Nelly Interview

Next Project:Brass Knuckles (9/16)
Twitter:Nelly on Twitter
Website:Nelly's Website

Not many musicians can say that they’ve sold millions and millions of albums.  Though today’s music industry faces an ever-changing economic climate and a push towards digital sales, it’s simply never been an easy feat.  However, despite the many challenges, there are a handful of rappers who’ve placed on the RIAA’s upper-echelon list of Top Selling Artists of All-Time.  Representing hip hop music are (in order): 2Pac, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Outkast.

So, who rounds out the top five?  St. Louis, Missouri’s very own Nelly.  On a musical hiatus since the release of his last album-set, Sweat/Suit, the trendsetting Midwesterner’s four studio releases have sold over 30 million albums worldwide.  On September 16, he’s looking to add to that total with the long-delayed release of Brass Knuckles.  Led by the Fergie-assisted lead single, “Party People,” the album has also spawned the singles “Stepped On My J’z” and “Body On Me.”

In an exclusive interview with DJBooth’s DJZ,” Nelly steps inside the booth to talk about why the new album was delayed several times, how he snagged Public Enemy’s Chuck D for the song “Self Esteem,” what the future of St. Louis hip-hop looks like, and where he would place on Forbes new Hip-Hop Cash Kings list… if he were to disclose that type of information.

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Nelly Interview Transcription

DJ Booth:  What’s goin’ on, everybody?  It’s your boy, ‘Z,’ doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is one of my neighbors to the left.  Reppin’ the STL and gearin’ up to bash eardrums with his brand new album, Brass Knuckles, on September 16th, please welcome my Derrty and yours, Nelly – how you doin’?

Nelly:  I’m good, man.  How are you?

DJ Booth:  I’m very good.  You know, I was ready to pick up a copy of this album last December when they first said it was gonna drop.  After countless push-backs, is it ready to go on September the 16th?

Nelly:  Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, man.  We got a nonstop date, that’s September 16th.  That’s the crash date.  You just want to make sure things are right, man, you want to make sure you give people the best album that you can possible give ‘em.  They’ve been waitin’ for like four years, so [when] they’re waiting that long you just want to make sure that you come with the goods.

DJ Booth:  Definitely.  Do you think that the inability to drop the album on all the previously-announced release dates has caused the momentum of the project to wane?

Nelly:  No, I don’t think so.  You have to look at it as, once it’s out, it’s out.  You look at any project that’s out, it’s never came out on the first, maybe not even the second date that’s been announced.

DJ Booth:  [laughs] You’re lucky on the third!

Nelly:  It’s not just my album, it’s every album.  [We’re] in a time and place in music right now where it’s an unsure process, even when you’re goin’ into making the album, and even when you’re goin’ into deliverin’ it.

DJ Booth:  All the singles that you’ve released following last year’s “Wadsyaname” have done a respectable job on the charts.  None of them, however – and you can disagree with me – have reached the level of many of your previous hit records.  So, what do you say to the Nelly fan who’s thinkin’, “What’s goin’ on here?  What’s Nelly doing differently?”

Nelly:  “Wadsyaname” was never meant to be on Brass Knuckles.  That was a different scenario, something more or less the business side of what’s goin’ on in the music industry, and sometimes you’ve gotta do certain things you don’t want to do in order to get the things that you feel like you need or the things that you deserve.  Look at Sweat/Suit, there wasn’t a number one record on Sweat/Suit till “Grillz.”  Understand the fact that “Wings” wasn’t a number one record, “My Place ” wasn’t a number one record, “Over and Over” wasn’t a number one record.  I feel like you can still have great music without hitting the number one aspect every time.  I feel real fortunate in my career to have had a few number one singles, but I still think if your fans are there and they give support to you, they kinda get it, they kinda get that your music something that picks up in the stores over from a certain spot and kinda builds its way.  That’s what I’m thinkin’ that this project is definitely in line for; it’s definitely gonna be a build-up process.  But it’s an overall good record, it’s not just one or two songs.  And nowadays, even if you get a number one record, you could still possibly only sell 20,000 records the first week! [laughs]

DJ Booth:  Isn’t that the truth.

Nelly:  Because that’s all that’s been goin’, you know?  It’s very rare that you have a Lil’ Wayne scenario these days, where you can get the number one record, come out and do well your first week.

