On Tour: Nelly Speaks On Music Styles, Mike Brown and the Charleston Tragedy
On Saturday, June 20th, St. Louis superstar Nelly opened up the 47-city Main Event tour stop at Long Island, New York’s Nassau Coliseum, featuring R&B icons TLC and headlined by 80s super boy band New Kids On The Block. Deck out in an all white sleeveless hoodie, white sweats and Jordan 11 “Legend Blue” kicks, Nelly ripped through some of his mega hits like “Dilemma”, “Dreaming”, “Hot In Herre”, and the one that started it all “Country Grammar”. While the crowd of middle aged mostly NKOTB fans anxiously waited for the quintet, they were transformed into the biggest St. Lunatics when their favorite Nelly tracks rocked the venue. Screaming, “E.I.E.I.Uh-Ohhhhh! What’s Poppin’ Tonight!?!” at the top of their lungs, hopping out their seats and doing God knows what kinds of dances...fun times had by all.
Getting a few minutes with the BET Nellyville show creator/star backstage after his energetic performance, VIBE asked Nelly his thoughts on the current state of music, touring with other huge acts and his feelings on Mike Brown and Charleston’s recent tragedy.
You are fresh off stage, how was it out there?
It was great. A lot of energy. Surprising. It’s been dope, well received everywhere.
Some of the older white ladies were spitting the lyrics right when you put the mic to them!
They rocking man. You know what I think though? If you look at the line up, you may look at it a certain way. But if you trip off the line up, really, it makes sense, cus you are talking about possibly the biggest act of the late 80s/90s with New Kids. You talking about the biggest act of the 90s with TLC. Then you talking about the 2000s with myself. So basically if there are any TLC fans [here], they are probably Nelly fans. If there are any New Kids fans, 9 times out of 10 they like TLC. It blends right in. It’s been cool.
"I’m a hip-hop artist that wants to be one of the biggest artists period...Versatility is the key."
People can come to this tour and hear you go through mad hits and you still didn’t get to do all of them. Which ones are some of your favorites to get the reaction of the people?
Oh shoot. That varies, it’s very, very regional. You got obvious songs that no matter where...like “Ride Wit Me”, “Hot In Herre” always go. “E.I.”, that’s the song that was a single, but wasn’t the biggest for Nelly but somehow is the biggest single when he performs it.
I love a challenge. I just love a challenge. It may not be in the orthodox manner of what hip-hop truly is, but I can’t change...I am hip-hop. I can’t change that. But, I’m a hip-hop artist that wants to be one of the biggest artists period. If you want to be one of the biggest artists period, then you can’t be in just one lane of music. It’ll never work like that. If Michael Jackson kept singing R&B and didn’t do other things he wouldn’t be Michael Jackson. If Prince just did Rock & Roll and didn’t do R&B sometimes it just wouldn’t be. Versatility is the key and every artist that I’ve seen become who they are there was a versatile stake. Like Mariah Carey is very versatile. Whitney Houston was very versatile. Dr. Dre is very versatile. Snoop Dogg is very versatile. Jay Z’s a rapper, but such a versatile rapper.
But they used to get at you, some who wanted your level of success, for rapping and singing…
Change is always scary. It don’t matter what it is. That’s how it’s received sometimes. Change has to be received by some negativity or else it’s not change. The only way you can change it is if some people like it that way. That’s why it’s changed. It’s always going to be met with some type of resistance. Evolution is inevitable. It’s got to happen.
"You are heartbroken for the families. But your eyes are opened like, 'Ok, now what? What we finna do?'"
What we are seeing now is someone like a Fetty Wap, who is able to sing what he calls “Ignorant R&B” cause of his trap themes...then you with the “Country Grammar” hook talking about the strap and street biz but still singing. [Y’all] are able to win with melodies talking like that on hip-hop records, how?
It ain’t about melodies on hip-hop records. It’s melodies period. It’s what music is yall. We still forgetting that hip-hop is part of music. Once you are apart of music it’s melody [laughs]. That’s just it, it’s that simple. People look at it like, “Nah, that ain’t true.” But I’m telling you, melody is gonna always win!
People sing to you when you are a baby. Or they do what? Melodies when you are a baby. Cus even though you don’t understand the words, you pick up on the melody. [Hums “Hush Little Baby”] It works because it’s the mind and body...it’s inevitable dog. You gonna walk to a beat. Who walks not to a beat? It may not be your beat but if you time his shit, it’s consistent! Everything is done to a beat, bruh. People try to breakdown that structure. It’s best to embrace the part of it that you do like, what part of it effects your life and then go for it. Quit trying to tell these kids they wrong, cus couldn’t nobody tell us we were wrong.
When did you finally feel like you were in pocket with who you were as an artist? First coming out, I’m sure you were trying new things, but then you got into a groove.
