Saturday, September 21, 2002
Any other hour of the day the best song around for quite a while has most definitely been "Hot In Herre". As was thrillingly confirmed at a 21st birthday party a few weeks ago, and then at a uni ball, and then at a sleazy night club (and, really, anywhere I've been drinking and dancing these past months) there's precious few other pop songs that will actually make you run to the dancefloor when you hear it (that old warhorse "How Many Licks?" excepted). "Hot In Herre" is like that though, because its entire construction aims toward an idea of perfect ubiquity - the song that nobody can deny. The accusations of laurel-resting to all parties involved are partly justified, but I've never heard of a master craftsman who produced their best work on the run; the perfect product requires some level of consolidation and a lot of practice runs. Thus "Hot In Herre" is not one of those visionary next-step pop singles that blogs like mine usually rave about, but rather a grand summation of all that has been great in recent pop.

What I see in Nelly that attracts me is a distillation of some of the great things you find in other commercial rappers. Or maybe it's more a case of Nelly flaunting one major selling-point, which is coming up with great, funny and well-performed hooks; as this ability is rarely found in isolation Nelly's overwhelming focus throws it into sharp relief. You can't argue with lines like "good gracious/ass is bodacious" or "I think my butt gettin' big!", with ideas like Jedi Mind Control as killer chorus, with delivery so high-pitched and wavery with enthusiasm. Like Missy on her awesome new "Work It", Nelly piles quotable moments on top of eachother so thickly that the song loses any real sense of narrative or flow. It's real pop: inhaling and exhaling a succession of NOWs that make it seem potentially endless - there could easily be another verse, then another refrain, then another verse, then another refrain, etc. etc. Some DJs solve the problem by rewinding it and playing again. No-one ever seems to complain.

Nelly's only half of the story, of course. By now I should be ultra-sick of The Neptunes, particularly in their stock-standard churn-em-out guise, but their work on 'Hot In Herre' is for me up there with their best. Oddly understated, this is nonetheless slinkiest, most irresistible version of their formula future-pop. They succeed here by getting even more conventional: unlike, say, "Work It Out", there's very little of the fracturous falter-funk that is their sonic call-card; instead "Hot In Herre" is all smooth edges, its syncopated rhythm quivering delicately around the central bass-burps with a polite precision. Less self-consciously 'live'-sounding than 'Work It Out' or especially Justin Timberlake's (excellent) 'Like I Love You', 'Hot In Herre' is nonetheless The Neptunes' most band-like moment: tight, controlled, happy to be merely (merely!) the rhythm section for Nelly's attention-grabbing performance.

But if it's almost a negation of the producer-auteur paradigm, there is still something eerily sinister about The Neptunes' work here, a deceptive repose that reveals little but implies much; I keep waiting for the track to brock out and go mental, and the fact that it never does makes it even better. The closest it comes, after the glitzy intro, is during one of the last refrains, just before the three minute mark, when the beat drops out momentarily, and Nelly's voice keeps going unconcerned like a coyote running off a cliff, before the rhythm clicks back so naturally, so artfully, that it inspires as much dancefloor pandemonium as a full-on breakdown. For this, and so many other reasons, single of the year no question.


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