The BIG Q&A: Nelly Talks Copycats, Being Rap's Most Influential, Nearly Quitting Music And Marriage

Nelly’s name may not always come up in rap G.O.A.T. chats, but the St. Louis native certainly deserves his place in the Hip-Hop history books. With a career that spans more than 10 years and 35 million records sold, Nelly can no longer be brushed off as a fluke. From Band Aids to Air Force One’s, the 35-year-old father of two has set more trends in hip-hop than often credited for. From his Apple Bottoms office in Manhattan, VIBE checked in with Cornell “Nelly” Haynes Jr. to get an update on just how far his Country Grammar has taken him. —Mikey Fresh



VIBE: 5.0 will mark your sixth album and 10 years in the game. Do you finally consider your self a hip-hop veteran?

Nelly: Well, I kind of consider myself a young veteran. A vet doesn’t necessarily mean in age but the extent of your knowledge of what it is that you’re into. That’s what makes you a real veteran.

Do you still feel like there’s more for you to prove in your music?

I wouldn’t say prove because I don’t know what’s really left… at least statistic wise, there isn’t much left for me to do. I don’t think people expect anything of me creatively, but just number-wise. That’s where my trouble lies. People don’t see my music but they see my numbers as to whether Nelly has succeeded or not. Like Nas, his next album might not sell the biggest of his career but they may rank it as his best album. But for me, if I don’t put up those numbers, they’re not even going to listen to my records.

I think that’s related to the fact that you sold 10 million coming out of the gate…

It’s a double-edged sword—you don’t want to knock yourself for having success. And you never want to make people think that you’re unappreciative of your success. That’s why I try to let people know I feel fortunate to have sold over 35 million records. Who does that and is still around to add to that number? No one!

There seems to be a lot of folks already counting you out…

I think the best thing for me is to be the underdog. When Country Grammar came out, nobody expected me to do it. But after I did sell all those records people expected me to sell me sell 10 million every time. Some people even look at Nellyville as a failure compared and Sweat Suit which sold 6 million. Who are you comparing me to? I’m outselling everybody. It’s kind of rough when you’re compared to yourself all the time. [laughs]


Did you ever think about switching your style up after catching flack for incorporating singing and melodies in your rhymes?

I didn’t give a rat’s ass. I was from St. Louis, and I was getting a shot, a major record deal… I had two kids, my moms, pops, Grandparents needed help. With my first album I was thinking if I make it, I can relieve the pressure from my whole family making ends meat—so I’m doing it. To make something when you had nothing, I wasn’t going to trip off it.

So it didn’t bother you that you weren’t being labeled as a “real MC”?

I didn’t understand what “he isn’t a real MC” meant. Should I not try to succeed and sell millions of albums? I thought 'doing you' and people accepting it validated what you were doing as 'real'. We did everything coming up from the battles, talent contests, and quote or unquote mixtape songs. I mean, I could get what people are saying about the music in a certain sense. But I’ve always kept it real with myself.

You really helped popularize the sing-song flow starting in 2000… I mean you could even say you fathered the style of a lot of rappers who came after you…

Listen, it's right there in front of you. If you retrace history and look at how rap music was before I got there and after—it’s clear. To me and the people around me, it was always evident.

But you never get the credit for it.

Look at “Ride With Me.” I rapped my own verses, sung own my own hook and sung my own bridge. That was one of the first rap records to have a bridge! Nobody was putting bridges on rap songs before that. I saw my blueprint being kind of dubbed over and some people don’t say it. Now every rapper now is trying to sing their own hooks. Nobody wanted to sing when I was coming out. Now everybody’s singing, I don’t know give a shit who it is. Everyone’s doing Nelly, but it’s cool and it’s a good thing. -p

From the Web

More on Vibe

Vanessa Laine Bryant (L) and Kobe Bryant attend the 2018 Baby2Baby Gala Presented by Paul Mitchell at 3LABS on November 10, 2018 in Culver City, California.
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Baby2Baby

Vanessa Bryant Reveals Latest Installment Of Kobe Bryant’s ‘Wizenard’ Book Series

The latest installment in Kobe Bryant's bestselling Wizenard book series has officially arrived. The late NBA legend's widow, Vanessa Bryant, took to Instagram on Tuesday (March 31) to announce the release of The Wizenard Series: Season One.

“Welcome back to Dren! We hope you are all ready to catch up with the West Bottom Badgers for another magical basketball season. 'The #Wizenard Series: Season One' is OUT NOW,” reads a message on Vanessa's Instagram account.

