Now Hear This

Article excerpt

A weekly trip through the new release aisle of your local music store.

NELLY

Country Grammar

(Universal Records)

For most of rap's short history, attention has focused on the great East Coast-West Coast battle, the sometimes violent tale of whether New York or Los Angeles is the dominant force. Cornell Haynes Jr. desperately wants to change all that.

Now, rapping under the name Nelly, the St. Louis-based Mr. Haynes tries to carve out a distinctive sound for flyover country. It's an odd blend of the languid beat of the West Coast and the propulsive vocal rhythms of Jamaican toasting.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.

Nelly has a solid voice and can occasionally kick out a jam that sticks in your head - the title song and "Thicky Thick Girl" could be radio hits if mixed to avoid the obligatory coarse language. But Nelly's beats are strangely mechanical and sterile, excessively computerized perhaps. His distinctive voice also gets lost in a forest of overproduction. Pile onto that tiresome cliches about easy sex and expensive cars, and this album shows that the St. Louis sound still needs a little time to mature. - Sean Scully

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: The Album

(Buena Vista Records)

The board game, CD-ROM and water-cooler Regis imitations we can accept. But "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: The Album" is plain ridiculous.

Don't get me wrong. You won't find a bigger fan of the prime-time game show. But I can do without a playlist of songs picked only for their reference to money ("For the Love of Money" by the O'Jays) or some facet of the show (Blondie's "Call Me," as in the phone-a-friend lifeline).

The hidden gem for those who desire all things Regis Philbin is a rare 1968 recording of "Pennies From Heaven" by the Reege himself.

What's utterly laughable is the original first track, "I Want to Be a Millionaire," in which artists Jack & Jemma sing a poppy tribute to our materialistic society.

"Yo Regis, my answer is D. Final answer," says a young man (Jack?) at the song's start. Soon we hear the voice of a young woman (that must be Jemma): "I want to be a millionaire, so I can buy anything and never work another day."

It sounds awfully similar to that Barbie song that had youngsters clamoring a few years back. …