Even if he had decided to quit after releasing his debut album, ‘Country Grammar,’ Nelly would still have a place in rap history. With more than 30 million albums sold worldwide, the Grammy-winning rapper is ranked as one of the best-selling male artists in American music history. Thirteen years later, and he’s decade-plus career, sees him still standing with 6 studio albums and 45 singles.
One thing is for sure, he still has this rap game in a chokehold. This is a man at the top, but after speaking with him, you get the sense that this is just the beginning. Unlike many who feel constricted by the hip-hop format, Nelly is proving the music has no limitations. He’s about to take this hip-pop entity to another level. Picture him with Taylor Swift and a piano at his fingertips, and you begin to realise how serious it is.
With a successful track record and an unmatched career, which includes 17 number ones, Nelly is preparing to do some remodeling. He is a guy with a vision and he wants you to see it too. In this exclusive interview ahead of the release of his new single ‘Hey Porsche’, we caught up the record-breaking multi-platinum rap star to talk everything from his trademark facial plasters to his friendship with rapper T.I. and pop star Taylor Swift, while also reminiscing about his many milestones.
It seems that you almost have a bit of a formula. In 2002, you had a ‘Dilemma,’ then in 2004 you were telling us about your ‘Nasty Girl’. And now you’re shouting ‘Hey Porsche’. Is this a method or is it just how things have worked out?
I didn’t notice that at all. I think you’ve just pointed it out to me [laughs]. It’s pretty coincidental, but I like it, especially as it makes me look like a genius.
The words “Hot in Heree” will probably appear in the first sentence of your obituary. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s cool. It’s different as an artist to be fortunate enough to achieve success and to continually do so for over ten years. To also have a supportive following of fans who grew up with you makes it more important to leave something behind that people will remember you by. With that said, I don’t think being remembered for ‘Hot in Heree’ is a bad thing at all.
Do you ever have people shouting your lyrics at you when you’re walking down the street?
Yeah, I definitely come in contact with a lot of people shouting stuff sometimes. It’s a great feeling knowing you’ve had some connection with their lives in a way where they are remembering something about you. A lot of the time people will relate certain situations in their lives with music
You appear as quite a serious artist, but it’s obvious to see from your latest video that you have a good sense of humor. What makes you laugh?
There are many things, but a good joke always helps [laughs].
Would you have ever thought there would be a time where you could have a song like ‘Hey Porsche’ doing so well the way it has, and, yet, most people are buying their music online? Isn’t it strange that we got to this point?
I mean things are changing, but evolution is inevitable. I never look at things and ask ‘why are they changing?’ I understand and believe that things always will and must change. Different generations have their own views on what they want to do when it’s their turn to outgrow mankind. Certain people will do things in a different way, but I never get mad when I see changes. I always try to understand and adjust, but if you don’t want to, then that’s understandable – everybody should have a choice.
“You have this girl, she’s bad as hell. You have this car and you start to realise they both go together.” I had a hard time figuring out whether you’re singing about the sports car or the super-sexy lady who had your attention in the video for ‘Hey Porsche’.
I think that’s the irony of the song. What I did was linked those fantasies of both in-between. Sometimes as a guy you tend to love your cars and your girls, and if you can get the car and the girl —I mean come on.
You’re obviously someone who attracts the ladies. Is it a struggle living with beautiful women constantly throwing themselves at you?
I don’t know anything about that. Seriously man, I’m not aware of that. I’ll never admit to it, so I don’t know what you’re talking about [laughs].
‘Hey Porsche’ has already reached gold status here in the UK, and is your 22nd top 40 hit in the US, making you the 11th most-charted Top 40 artist of all time. Is there anything else that you still want to achieve?
Now, I want to break into the top 5 and top 10. So in the meantime, I’ll continue making as many hits as possible.
Billboard has ranked you as one of the top three artist of the decade. What do you do with all your money?
I don’t know what I do with all of it [laughs]. I mean I use some of it for this and for that, but I live comfortably.
I imagine some of it may also go towards your bills and weekly trips to the supermarket?
Yeah, and as nobody is trying to sue me [laughs]…I would like to think so, but I can’t precisely say for sure where it all goes.
In hip-hop, people usually move from one person to the next, you’re still here attacking the charts—why do you think that is?
I think it’s the love affair of what I do. My love for music and trying to continuously make good music for my fans who have been with me since day one, whilst also trying to make new fans as I go along.