DJ Booth:  Yeah, you’re absolutely right about that.  And you mentioned “Grillz”, of course, bein’ a number one record.  At that point you’d already had two records drop [on] the same day, both were certified platinum.  The correlation changes every time.  Now, according to your label, you’ve sold approximately 30,000,000 records, so with that figure as a line in your career résumé, is there less pressure to constantly deliver new music faster?  ‘Cause, you said at the top, it’s been four years since your last project.

Nelly:  Yeah, well, I think you have some people in the industry now where they’ve done so much work in the past I think they’ve laid groundwork for a fan base.  You have a lot of new artists that come in, and they don’t really have a fan base – people are buying their songs, but they’re not buying into the artists.  [People who are like that] could sell a million records for the rest of their life.  Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, or Beyonce, you know I’m sayin’?  Regardless, because they have a fan base.  You have a lot of copycats that’s out there, you have a lot of people who are makin’ music for the moment, and eventually, if they don’t make music for the moment, than they’re kind of lost in transition.

DJ Booth:  Yep, no longevity, you’re right.

Nelly:  So hopefully I’m one of those artists who have a fan base that gets Nelly, that’s gonna come out and support me when it’s time to drop the album. And will I ever sell 10,000,000 records again?  To be honest, I don’t think so. [laughs] Would I like to?  Hell yes.

DJ Booth:  At least you’re someone who can say that, during the era in which records were being sold in mass quantity, you did do that.

Nelly:  Yeah, man.  I appreciate it, too, definitely.

DJ Booth:  A couple of years from now, people are gonna be saying, “Wow, ten million?

Nelly:  Yeah, man.  It’s one of those things where you do kinda look back and recognize that you were really one of the fortunate ones, and [not everybody] will get a chance to do it.

DJ Booth:  Exaclty – you got your paper early, my friend.  Now, among the many contributors on this project, you have Usher, Pharrell, Akon, and Ciara, but there’s one feature that I saw that really stood out among all of them, and that’s on track seven,“Self Esteem”, with the legendary Chuck D of Public Enemy.  So, two-part question for you.  Part one: how was this collaboration birthed?

Nelly:  When I did “Self Esteem,” I really wanted to do something that was different.  After I did it, you know how you get a feeling, and every time it gets to a part in the song, I could just hear Chuck.  I don’t know what it was, I could just hear hear Chuck on it!  We were both in LA at the same time, we were doin’ Hip-Hop Vs. America, we were backstage and we were talkin’, and I was like, “Yo, I got this project that I wanted you to listen to, and, if possible, to be a part of,” and before I could even finish the statement he was like, “It’s done.”  And I was like, “Wow…”  I was like, “I really want you to hear it,” and he was like, “No problem, it’s done,” and to have him really accept, without hearin’ it, just havin’ the faith in me to know I wouldn’t bring him no bullsh*t was amazing, and what can I say?  It’s Chuck D.

DJ Booth:  The way you told the story, it was almost as if you expected there to be some hurdles before you were able to get him on the record.  Were you actually surprised?

Nelly:  Yeah, I was surprised, ‘cause it’s not like people haven’t asked Chuck D to get on records before.  He just doesn’t do it.  He does what he wants to do.  It’s not like people haven’t asked.  There’s plenty of people who probably would love to get Chuck on their record, but he’s very selective about what it is that he does and what he puts out there, so to have him do it was amazing.

DJ Booth:  Last summer you dropped a buzz record, I don’t know if it was intended to be on the album to begin with, called “Cut It Out.”  In the song, you rapped the line, “It’s a new St. Louis.  Yeah, that’s funny, but I’m gonna stick with the old; the new don’t make any money.”  I, of course, did not do that with the same flair and swagger that you did-

Nelly:  [laughs] It was close, though, man – you tried!

DJ Booth:  Well, thank you, thank you; rapping is my side gig.  Over years past, since you spit that line and the record leaked to the Internet, do you still feel the same way about your fellow hometown artists?

