In the 1990s and early 2000s, there were three names that, above all, sold music to the masses in the rap game. Two of those names you know well: Eminem and Jay Z.
The third, however, may surprise you: Nelly. Yes, the “Country Grammar” rapper from St. Louis who often wore a band-aid below one of his eyes was money in the bank seemingly with every single and album he released into the world.
Here, we will highlight Nelly’s Top 10 songs of all time—some you likely know and some are a few deep cuts for your enjoyment.
So, without further ado, let’s dive in.
1. “Ride Wit Me”
Any popular rap song with an acoustic guitar gets a gold star. It also gets played about a billion times from coast to coast and beyond. If this song didn’t put Nelly on the map, it cemented his status as one of the most important rappers of his generation. It’s a perfect song. But you already likely know that—you’ve probably sung it in your car a hundred times.
2. “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)”
Another song that was in the air as much as oxygen at the height of Nelly’s fame, “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” was on the tips of our tongues and always on our lips. The perfect party song. Nelly’s skill was obvious but he also knew tricks to make him beloved, from doubling his vocals to using common nursery rhymes within his intricate verses. This is example No. 1.
3. “Luven Me”
Perhaps this song isn’t familiar to you. But it’s one of the most heartfelt and open songs Nelly ever put out. Any track that pays tribute to one’s mother is worth a mention on a top-10 list and this song fit that bill, for sure. It’s beautiful.
4. “Hot In Herre”
You know you’ve made it when words and phrases you create end up in the lexicon and It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes is right at the top of the list for early 2000s rap lyric quotes.
5. “St. Louie”
For anyone taking the highway through the American Midwest, this is the song you play when you begin to see the St. Louis skyline in your future. You can find me in St. Louie. It was a popular track, a popular refrain, and a song that honored where Nelly came from. He put the city on the rap map, which was no small feat.
6. “Thicky Thick Girl”
As sticky as the subject of the song is “thicky,” this track is an earworm. It’s a mellow Nelly song, somber almost. But the song gets the job done and the heart pumping. It walks the line between party track and baby making music. Let your lust show with this one.
Perhaps more than any of his hits or most popular songs, this track showcases just what makes Nelly special: an ability to turn even the simplest turn of phrase into a lyric that people sing from the rooftops with enough familiarity for you to send it a Christmas card.
8. “Air Force Ones”
Part-commercial, part-char-topper, this song brought back popular love for the classic Nike sneakers. Nelly is so good at what he does, he can make a song that seems like an ad into an important work of art in popular music.
9. “Over And Over” ft. Tim McGraw
In an age when most popular rap came from New York or Los Angeles, Nelly worked hard to put his native St. Louis, Missouri on the map. It took time but, of course, it paid off. And part of that work as a Southern M.C. means working with other country artists, like on this track featuring Tim McGraw. The song is honest and emotive—two signatures for Nelly.
10. “Dilemma” ft. Kelly Rowland
This smoothed out love song features Kelly Rowland from Destiny’s Child fame. It was also one of those songs that was ubiquitous on shows like MTV’s Total Request Live. It was popular from middle school dances to the radio waves in any number of city stations. It features Nelly’s honeysuckle rhymes and his car-on-the-highway flow.
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images