Interview: Nelly Speaks On The Success of ‘Nellyville,’ Guiding His Family In Rap, and N.W.A.
At this point in the game, it’s safe to say Nelly is a St. Louis legend.
As the most successful and groundbreaking hip-hop artist to emerge from STL, there isn’t a bigger name than Cornell Haynes in the Midwest. No hyperbole is spoken around here either — just look at the facts. So far he’s sold over 21 million albums, won three Grammy awards, has a beaucoup of hit records, and pretty much planted the St. Louis flag in hip-hop.
While he’s had a lot of recent success outside of music, with shows like Real Husbands of Hollywood and his BET reality show Nellyville, the hitmakers decided to come back around with a new new single, “The Fix,” featuring Jeremih. The buzzing single was produced by DJ Mustard and Mike Free.
As an extension of his musical legacy, he has also given his blessings to the group, JGE Retro — consisting of his nephew Lil Shawn aka Tab (son of his late sister Jackie Donahue who passed away from Leukemia in 2005) and his partner Shad. While the duo recently released their mixtape Transition Day, Nelly wants them to move through the tumultuous music industry and grind on their own.
“For some parents, all their kid has to do is show that they’re interested in somehting and they go all out. I mean, that’s cool, who’s to say what a parent shouldn’t be doing for their kid period,” says Nelly. “But as far as what we do, I come from an athletic family, we come from sports. I ain’t the one who believes my kid should be playing over any other kid just because he’s my kid. If my kid ain’t earn that spot, he shouldn’t be in the game.”
VIBE spoke to the multi-platinum rapper about JGE Retro, guiding them through, how he manages to keep the ratchetness way from Nellyville, his label situation, and how much NWA meant to his career.
VIBE: How have you been able to guide your family through the music industry?
As far as guiding them, the work has to be put in by everybody. It’s just trying to eliminate some of the BS that they would have to face as far as dealing with certain avenues and making mistakes that I already made. I mean, don’t get it twisted anybody can luck up, make a radios song out there and get hot. But at the end of the day, sometimes a hit record too fast can be a gift and a curse for any artist. I’ll give you a perfect example, even the homie Trinidad James. I think that was the gift and a curse because he came with “All Gold Everything,” and he ain’t even really been in the game a year! He ain’t even been rapping a year! You don’t even know where to go from that point because you don’t even know yourself at that point!
I can’t even imagine blowing up from the first hit or mixtape I’ve ever recorded. My first raps and sh*t, I thought back then was hard. If I go back and listen to ‘em now, ‘I’d be like maaannn’ (laughs). I’m just trying to eliminate some of that and make sure they really want to be in this business. It’s easy to think you want to be in something because you’re around it or you feel that that’s the path that you saw the people before you take so that the one you think you can take without going through the trials and tribulations of what a person went through to get that.
Do you think that’s part of the reason why a lot rappers’ children who try to rap never really make it big?
Yeah, because I think when any rapper’s son or daughter first tells their mom or dad they want to rap, the parent wants to support. I mean for instance, every mother thinks their daughter is beautiful. Every mother thinks their daughter can model. But we all know that’s not the truth. Even if you look at Puff’s kids, Diddy got every avenue available across the map, but I’m pretty sure that he’s setting the standard, and it’s nothing he won’t do for his kids. But they gotta take the first step, and the second, and the third until they’re showing they’re walking in the right direction.
You’re gonna come with the kettlebell and all, huh?
Aww, man, Puff is like a big brother to me ,and I know how I am about my kids. I don’t know what went on in there, but I’m the same way. If anything [happens] with mine, I’d have messed around and got charged. I’m knocking your ass out with the kettlebell (laughs). Especially if it went the wrong way.
How did you feel when your kids told you they wanted to rap?
I mean, as any parent you run through a lot of emotions. First, you’re excited. Then, you’re worried. You’re scared and you’re proud, but you understand the lottery ticket it takes to make it. You understand that they need all 6 numbers right for this lottery ticket, and that’s a hard thing to do. Just because you’re my child, doesn’t mean that’s going to give you any more leeway. Sometimes it can be a hurtful factor. Sometimes being a child of someone such as myself in this business can hurt you a lot more than it can give you any help.
What advice are you giving your children that no one has given to you coming up?
Just learn more about the business. Understand publishing — how that works, the record company and how that works — the politics behind it. There’s a lot of things I wish I hadn’t have did that I felt was the right way back then. Again, it’s a learning process and every artist goes through it So with me, I’m trying to cut down those odds for them.
Last thing, I want to ask you about NWA’s biopic, Straight Outta Compton . With the movie being a blockbuster, can you talk about the influence the group had on your career?
N.W.A. is the greatest rap group of all time! Hands down for me. I know it’s up for debate, and no disrespect to [groups like] Run-DMC. No disrespect to none of them but the influence upon which they had politically, socially on the world and on me was powerful. I feel like a group is as strong as each member, and if you look at each one, you see they were all stars. I can remember where I was when all that sh*t was happening and how we used to make little videos like them. A friend of mine, his mother went and got a video recorder and we used to set it up on a big ass tripod back when they had VHS tapes and we used to do all videos. Me, him, his cousin, his uncle, we used to be the St. Louis N.W.A. The group was more of a lifestyle and it resonated so much with so many people across the country especially with. The stuff that they were dealing with in their neighborhood was the same thing we were going through.