Release date delays and hype that just doesn't pan out are nothing new or rare in the world of urban music, but Nelly's 2008 release could be the quintessential result. Fitting squarely in the middle of the "troubled album" spectrum, Brass Knuckles is neither a disaster nor a brilliant mistake. It's an album where the forgettable lows marginalize the towering highs, while the feeling that something is missing covers it all. Maybe it's Nelly's dream collaboration with Bruce Springsteen that never happened or the lack of any fresh, breakthrough number, but this parade of mostly unsurprising pop-rap tracks has no anchor. Still, there are plenty of winners, as the macho thug anthem "U Ain't Him" with Rick Ross kicks open the door with proper swagger. Snoop and Nate Dogg dominate with their G-funk memories on the very good "LA," while both the Akon vehicle "Body on Me" and the Jermaine Dupri production "Stepped on My J'Z" are great singles, polished to perfection with hooks that last. On the other hand, the single "Party People" with Fergie feels like a dull outtake from either of Nelly's 2004 albums Sweat or Suit, while the Neptunes production "Let It Go Lil' Mama" ruins its wicked beat with clichéd lyrics from both Nelly and Pharrell. While the LL Cool J and Chuck D appearances are worth hearing, they fail to pull the ambitious, loud, and cocksure Brass Knuckles out of its three-star, been there, done that rut.
David Jeffries, Rovi