The announcement was also posted to Kobe’s Instagram, marking the first post since the 40-year-old athlete, his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi Bryant, and seven others, passed away in a helicopter crash two months ago.

Created by Kobe, and written by Wesley King, The Wizenard Series follows a young athlete named, Reggie, who has big basketball dreams but serves as a bench warmer for the worst team in the league. Although Reggie is committed to putting in the work to make his dreams come true, he must first “survive the extraordinary ordeals of practice.”

The book is a followup to Kobe’s #1 New York Times bestseller, The Wizenard Series: Training Camp.


View this post on Instagram


Welcome back to Dren! We hope you are all ready to catch up with the West Bottom Badgers for another magical basketball season. The #Wizenard Series: Season One is OUT NOW.🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡🧡#KobeBryant #GranityStudios #Kobeinc

A post shared by Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Mar 31, 2020 at 8:57am PDT

Continue Reading
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Lauren London Marks 1-Year Anniversary Of Nipsey Hussle's Death

As Lauren London continues to grieve over the death of her longtime love, it seems that writing has become a form of therapeutic release for the  mother and actress. London shared an emotional message on Instagram on Tuesday (March 31) in commemoration of the one-year anniversary of Nipsey Hussle’s death.

“Time is deceptive,” London wrote. “It’s been a year since you transitioned. The pain is as heavy today as it was a year ago. God knows I would give anything to see you again. I didn’t think I was going to survive a second of any of this. Prayers have kept me together. The kids keep me going and [God's] Grace and Mercy have carried me this far.”

London noted that she now stands strong, thanks to Hussle. “Because I know you wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I recall every late night conversation we had about resilience and fear. Because you were my greatest teacher and because you are still with us, in spirit.”

In closing, London vowed to continue to honor her late partner, with whom she shares a son, Kross. “I carry this pain with a purpose. I promise I will make you proud. I promise to apply everything you taught me. In life and in death, Ermias Asghedom, there will never be another. Until we are together again....I love you beyond human understanding ( but you know that already).”

The 33-year-old rapper, activist and entrepreneur was shot to death in front of his Marathon clothing store on March 31, 2019. Hussle’s accused killer, Eric Holder, is expected to go to trial next month.

Read London’s full post below.


View this post on Instagram


Time is deceptive It’s been a year since you transitioned The pain is as heavy today as it was a year ago God knows I would give anything to see you again I didn’t think I was going to survive a second of any of this Prayers have kept me together The kids keep me going and Gods Grace and Mercy have carried me this far As today makes a year I stand strong because of you Because I know you wouldn’t have it any other way Because I recall every late night conversation we had about resilience and fear Because you were my greatest teacher and because you are still with us, in spirit With every breath i take I honor you I carry this pain with purpose I promise I will make you proud I promise to apply everything you taught me In life and in death Ermias Asghedom There will never be another Until we are together again.... I love you beyond human understanding ( but you know that already)🏁

A post shared by Lauren London (@laurenlondon) on Mar 31, 2020 at 7:12pm PDT

Continue Reading
Getty Images

Ice Cube’s Big3 League To Launch Quarantined Basketball Tournament

Ice Cube and the Big 3 League have come up with a plan to continue entertaining basketball fans quarantined due to the current global pandemic. Cube and the league are partnering with the producers of Big Brother for a “quarantined reality hoops tournament” kicking off in early May, the rapper and entrepreneur announced on Twitter last Thursday (March 27).

Continuing to change the game every day. @thebig3 is partnering with the producers of Big Brother to launch a quarantined reality hoops tournament in early May.

— Ice Cube (@icecube) March 27, 2020

According to Yahoo! Sports, Cube and Big 3 co-founder, Jeff Kwatinetz, have been in talks with multiple networks to broadcast the tournament. The three-on-three tournament will reportedly include 16 to 22 players, all of whom have tested negative for coronavirus, and will be quarantined in Los Angles home, courtesy of the Big3 League. Cameras will capture the games and the players’ daily lives. The production crew will be housed at an offsite location.

Players will be eliminated after netting three losses. The top three remaining players will win millions in cash and prizes.

Kwatinetz said that the goal is to provide fans with a “safe, entertaining brand of basketball” to help get through the pandemic.

“Cube and I have been in the entertainment business for 30 years. This is our job,” Kwatinetz explained. “People want to be entertained with all we’re going through and enjoy our sports. We think this will help.”

Continue Reading

Top Stories