Nelly:  It wasn’t about feeling a certain way about the whole St. Louis type of feel.  We had a few select people workin’ in St. Louis who [weren’t] getting the credit to where I think the credit should’ve been given, as far as people openin’ up the door and layin’ the groundwork for you to be allowed to even be heard, almost.  To say that there’s a new St. Louis when we barely had a voice for eight years – we’re still new!  [laughs] It’s like, what is this new St. Louis?  It’s basically a slap in the face to everybody that came before you.  The wording is all wrong, even if you [didn’t mean it].  It’s like, yo, you gotta be accountable for that statement.  And if that is the statement, then this is how I feel, ‘cause if you’re the new St. Louis, then who was the old St. Louis?  You gotta be referrin’ to me, ‘cause I was the first.

DJ Booth:  On a national level, you [are] looked at as an icon out of St. Louis, for putting that city on the hip hop map.  Do you feel like you get that same credit from your hometown?

Nelly:  Yeah, you do, you do from some people.  But then some people, I don’t know whether they wanna admit it or not.  A lot of times people make their own mistakes, man, and find their own way.  So I don’t really trip off it, ‘cause my goal overall is for St. Louis, and it’s not for one or two knuckleheads, so it’s all good.

DJ Booth:  Starting with the release of Brass Knuckles this September the 16th, what is the future of St. Louis hip hop looking like?

Nelly:  I think it’s bright, man.  There’s a lot of talent in St. Louis.  People just need a shot, and kids are gonna keep working, and they’re gonna keep on doing what they can do to really make St. Louis the type of city that it deserves to be as far as entertainment goes. 

DJ Booth:  Thanks to all the success that you’ve had in this industry you’re also an entrepreneur.  You are a partial owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, along with the great Michael Jordan and BET founder Robert Johnson.  Has the franchise, for you, been a solid investment?

Nelly:  Yeah, man.  It’s a dream investment for me.  You know, I’m a huge sports fan, so to be able to be part of a major sports franchise, that’s unbelievable for me.  And then to be in business with a Michael Jordan, with a Bob Johnson, and things of that nature, it’s crazy.

DJ Booth:  Growing up in St. Louis - I don’t have to say it – you didn’t have a basketball team in your city, so who did you root for as a kid?

Nelly:  As a kid comin’ up, it was different.  I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan, so, you know, the Bulls were right there, and the Lakers were doin’ their thing at the time, and it’s very individual.  St Louis is very divided when it comes to basketball – some people like this team, some people like that team – but regardless of what team you like, you love Michael Jordan.

DJ Booth:  So you’re sayin’ you were a fan of certain players, as opposed to just a team?

Nelly:  Yeah, a lot of times.

DJ Booth:  Last week, Forbes released their Hip-Hop’s Cash Kings 2008 list, and, surprisingly, I did not see your name on that list.  Did your accountant not call them back or something?

Nelly:  Nah, nah, nah, I don’t do all that; I don’t put the information out there like that.  You’ve probably never seen my name on that list, ever, and if you did, it’s probably something that they estimated, because we never informed them.  I’ve been growin’ Apple Bottoms for the past five years, and this year we reached the $100,000,000 mark.  I also own a lot of different real estate in downtown St. Louis.  I let them do that and I just keep working.

DJ Booth:  Okay, so 50 was number one with $150,000,000 and Outkast were at the bottom with $10,000,000 apiece.  So, out of that range, 150 to 10, can you give me where you think you would place roughly on there, or you’re not gonna reveal that?

Nelly:  Nah…  If I [was going to] tell you that, I should’ve just went went and put it out there! [laughs]

DJ Booth:  Well, I’m tryin’ to get the exclusive here.

Nelly:  I’ll just tell you this: I’m fine, I’m well-off. [laughs] I would definitely say I’m more leaning towards the top of the bracket.

DJ Booth:  Okay.  Well, because you didn’t give me specifics, I’ll tell you how you can make it up to me: I know that you also opened a restaurant in St. Louis, called Skybox, correct?

Nelly:  Yeah, yeah, the sports bar.

DJ Booth:  Okay.  The next time I’m there, drinks are on you.  Sound good?

Nelly:  No problem! [laughs] You can get stoned!

DJ Booth:  [laughs] Sounds good.  Nell, give everybody a website, a MySpace page…

Nelly:  Definitely.  If they wanna check it out, they can check out  They can also check out

DJ Booth:  That’s what’s up.  Nell, thank you so much for takin’ the time to join me inside the DJ Booth.

Nelly:  No problem, man.  Take it easy.

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