Brass Knuckles is Nelly's Thriller. Seriously. Brass Knuckles is not a perfect album, but neither was Thriller. It jumped styles and was not particularly cohesive; similarly, Nelly's fifth CD skips haphazardly from dirty South jams ("Hold Up," featuring T.I.) to G-funk throwbacks ("L.A.," featuring Doggs Snoop and Nate) to would-be empowerment anthems ("Self Esteem," featuring Chuck D). It's more a collection of singles than an actual album. But what singles! There's not really a clunker here (so long as you can stomach Fergie), and every track feels inspired. It explodes out of the gate with the Rick Ross-assisted banger "U Ain't Him," and features, as every Nelly album does, satisfying ballads, particularly "One & Only" and "Lie." The recent slag on Nelly is that he sounds too much like his earlier — more embarrassing — era. But barely anything here sounds like the panty-evaporating, slurring Nelly of old. (Exceptions include single "Body on Me" and "Stepped on My J'z," a song about shoes that white people probably won't relate to.) Brass Knuckles shows an artist who, having been deemed irrelevant, has come back hungry, using every name in his Rolodex and teaching himself some new tricks.


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