NEW YORK — Cornell “Nelly” Haynes has love for New York. His new Apple Bottoms line of clothes for women even has part of the city’s nickname in the title. But does NYC have love for Nelly?
During his last stop in the Tri-State area, Hot 97’s Summer Jam, the singing MC heard the boo birds before he could finish “Dilemma,” one of his biggest hits. On Friday night, Nelly returned to the Big Apple as part of his Up Close and Personal Tour , fully dusted off and ready to make everybody in Radio City Music Hall feel him.
After opener Calvin Richardson made the ladies scream with his crooning, surprise guests the Diplomats had almost everyone on their feet yelling “Dip Set, Dip Set!” Then the crowd had fun booing a few fans who were bold enough to get onstage and sing and dance at the encouragement of the night’s comedian host.
Nelly started his headlining set flanked by the St. Lunatics, kicking things off the way you would expect a New Edition concert to jump off, with each Lunatic lined up in a triangular formation. The only illumination on the darkened stage was from spotlights highlighting each rapper.
Fans cheered when the lights went off for a few seconds, and when the spotlights came back on, the Lunatics had changed places. The sonic thump of “Air Force Ones” started playing, and all the Lunatics progressed to bouncing and doing St. Louis’ now famed Mono dance.
The crew didn’t stay in R&B boy band formation for long, though. Some of the guys didn’t even stay on the stage during the song. Murphy Lee walked into the crowd, standing atop seats to rap his verse, while Ali and silent hype man Slo Down walked from the stage to stairs to small platforms leading to the first mezzanine seats.
To give fans a tangible taste of what his family was rapping about, Nelly threw both Air Force sneakers he had on his feet into the crowd as the song came to an end. With most of the crowd on its feet and cheering, it was obvious Nelly wouldn’t be hearing jeers on Friday as he stood in his socks.
While Nells got a fresh pair of kicks it was Murphy Lee’s turn to shine as he performed the first single from his September release, Murphy’s Law, “Wat Da Hook Gon Be.” He proclaimed in his rap that the Jermaine Dupri-produced cut is so hot it doesn’t need a chorus.
“Yo, what the hook gon’ be?” the Lunatics asked.
“I don’t need no f—in’ hook on this beat,” Murph hollered back. “All I need is the track and the background, my headphones loud.”
Murph then went back into the audience and was joined by Nelly for “Shake Your Tailfeather.” One young lady tried to grab Murph’s tail feather as he was balancing himself on a chair. The youngest St. Lunatic was too fast, however, and the girl only managed to get her acrylic nails on his basketball jersey. Lee quickly pulled it from her clutches and kept rapping.
“I’m not hard, I’ve got women to handle that/ They be like, ‘He the man,’ when I’m really a Thundercat/ Come on, you know the Tics connect like Voltron.”
Nelly and Murph spent almost half of their time living up to the show’s Up Close and Personal name, either spitting vocals atop chairs among their fans or standing inches away from the spectators’ outstretched arms by the first mezzanine.
During “Batter Up,” where the Tics changed up the beat and rapped over the instrumental to “Never Scared,” Nells even tried to walk into the mezzanine, but he was turned away by a house security guard. Meanwhile, Nelly’s own brawny security guards were having a hard time catching up with him every time he left the stage to touch his fans.
Those who couldn’t grab hold of Nelly were still able to audibly let him know they were feeling his music. Although he would fall back a little to let the Tics get their own moments with solo offerings, Nelly’s hits were the overwhelming highlights of the night.
Singing, rapping and clapping cascaded down on Radio City for “E.I.,” “Hot in Herre,” “Ride Wit Me” and “Pimp Juice,” but toward the end of the set Nelly got the loudest participation from his female fans. After finishing his verse from ‘NSYNC’s “Girlfriend,” Nelly said he would pick a lady from the crowd to be his main squeeze. There was just one catch — she didn’t have to look the best, have the longest hair weave or the shapeliest body; all she had to do was sing the loudest for the finale, “Dilemma.”
“No matter what I do, all I think about is you,” ladies passionately crooned as if they were actually Kelly Rowland herself. “Even when I’m with my boo/ Boy, you know I’m crazy over you.”
Nelly smiled at the reaction, but apparently the ladies didn’t sing loud enough. He didn’t choose a lady to be his wifey.