Well, it was harder for me because of where I was from. Where I was from had no identity. If I’m from New York or the West Coast I could be different but at the end of the day I still got an identity. I’d still have a base to try that has been proven to work. Like if I was from New York and I came out doing melodic, then ok, boom, I could go straight spittin’. Then do another melodic again. I know I still got another shot, because that’s what we do. Same thing with the West Coast. You can go a certain way, if not, you can go traditional West Coast feel. We didn’t have no feel.
Y’all just had the south feel…then you put a face to the…
Now, if you go down to the south they would tell you, “That didn’t sound like nothing from ‘round here.” See what I’m saying? Like, “That sounded like something from over there.” Me, when I think South, I think Pimp C [of UGK]. Say south to me and that’s the first name that come to my mind, cus he was the heart and essence of the south.
He spoke his mind. You could tell in how the way he talked.
And he want[ed] you to underestimate him. Like you got to talk to Pimp. Talking to Pimp was the realest. He want you to think he’s a dumb country son of a gun, cus once you do that, he got you.
I don’t think people would have thought you to do the numbers that you did, do them consistently and then go into the businesses you did.
That was only cus of the people...the business part is I’ve always been hustling period. But the ones that’s before me set that precedent in business: Russell’s, Puff’s, Jay’s, LL’s. I sit and observe and I ain’t got no problem with learning. Some of these brothers think they know everything. When somebody that’s done already been down that road try to talk to them, they don’t want to hear it. If somebody done been down the road that I’m trying to go...I’m listenin’. Even if I don’t agree with it, at the end of the day I’m still going to let him finish. You got some folks that ain’t even gonna let him finish. Finish telling me first, then I’ll go home and think about it. Then I may decide. You may tell me something I don’t know. Then what happens?
One of the other aspects for you is how you became the go to person and face of celebrity with what was going on in St. Louis and Ferguson over the death of Mike Brown last year. You stood up, spoke and gave the heart of the people because you are from that area. How is it going from that time to now seeing what’s going on in Charleston, SC and these crazy injustices?
Well, Ferguson was difficult in the sense of what I didn’t want to happen was happening. Was people using Mike’s name in vain. At the end of the day, when all that was done, it was still going to be the same. We didn’t address the real essence of the problem. The essence of the problem was, why was he able to walk? It was a reason he was able to walk. Everybody was looking at that. You had the president looking at that, the attorney general looking at that...all on this case. Sure it was jacked up, but from my understanding there was an aka “loophole”. A loophole in the sense of, if you assault a police officer in Missouri he’s allowed to use deadly force. Well, that’s the law. Ok, yall got over on that one. We still gonna have our word, have our say. I don’t have no problem. Now what we gonna do? What we got to do is get that law changed. Cus that’s the loophole they gone keep hiding behind. If they keep hiding behind that loophole, we got to change that. How do we change that? We got to get these people in these communities to get out and vote, to let them know when this shit comes up, we in there. Saying, “Nope, this ain’t gonna work.” We have to get people from our communities in charge of running our communities. But that comes with being involved. We want to be mad, which I understand. That’s why it was hard. We were missing the big picture right there. Some of us were.
Then you know how the media is, there were peaceful protests. They didn’t show none of that on the news. They portrayed our city like the whole city was a war zone, man it was about three blocks. People were scared to come to the city, people asking me like, “Yo…” I’m like, “Nah, that’s way over there.” It was just rough man. I used to live over there, that’s a little different.
Y'all had to deal with that type of stuff…
Man, that ain’t going nowhere. That’s St. Louis man. We been telling people that shit like this, but it took this. Now let’s evolve from it. Let’s use this opportunity to make that change and be more involved. To keep kids in school a little bit longer in our neighborhoods.
"Ferguson was difficult in the sense of what I didn’t want to happen was happening. Was people using Mike’s name in vain."
What was your first emotions when you heard about what happened in Charleston?
Probably like anybody else. Obviously your heart goes out to the people, and you are heartbroken for the families. But your eyes are opened like, “Ok, now what? What we finna do?” We’ve been seeing a lot of these brothers get what yall thought was a legal arrest and brutality and “just force” being used, cus you thought these guys were dangerous...I want to say the right thing here…
Considering [Dylann Roof’s] emotions and where he’s coming from with his anger, from where I’m from that’s not surprising. Now if you live further up this way it may be a little bit surprising to you. If you are in South Carolina, that’s shocking but not surprising. That area has been going through that for hundreds of years.
That particular church has been struck before…
A few times! A church has been on that land for 200 years. 1816, a church has been on that land. Now they done rebuilt it, but that land and that spot, there has always been a black church. People know what they doing. I don’t know, it makes you question if he knew what he was doing or was he sent to do it. More importantly, he killed a Senator. Why we ain’t saying that? Had that been another politician...what are we doing here?? That’s a government official. What’s going on? How you get a million dollar bond for killing a Senator? Now what?