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Listeners inclined to dismiss Nelly as the MC Hammer of the 21st century should feel free to do so, since, basically, that's what he is. But as a cheerful populist who aspires to nothing more (and nothing less) than entertaining every animal, vegetable and mineral on the planet, he can be a lot of fun to have around. The key to enjoying his pair of new CDs is to squelch every critical impulse and check your brain at the door.

Because the Nellster isn't anyone's idea of a deep thinker, Sweat, which focuses on party tunes, has a built-in advantage over Suit, a more introspective effort that bubbles with faux sensitivity. Sweat's opener, "Heart of a Champion," begins the disc on a zany note, thanks to Nelly's decision to sample the NBA-on-NBC theme music, written by rap icon John Tesh. As for "Flap Your Wings," it takes off as a result of a "Hot in Herre" groove and lyrics that counsel gals from the suburbs and the ghetto alike to "drop down and get your eagle on." Christina Aguilera more or less follows this advice during "Tilt Ya Head Back," a "Superfly"-fueled stomper that's the finest tune to which she has ever, or will ever, contribute. It's all downhill from here.

The only people for whom Suit will prove as instantly satisfying are fans of Spandau Ballet's "True," which forms the backbone of the goopy "In Dey Say." Still, Nelly's moxie keeps this platter afloat, too. He's the Julio Iglesias of hip-hop, willing to vocalize with any partner, be it Snoop Dogg and Ron Isley on "She Don't Know My Name" or C&W star Tim McGraw, who serves as a hayseed Dido throughout "Over and Over."

This last decision won't do much for Nelly's street cred, but if he's not worried about it, why should we be? His main concern should be putting the profits from these recordings in a safe place so he'll avoid having to appear on The Surreal Life circa 2019. That's when being the new Hammer loses its thrill.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts