Nelly: The AllHipHop Interview

In the four years since his last studio release Cornell Haynes Jr., better known as Nelly, had dipped somewhat under the radar. Many obviously expected another album, although few were quite sure when they could expect it.  Then in 2007 he appeared on tracks for R. Kelly’s Double Up and T.I’s T.I VS. T.I.P. These guest appearances were followed by another on the song “Switch” by his rumored girlfriend of some time, Ashanti. After several false starts which included the release of songs which were not intended to be singles and a release date which seemed to have a hard time sticking, fans everywhere can rejoice as Brass Knuckles is finally here.To say that Nelly had been completely quiet since the release of 2004’s Sweat/Suit would be inaccurate. While he may not have been creating music all the time he was definitely creating controversy and tabloid buzz. Controversy for his spat with Spelman College over his video for “Tip Drill” and his subsequent desire to visit the college in efforts to find a bone marrow donor for his then ailing sister. Tabloid buzz for his long rumored relationship with Ashanti, which neither side has ever officially confirmed, though they have been seen out together and photographed countless times. Yes, in conjunction with his newest release there was a lot to talk about. And fortunately, Nelly definitely had a lot to say.AllHipHop.com: It’s been awhile since we saw you as an artist. What have you been up to in the interim?Nelly: The last album came out to 2004 and then four years from that 2008. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through a lot personally as well as business. Personally I went through the most I’ve ever been through in my life. I lost my sister in ’05. That was like the worst thing that ever happened to me, period. It was my first time really losing someone that close to me. I lost an uncle earlier when I was like nine but you know you’re nine. It hurts but sometimes you get over things faster. But when you get older and you’ve known someone basically over thirty years and its like boom all of a sudden they’re not there with you anymore it crazy. So it take me a little longer to get my mind right, to get a lot of things focused back on what I was doing. And business wise, a little bit of everything. We just celebrated our fifth anniversary with Apple Bottoms. I want to thank everybody for making that as successful as it is. And my realty company, I have a lot of things developing in downtown St. Louis. I previously purchased a little city block downtown. I have sports bar, it’s called Sky Box. I grew up playing sports. Sports have been my whole life. And I mean we’re not 40/40 (laughs) but like 20/20. But it’s a hot spot in St. Louis. I’m also working on putting a boutique hotel above it. I’m always working. I’m always doing songs. I’m always in the studio at some point. It’s not like I just jumped into working on this album cause  I’ve always been doing it. But it’s like once I pick the focus for the album and where I want things to go then I can start gearing the songs and gearing the music more towards that focus. AllHipHop.com: You mentioned some of the things that you have been through within the last couple of years. That being said can we expect something different from you on your new album?Nelly: Every time I’ve come out with an album it’s been pretty much different than the last one. Country Grammar was the first and Nellyville was definitely different than Country Grammar. Sweat/Suit was different than both of them. And now this is my 5th album. My fourth drop date! (laughs) And its definitely different from anything else you have basically heard and the title of the album is Brass Knuckles.  It describes just how hard the album will hit. It’s real aggressive. It’s real uptempo. A lot of energy in the music. When I did Country Grammar, even though I can’t do Country Grammar again, it had a lot of uptempos, a lot of energy in the tracks, a lot of energy in the music. And when you did hear songs that were more melodic they kind of stood out so to speak. And then when I started doing Nellyville I started getting more melodic and Sweat/Suit I just did a whole album full. (laughs) But now it’s just a lot of energy and when you do hear the melodic songs they stand out a little more. And now I’m working with a lot more people.Nelly “Stepped On My J’z” VIDEOAllHipHop.com: And who are some of the people you worked with on this album?Nelly: Some of the people I worked with on this album um.. I have a song called “Hold Up” featuring myself T.I and LL Cool J. I got a song called “LA” featuring Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg. I got a song called “Let it Go (Lil Mama)” produced by the Neptunes and that’s also featuring my man Pharrell Williams on the hook. “Stepped on My J’z” featuring my girl Ciara and produced by my man JD…I know people are saying “Nelly, another shoe song?” but it’s not like that. I may do nine or ten shoe songs before it’s all done, it’s just about embodying that moment and time and what J’s meant to me. I feel real privileged that fans allowed me to do songs like “Air Force Ones” and “Grillz” that may be about something like that but were still able to become number one songs out of them. It’s like how many love songs can you do? How many angry songs can you do? You know, you do songs to do songs. Just as long as they hot, just keep reppin! And I come from that Jordan Era. I come where if the new Jordans came out you had to have them. You skipped school to get them. You didn’t want to go that weekend and not have them and have other people stuntin’ on you. I also have a collaboration on there with the legendary Chuck D. It’s called “Self Esteem”. It’s one of my all time favorite collaborations. I feel real honored that Chuck did it too. Cause when I asked Chuck to do it he didn’t even hear what it was or know what it was and he was like, “It’s done”. I was like, “I got this idea…” and he was like “Lil brother, its done.” I was like whoa cause it really meant a lot to me that he had that much faith in me knowing that I wouldn’t do anything that he wouldn’t want to do. Chuck D is trusting me, the party guy, to come up with a song that both of us is going to appreciate? And when I sent it to him he was like you were right. And I feel real honored because he laced me too. He killed it!

“Instead of sisters working with a brother to help educate our people on Leukemia, on bone marrow, and getting people signed up on the stem cell registry and try to help save lives you want to talk about a video. A video.” 

AllHipHop.com: Who is Nelly today and how is he different from the man we met all those years ago?Nelly: It’s been almost ten years. It’s been nine definitely. A lot of things change in 9-10 years. It’s brothers getting out of jail for murder. (laughs) Obviously, you can tell the growth. You have no choice but to do that. Life embodies it. Evolution at some point is going to happen. I just think I see a lot of things differently now as opposed to when I first started. I see how the game has definitely changed. When I came out the Internet wasn’t even a thought as far as being what it is to music right now.  They were talking about it and the record companies said go on there’s no way people are not going to stop going to stores and stop trying to buy records. Whoo! Were they wrong! I wish they would have struck that deal now. But they didn’t and here we are and obviously that changed. I don’t think fans are really buying into artists anymore. They are buying songs. They are accepting songs from people but they are not buying into artists. I think they are missing that experience. When an artist used to come out on a Tuesday you would go to the record store, you would stand in line. You had that feeling. You wanted to get the artwork and look on the back and see the thank yous. You wanted to see who produced this track and now you don’t get that. And now it’s just like you can walk down the street and a new album comes out and you don’t even break stride, you just order it. It’s that much tougher to be a legitimate artist these days You have to put in the effort to show people that you have more than one, two, or even three songs on an album if you are not a part of that crew that has already solidified quote unquote a certain type of a fan base for themselves.AllHipHop.com: Do you feel like you have impacted the music industry in anyway? If so, how?Nelly: You know what, we get this question and I don’t want to sound like that but, hell yeah! I think whether you like me or or you don’t like me, I still think what me and the St. Lunatics did is one of the most underrated things as far as contributing to music. Period. Hands down. When we came there was the energy from us. I’m not saying that because there were other groups that had energy. You look at the Lost Boyz, they had a lot of energy in what they did. Wu-Tang, they had a lot of energy in what they did. But we took it from another level of representing where you from as a whole. Lost Boyz and Wu-Tang as a group they are from New York. We’ve heard of these places before. And also just bringing that colorful vibe. Like when we broke in it was all about the colors, the double head bands, and the du-rag on the headband. We did this s**t on purpose. Like the headband over the hat. Yo we came here with all that! Even when it came to the music “Ride Wit Me” was one of the first rap songs to ever have a bridge. We were some of the first rappers to sing and rap their own hooks. Now that’s not excluding Bone Thugs, obviously they did it. But we did on a level where people understood us more. When Bone did it, which is one of my all time favorite groups, it was more of a type of flow that embodied… you might have  to rewind that three of four times times just to get the first line. (laughs) (raps a line from a Bone Thugs song) Even when you look at the crews dancing and not being afraid to just let it hang out. It was like this is what we are going to. This is what we don’t see. This is what people aren’t doing. I mean obviously everybody takes something from everybody else. I mean obviously we weren’t the first ones to wear throwbacks, but we put it on blast with an infectious appeal but its one of those things. I do it for the representation of just letting people know St. Louis is here. We got talent. Nelly f/ Fergie “Party People” VideoAllHipHop.com: Last year The Oprah Winfrey Show had an episode where she talked to a few members of the Hip-Hop community as well as some women from Spelman College. One of the topics that came up was the controversy that surrounded the bone marrow drive you wanted to do at Spelman College. Did you see the episode that I’m referring to?Nelly: No, but I did hear about it.AllHipHop.com: Do you have any thoughts on everything now that you are some years removed from what happened?Nelly: I had thoughts on it when it happened. I thought it was pure ignorance. It was hypocritical. People are always saying they want Black men to things that are beneficial for the community and for people as a whole but when he does that and he’s coming to do that you want to picket him. Here I am, I’m coming down there to talk about bone marrow. I’m coming down there to talk about saving lives. I’m here to talk about something in our community that we as a whole haven’t really gotten a grasp on yet; and that’s healthcare. Black people, we just don’t go to the hospital. We get a stomach ache and we’re like it’s just a stomach ache. But no, that could be his appendix!  That could have been something that [ruptured] in him! But we are not going to the hospital because we are scared of that $200 or $300 bill we are going to get that we know we can’t afford.  So if you don’t have anything broken or anything bleeding it’s like we are not going to the hospital. Instead of sisters working with a brother to help educate our people on Leukemia, on bone marrow, and getting people signed up on the stem cell registry and try to help save lives you want to talk about a video. A video.  A video that had all adults in it, that these adults agreed to do for themselves. These were grown women. As a matter of fact some of these women are no more than ten blocks from where you (the women of Spelman) go to school at. It’s a club right down there. Why don’t you go down there and boycott? Why didn’t you go down there and picket? And this came at a time when I was trying to find a donor (bone marrow) for my sister. And I feel like I was robbed of that opportunity. I had a one in something million chance of finding a donor for my sister and I was robbed of one of those chances unfairly by f**king idiots. So yeah I’m still pissed. I’m still pissed. That’s something that will never leave me. My sister is not here. Where are those people that were doing that? They probably don’t even care anymore. What are you doing for your community? Half the time these people were probably just looking for an opportunity to be famous and try to look like they are standing up for something. A lot of times we as Black folks we don’t react the way we should because we don’t think before we react. Everybody else in this country thinks before they react. And we wonder why we don’t have certain things in the Black community, it’s because of that right there. You wonder why the Italians have Little Italy. Why Asians have Chinatown? You wonder why Jewish people have anything?  Because they came here with a plan. We didn’t come here with a plan. We were here and we got released.  So therefore we don’t think when s**t happens. That was another case of a sad situation where you do have a brother trying to come in and do something, trying to educate. And instead of you embodying that and working with the brother, you turn on him. You turn on him and you want to talk about a video and talk about images. You want to talk about images! Images. Images are going to always be here people. We shouldn’t let TV make us feel how we want to feel inside. It still pisses me off till this day. Only reason I say that is because I know damn well that those people who did that at that time may not even feel the same way about it. Because if they did they would be out in front of some of these strip clubs and would be trying to talk to some of these sisters before they go in or when they come out and say, Yo sister let’s talk about it. Why are you doing this? I feel like, Yo these are grown people. This is oldest profession in the book, playboy. It was here before us, it’s going to be here after us. And I just think that it wasn’t real. But my sister passing was real.

“We saw something that works and everybody jumps on that bandwagon. We stopped being creative and started being manufacturers.”

AllHipHop.com: Are you tired of explaining yourself and “Tip Drill”?Nelly: Yeah but I feel like it’s one of those things that must be done because people still want to hold me to that. It’s like my whole career is based on this f**king video. My whole career!  It’s not about the fact that he saved seven lives with his bone marrow drive. It ain’t the fact the he spared over 1500 families with Feed The Children, not for profit organization. It’s not the fact that he’s providing computers and gave over 250 bikes to children that made honor roll or gave away nine scholarships. Nobody talks about that! People want to talk about a f**king video and a credit card swipe. It goes back to a quote from a letter that was written a long time ago where it says pin a light skinned slave against a dark-skinned slave. Pin a house n****r against a field n****r. Everytime that they get together or they start trying to find a way to combine. They turn it on us.  It’s the same thing that happened with the Don Imus s**t. They asked me do you think he should have been fired. Hell no he shouldn’t have been fired. For what? What did he say? He spoke the truth! That’s how he felt! What we should have did if we were thinking is say you know what CNBC? We got you! This is what we want to do. For the next five years we want you to pay us ten million dollars a year. We want to create “The Nappy Negro Head College Fund”.  We are going to take some of that money and we’re going to build some community centers. We’re going to build some rec centers. We are going to build some shelters for battered women. What did we do with it? We got an apology. Hooray! For what? That don’t change the way he f**king feels! He ain’t change his ways. That man still feels that way. And now that man is bigger than ever. I swear other races laugh at us. I swear! I think they do. Don’t no other race turn on each other. Why do we turn on each other? They blame it on Hip-Hop. You have Andre Crouch, the Crouch guy talking bout it’s a poison to Black people. How the hell could the biggest Black employer on the planet be a poison to Black people? How could you even figure that man? You are employed. Hip-Hop! You, the guy working the camera, my road manager. This is the largest black employer on the planet. And this is a poison? Who do you work for? Who the hell does he work for? Who the hell does this n***a work for? Who the hell does he work for, the Klan? I’m trying to figure out who does he work for to say some s**t like that. You sound ignorant. To each his own. AllHipHop.com: As the music industry continues to change and record sales continue to lag do you think it’s important for an artist to diversify to find income streams outside of music?Nelly: I think it is. But I don’t think everyone is going to be able to do it. You are going to have a lot of people trying but without a following how can you get people to wear your clothes, if people won’t buy your albums? How can you get people to come to your restaurant, if people don’t buy your albums? I’m allowed to do that because I have a certain fan base that supported me to do that. Jay-Z is allowed to do that because he has a fan base. Puff is allowed to do that because Puff has a fan base. Bad Boy sold a lot of freaking albums whether he did it as an artist or whether he did it as a company, you still know Puff. Same way with Jay and same way with 50 Cent. 50 might have been the line of where buying into artist for rappers because after that there was never another “superstar” rapper after that. I’m talking about a monster, I’m talking about somebody that sells over five million albums as a rapper. I don’t know other rapper that has sold over five millions albums. Even Kanye as big as he is he hasn’t had a record that has sold over five million records. And that’s a shame because I think if Kanye would have came out back in 2001 or 2002 he would have definitely sold five million records. But being in the type of market and the type of industry we are in now it’s hard but I’m going to say it’s not money to be made because of course there is. See what record companies won’t tell you… How much do they sell an album for online? Ten dollars. How much do they sell an album for in the stores? Ten dollars. Basically the same price. You can get the same album for ten dollars in the store that you can get online for ten dollars. What’s the difference when you buy the album online for ten dollars and when you buy the album at the store for ten dollars? When you by the album at the store for ten dollars they gotta pay the distributor. They gotta pay the record store. They also have to pay manufacturing. When you buy it online there is no manufacturing. You may have a small distributor cost because it’s online. There is no store. You are just paying