The Story of Pop: 2002 (Chapter 42)

It’s Thursday, it’s 9am, and time for us to take our weekly look back on the year in music that was 20 years ago, with The Story of Pop: 2002. This week: a superstar rapper and a girl group goddess team up for one of the year’s most iconic Transatlantic chart topper…

  • Artist: Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland
  • Song: Dilemma
  • Released: 14/10/2002
  • Writers / Producers: Nelly / Antoine “Bam” Macon / Ryan Bowser / Kenneth Gamble / Bunny Sigler
  • Highest UK Chart Position: #1
  • Weeks on Chart: 24

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, and born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr in 1974, Nelly had first emerged on both sides of the Atlantic in 2000 with his debut album Country Grammar. Selling over 10 million copies in the States, a number of its singles – including the title track and “Ride Wit Me” had hit the top 10 here in the UK and the US.

Come 2002, he was readying the release of his follow-up album, Nellyville, which was to consolidate his position within hip hop music and globally even further. First off the blocks from that album came The Neptunes produced “Hot In Herre”, a #4 hit here and a US Billboard chart topper in June, and which promptly gave red blooded alpha males everywhere the right to exercise the song’s clarion call of “It’s getting hot in here / So take off all your clothes” whilst whipping off their tops to display their pigeon chests in clubs for a solid six months after its release.

Fortunately, the success of that song was about to be usurped entirely by the album’s second single, and one which was significant in many ways. For it was to usher in the solo career of a member of a girl group who, up until this point, were the biggest in the world. After huge success with their chart topping third album Survivor, Destiny’s Child announced that they were taking a break to pursue solo projects.

Kelly Rowland was already recording her own solo album when the call came through from Nelly’s team for her to record guest vocals on “Dilemma”, after they had previously crossed paths on the MTV TRL tour the previous year and had got on well. It was Nelly’s sister who ultimately persuaded him to have her as the female vocal on the track.

A laid back, relaxed groove where Nelly finds himself falling for the purdy “chick who just moved right up the block from me … She got a man and a son though”, it sampled Patti LaBelle’s 1983 hit “Love, Need and Want You”, and a distinctive call and response chorus line of “No matter what I do / All I think about is you / Even when I’m with my boo / You know I’m crazy over you”.

It’s picket fenced video, in a typical American suburb, the kind of which only existed in 00s music videos, which also gifted the internet one of its more memorable memes (just why was he texting her via Microsoft Excel?) was never off the music channels either. When released on the Nellyville album in June, US radio immediately went crazy for the song, causing it to be rush released whilst “Hot In Herre” was still charting, whilst also having the dual effect of bringing forward Kelly Rowland’s own solo album release ahead of her bandmate Beyoncé Knowles‘ own solo album.

“Dilemma” was already sat atop the Billboard charts by the time it’s UK release came around in mid-October. The following Sunday, it landed at number one to give Nelly his first ever UK chart topper, and Kelly Rowland her third (if you include her two number ones with Destiny’s Child), selling a mightily impressive 208,000 copies in its first week – a tally that was one of the ten highest weekly sales of the year for a number one single.

It remained at the top for a second week – in the process seeing off the record we’ll be discussing next week – and by the end of the year it was the fourth biggest selling single of 2002. “Dilemma” worked on so many levels; it not only crossed over Nelly to a wider audience, who maybe weren’t as au fait with his more harder hip hop material.

But it also provided Kelly Rowland with the perfect springboard to start her solo career away from Destiny’s Child. In the year that followed, her debut solo album Simply Deep would go onto be a bestselling chart topper on both sides of the Atlantic, whilst she would also notch up more top 10 hits with “Stole” (#2, January 2003) and “Can’t Nobody” (#5, May 2003).

Quite in common with other big hits that emerged in the last quarter of the year – many of which we’ll be discussing over the coming weeks – it also marked that the sea change towards pop leaning more heavily into R&B and hip hop influences was ever growing. “Dilemma” undoubtedly rode the crest of that wave, and deservedly so.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new playlist on Spotify – updated weekly so you never miss a song from the story of pop in 2002. And you can leave your memories of the songs below in the comments, Tweet us or message us on Instagram, using the hashtag #StoryofPop2002.

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