There are meetings between genres where creative sparks fly and new hybrid forms can be glimpsed, like undreamed-of particles in a supercollider. There are also meetings between genres which feel more like high level EU summits – whatever happens behind closed doors, the eventual communiqué is a document of pluperfect blandness. Guess which one Nelly ft Tim McGraw is!

Outside the US, McGraw’s legacy probably rests on a Taylor Swift namecheck: within the world of country music, he was a seriously big deal at this point, half of a Nashville power couple with Faith Hill and the writer of some of the top country songs of the late 90s, none of which I’d heard of before I started writing this. Which illustrates how much mainstream country simply didn’t travel – there’s no other English-language genre I’d have been so ignorant of – and underlines how weird it is that Tim McGraw has a Number 1 hit.

It’s an artefact, of course, of Nelly’s top-class marketing team and their negotiation of the release schedule to nab a second No.1 from Sweat/Suit. Like “My Place”, it’s an exploration of Nelly’s sensitive side, and his role as singer rather than rapper – his cadences shift to a leisurely flow on the verses, but the division of labour here is more complicated than the already-traditional rapper and hook singer. Nelly and Tim finish each other’s lines on the chorus, mirroring the effect of the split-screen video which presents the two going about their suddenly lonely parallel lives after getting ditched, brothers in wealth and misery.

Elsewhere McGraw gets a line or two, but mostly this is Nelly’s show, over a looped guitar lick and inobtrusive backbeat. The chorus and video make the essential point, though, offering the song’s answer to this duet’s implied question: what is the common ground between country and rap? In this case, wounded masculinity. Two sensitive, hurt, manly men articulating their identical pain but never touching: this is a duet, but in no way a dialogue.

A dialogue might have been more interesting. Anything might have been more interesting. “Over And Over” captures the miserable drag of the days after a relationship ends with too-dreary accuracy. It lives up to its title, returning continually to its one middling hook, wasting McGraw’s rich voice and Nelly’s charisma. Both men give polished, uninspiring performances and the track leaves no impression beyond an evanescent sense that an opportunity might, somewhere, somehow, have been missed.

What that opportunity might be is open to question. “Over And Over” is far from the first attempt to create a space where rap and country music can meet, and it won’t be the last. Some encounters are much more successful than this – eventually we’ll meet one – but as far as I’m aware most remain one-offs.

Still, the thought persists that something valuable must emerge when two such mighty American musics come together. Perhaps it’s also just that the opposite idea – that absorbing and drawing on hip-hop is a step too far for modern country – has implications that play into broader polarisations. But in this case the result feels more like a cross-brand promotion than music with any reason to exist.

(This entry is an example of where a gap between Patreon and site posting changed the context a bit – obviously since me writing this in November, the release of Cowboy Carter has shifted the conversation on the relationship between Black American music and country. I’ve not altered the entry, though, as that record has produced a later #1 and the questions and answers it creates are very different to the ones from this half-arsed collaboration)

Score: 4

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