the online guy. But you are still paying ten dollars! They want you to believe them f**kers is losing money like that. They ain’t losing it like that. They may not be making as much as they were. If you sell a million records online your overhead is less. They would love for you to buy more records online. Why? Because they won’t have no overhead. All you do is you download the album, and you send it to iTunes. They are selling songs for two and three dollars. It’s no overheard. You are just selling a song. You’re selling ID’s and ringtones and they making plenty of money. You got a guy like Flo Rida came out here and broke every download digital sale record known to freaking man. Guy sold what like four million f**king ringtones or some s**t like that. Come on that’s like four million dollars. And that’s at a dollar! Some of those ring tones was 1.99. (laughs) 2.99! Where did that money go? And I know your percentage to him is way low. This is his first record. He ain’t got no room to negotiate. So it’s one of those things where I think to the average motherfucker it’s going to look like, Yeah they losing money but somebody that knows better…that’s why you see Jay-Z out here trying to strike this deal with these companies out here. If there wasn’t any money to be made, how can somebody be offering somebody over 100 million dollars? How could you offer that if there’s no money to be made? If Jay-Z go online and sell a million records online at ten dollars. That’s ten million dollars! Just off that alone. That’s not including ringtones, that’s not including tours, all that. AllHipHop.com: What do you wish for Hip-Hop for the future?Nelly: What I wish for Hip-Hop is for people to learn the business side of it more. I hate seeing the young sisters and the young brothers coming in and it’s like you try to warn them about certain s**t then when it happens it’s, “But that’s not fair”. Listen, it’s business. You’re getting into a business.Now for Hip-Hop obviously you just want people to be creative. I think we stopped being creative. We just stopped trying new s**t. We saw something that works and everybody jumps on that bandwagon. We stopped being creative and started being manufacturers. When you’re a manufacturer you have a blueprint. When you’re creative you have no blueprint. Nelly f/ Akon & Ashanti “Body On Me” Video

AllHipHop.com: Okay. Jay and Beyonce did it. Nick and Mariah did it. Nelly: Oh I ain’t getting married. Hopefully one day.AllHipHop.com: So Nelly is not next?Nelly: No.AllHipHop.com: Not you and Ashanti?Nelly: Nah nah nah, we just cool. We have fun. I think right now we’re both married to these projects. You know Jay and Bey, you gotta applaud that. And I think both of them are probably at a point in their careers where…Jay’s been in this thing a long time. It’s about that feel. I don’t think you do it just because you see other people doing it or they think that you’re next. I think when it comes to a point in your life you do that type of thing. And I’m happy for them. They’re like Hip-Hop’s first almost billion dollar couple. I think it was perfect. You can’t picture them without each other now. It’s like were they always together? It’s like they should have always been together. And I’m happy for them. And the Mariah and Nick thing is just like where did that come from?AllHipHop.com: How is it being part owner of the Charlotte Bobcats?Nelly: It’s incredible being part owner of the Bobcats. I’m in business with one of the rarest things on the planet. That’s a Black billionaire. That’s Bob Johnson and possibly the greatest athlete of our time, Michael Jordan. And it’s a learning process for me. I ain’t gon’ front like I’m in the boardroom making decisions. Nah, that’s not me. That’s Mike. That’s his job. But I am in the learning process. It’s not like I don’t have a right to vote on certain things because being an owner you have that right. But for me it’s just more of a learning process and being the type of person I am I do make my comments. (laughs) You know I feel like you got my money, I’m a voice my words. (laughs) I feel real privileged to be in that position.AllHipHop.com: There are so many players crossing over. Has anyone tried to hand you an album yet?Nelly: You know what? I think they all chilled out about that, I think after the Allen Iverson thing. I think the NBA kind of put lid on that for a second. I don’t think people are trying to come out with albums to fast. But you do see a lot of them trying to get labels and I just tell them, “Yo…it’s a money pit. I try to tell them, no!” (laughs) Invest in something else. Put that money away in something else that can be more beneficial down the line. But as of right now. Don’t you believe it! (laughs)

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