PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANGELA BOATWRIGHT
It’s been 10 years since the Show Me State shared Nelly with the rest of the world, forever changing the face of hip-hop with the release of his debut, Country Grammar. With the title-track becoming the summer anthem of 2000, it was the beginnings of Derrty’s lasting imprint on the game.
We’re not just talking about the oversized jerseys or the Band-aids the now 36-year-old STL native used to wear on his face. It’s the introduction of the Midwest twang, and the softer, more sing-songy pop formula that ruled the airwaves for years to come that lingers in our minds. Plus, with over 21 million units sold, three Grammy’s, and a top-selling clothing brand, it’s hard to deny that despite the current disruption of the holy trinity of “Em’, Pimp Juice and Us [Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella],” Nelly’s still spent more time on top of the game than any other rapper who’s debuted in the last decade.
To top it off, he’s done it all while remaining the genuine, easy-going, humble character that he’s always been. Well, not counting the backlash he might have received for certain songs and an unintentional beef with a hip-hop legend. On the eve of the release of Nelly’s fifth studio LP, 5.0, Nelly took the time to reflect on the making of some of his biggest hits throughout his stellar career. In case you need a reminder.
After penning a deal with Universal Music in 1999, Nelly burst onto the scene in 2000 with this sweet-sounding summer anthem; the first of many hits for the STL representative. His debut album of the same title sold more than 10 million copies and spawned other hits like “E.I.” and “Ride With Me,” proving that he was no one-hit wonder and etching out a path to the top of the game. However, it was also the song that almost never happened.
“It was a beat that I had got from one of our producers at the time JE. I loved the beat but I don’t think everybody in the group was as excited about the beat as I was. So I took it to one of the most historic clubs in [East] St. Louis. It was called Club Casino. I took it over there the same night and we had a DJ that had been supporting us previously up to that point and his name was DJ 618. He put it on right away and from that moment, you know what I’m saying, people was like, “Boom, boom, boom” and the shit just blew up from there, you know.”
In 2001, Nelly jumped on the soundtrack for the film Training Day with his hit #1, a response to people who were hating on his unconventional flow. Somehow wires got crossed and KRS-One, who had taken claim to the title of No. 1 over a decade earlier, put out a call to boycott his upcoming album, Nellyville. Nelly, however, maintains that the song was a fed-up response to critics and not a direct insult to anyone in particular.
“Your music reflects a lot of how you feel on certain things. Having the type a success that I was having and all a that you still find that there’s people that basically still try to shit on you anyway you try to look at it so… and it just got to a point where you were just like, Man, regardless or whatever the fuck y’all saying, I’m still No. 1 right now and that’s kinda like how we felt… I’m winning and niggas is pissin’ and shittin’ on me and I’m feelin’ like, ‘C’mon, man, like my city, let us get our shine… Why can’t we have ours, everybody else get theirs, why we can’t have ours.’ You know, so at that time I didn’t give a fuck whoever said something, I felt like I was pissed off about it but the whole thing with Kris [KRS-One], was nothing. Why would I pick him of all people to come out the blue at, at the time? …I took a lot shit personal that I found out you shouldn’t take personal ’cause that’s just the nature of the world, not even the business.”