 2 Chainz cameo on “100K” actually serves as one of the disc’s hardest-hitting moments. The pair flow well over the operatic production, adding drama and street appeal to an album in need of both. Its moments like these where the skills that once made Nelly one of the most popular artists in America shine through.
However, for every effective song or collaboration, there’s another that is equally as disappointing. “All Around the World” with Trey Songz is as throwaway as they come, and the half-baked Nelly Furtado collaboration “Headphones” seems to merely be album filler. It’s difficult to find a song without a feature, as artists from T.I. to Wiz Khalifa to Yo Gotti register guest appearances. Nelly gets lost in the shuffle, and most of the collaborations don’t ignite.
In the end, M.O. simply fails to excite or innovate. It’s a serviceable enough album, one that may have been good if it had been released in 2004. However, not only does it not break new ground, but it has a pervasive sense of playing catch-up. It’s as if Nelly knows he’s lost the public’s ear and is trying desperately to get it back. Unfortunately for him the album fails to do so, and M.O. remains a disappointment for a rapper who was once among the most recognizable entities in hip-hop. –Chris Mench