Does Nelly, with the sticking plaster on his cheek, still exist? Will we ever see him again?
Well, I mean the guy will always be here, but come on man. I haven’t worn a Band-Aid since 2002.
So, have you now left him behind forever?
Yeah, since then  I have done four albums without wearing any plaster. Are ya‘ll still talking about my Band-Aid?
Yeah, I’ve wanted to ask you about this since 2003.
Damn, you’ve been waiting a long time [collapses into fit of giggles].
Looking back, what advice would you have given to your 19-year-old self?
Just to enjoy the moments a lot more when you’re accomplishing things. A lot of time when you’re working so hard, you never really get the chance to stop, and see some of the wonderful things you’ve achieved. In this business, you sometimes don’t get the chance to reap those rewards because you’re constantly moving in the fast lane. So, I would probably say to enjoy it just a little bit more.
It’s almost 13 years since the release of your gold selling single ‘Hot In Heree’. Why do you think this song was such a hit with fans?
I think it’s just a fun song that managed to really hit at the right moment. It was something different at the time, and it just had a lot of great energy.
There are very few clubs you can walk into during the summer and not hear ‘Hot In Heree’. You must be pleased with the royalties,or as they say the cake?
Yeah – I’m not pissed about it at all. No, it doesn’t make me mad.
Is hip-hop a dangerous place right now?
No, why would you say that?
As of recently many rappers, including Rick Ross and French Montana have been caught up in drive-by shootings…
I just think maybe the place they were in could have been dangerous. I don’t think it has got anything to do with hip-hop.
Is it difficult for rappers to escape from the street life, once they’ve found success?
I mean I don’t know. I’m not into that. I think you’ll have to ask them. I can’t speak for Rick Ross or French Montana [laughs]. I have got an album coming out – let’s talk about that.
Okay, so for anyone who has been following your career, it’s obvious to see that you continue to evolve with you music. What can you tell us about your forthcoming album ‘M.O.’?
It’s my seventh album. After being in the game for so long it’s about me reinventing myself and coming up with new ways. It’s one of those albums, which I think might just possibly be one of my best albums ever. I’m looking forward to really coming back and touching the fans this time.
What does the album title ‘M.O.’ refer to?
M.O. stands for the place where I’m from in Missouri. The abbreviation is that a lot of my close friends and family call me M.O., so it’s about me being where I’m from and being the same person at the same time.
You and T.I. have had a long running collaborative relationship. Will he also be appearing on this album?
Yeah, he will be appearing on a song called ‘IDGAF,’ which is produced by my man Pharrell. It’s a dope track. Tip is like a little brother to me. We came into the game together and have grown together in certain aspects. We have a mutual understanding which is kind of funny because you don’t get very many friends in this business that you would actually consider to be close. I mean obviously you have a lot of people who you’re very cool with, and then some people who you share an understanding with – something I think T.I., and I have.
What sort of things, do you and T.I. talk about?
What we talk about, you and T.I. probably wouldn’t even talk about [laughs]. I mean we talk about everything and we also talk pretty frequently. He’s a great friend of mine, so sometimes we may talk every day, every other day or once a week.
It seems as though you tend to only collaborate with a handful of specific people, compared to many other artists. Is that a deliberate thing?
Sometimes you just want to work with people who you have great chemistry with, and who also understands what it is that you’re trying to achieve. I like working with people who I get on with. I wouldn’t want to do a song with someone whom I didn’t like, but if I haven’t done a song with them, that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It simply means we haven’t basically, came together on a collaboration yet, or the opportunity hasn’t presented itself. It’s never been my style to just put people on a song for the sake of it.
You recently surprised fans after performing alongside Taylor Swift at a concert in St. Louis.
That’s my girl. I had a great time, Taylor is pretty cool. She’s doing her thing.
What’s the one thing you’re most proud to have brought to hip-hop?
I think that diversity and erasing that fear of trying to expand and interact with other people. Also appreciating other genres of music because for a long time if you were a rapper, you had to act like you only listen to rap, but it’s not like that anymore. Just because you are a rapper, it doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate other types of music or even contribute to different genres.
I hear you don’t plan to retire any time soon?
No, not at all. I can’t do that. There are so many things that I still want to do, and so many ideas I still want to explore, so quitting is not an option right now.
Nelly’s new single ‘Hey Porsche’ is out on April 22.