Nelly must feel pretty jealous right now. This was supposed to be his summer. In 2000, Nelly owned the summer with "Country Grammar," a song so catchy and insistent and ear-grabbing that it became a cultural touchstone, an omnipresent ambient hum, something utterly inescapable. If you left your apartment that summer, if you went out to the corner store to buy a half-gallon of milk, you probably heard the song three or four times before you got back home. And the thing was that you didn't mind. "Country Grammar" was the Summer Jam of 2000. And of course "Hot in Herre" was the Summer Jam of 2002, an even more ubiquitous blast of hot-weather hedonism. And it was even better. It was an instant floor-packer, a party anthem, and you'd grin when you heard it blasting out of every passing car. (If you didn't grin, if you scowled and grumbled and stared at your feet and thought that all these idiots would be better off listening to Interpol or the Notwist or something, you are a chump. Please stop reading now.)
So Nelly is the only guy to come up with two Summer Jams during the nascent decade. It would seem that every even-numbered summer would automatically belong to the dude with the Band-Aid and the breathless singsongy rap style. Nelly's new single, "Flap Your Wings," is just fine, a smooth, percolating burner with its own dance and everything. But "Flap Your Wings" does not own the summer of 2004. "Move Ya Body" does.
"Move Ya Body" is the rarest thing in the world: the left-field Summer Jam, the
song that came out of nowhere to dominate the radio. It's our introduction to
Nina Sky, the group made up of Nicole and Natalie Albino, two teenage identical-twin
sisters from New York. It may also be the last we hear of them. If it is, that'll
be a shame, but the Albino twins will already have something they can tell their
grandchildren about. They've made a perfect summer song.
"Move Ya Body" finds Nicole and Natalie singing, cooing really, over the popular dancehall rhythm called Coolie Dance, an instantly recognizable confection of handclaps and bongo drums. The invention of the Jamaican producer Cordell "Scatta" Burell, the Coolie Dance beat is incredibly catchy, but it's also extremely fast and nimble and unforgiving. A few other people (Elephant Man, Mr. Vegas, the Florida rapper Pitbull) have had minor hits with Coolie Dance tracks, but all of them have sounded frantic, adrenal, desperate to keep up with the beat's unrelenting tempo. But Nicole and Natalie flip it, make it their own. The twins have flat, unaffected singing styles and soft voices, and they don't attempt to bludgeon the track into submission. They simply stay on top of the beat and ride the wave. Nicole and Natalie have a smooth, easy self-assurance in their voices (one voice, really), and their lyrics are devoted entirely to telling girls that they look good and that they should keep dancing. Near the end of the song, they break into a surprisingly simple and gorgeous bridge (the "can you feel the beatů" part) worthy of the Go-Go's or young Janet Jackson. Random dancehall dude Jabba interjects a few exhortations over the beginning and end of the track, but the song belongs entirely to Nicole and Natalie. It's a smooth, easy, sexy, brash, insistent, infectious piece of pop. There's nothing disposable about "Move Ya Body." It's a masterpiece.
Of course, nothing on Nina Sky's self-titled rush job of an album comes close to equaling "Move Ya Body." Universal, the group's label, was probably ill-prepared for the success of "Move Ya Body," and Nina Sky has none of the advantages that record labels routinely grant proven hitmakers. The album has no guest appearances from superstar rappers or singers, no hot producers, nothing that reveals its release to be an event of any kind. The entire album was produced by DJ Cipha Sounds, a longtime hip-hop industry hanger-on who had exactly zero hits under his belt before discovering Nina Sky. There are a few notable tracks; "In a Dream" finds the twins harmonizing over an impressive pile-up of Timbaland-style oscillating synth blurts, and "Holla Back," the obvious choice for single number two, has Nicole and Natalie making like circa-1999 Destiny's Child backed by overdriven layered drums and pulsing synth stabs. But the album is weighed down by a surplus of cookie-cutter slow-jam ballads, most of which feature the flanged acoustic guitar and synthesized flutes currently dominating urban radio on songs like Usher's "Burn." The twins' simple, unpretentious voices are perfect for breezy, uptempo party jams, but they have none of the honeyed range of a Brandy or even a Tweet, and they sound flat and out-of-place on the ballads.
If Nina Sky doesn't yield at least one more moderately successful single, the group may fade from public consciousness, and Universal execs may stop taking their calls. That would be nothing short of tragic. The Albino sisters aren't yet of drinking age, but they've already made one indisputable pop classic. They've probably got at least a couple more in them. Hopefully we'll get a chance to find out.