By Rhonda Baraka
Rapper Nelly (Cornell Haynes Jr.), 21 says the success of his debut album
Country Grammar is proof that hard work pays off and that destiny always
has the final word. The Texas-born, St.Louis-bred rapper, who first gained local
recognition as a member of the group St. Lunatics, says his success was meant to
"I'm trying to look at everything that happens as something that was supposed to
happen," he told sonicnet.com in May. At that time, Nelly's single "Country
Grammar (Hot ...)" was picking up steam on the charts and on radio as fans,
obviously attracted to the song's hook a snippet from the familiar
children's tune "Down, Down Baby" helped transform Nelly from a hometown
favorite into a national hip-hop phenom. The single sold 247,454 units from the
time of its February release until six weeks prior to the album's release in June
(at which time the single was no longer available). Country Grammar, the
album, has sold more than a million copies after five weeks in stores and is No.
3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Nelly affirms that his success is the fruit of his labor and the work of the
gods. "I don't believe in luck," he says emphatically. "I believe everything
happens for a reason. You make happen what you want to happen." While Nelly
counted on success, he didn't count on the impact it would have on others. Like
many celebrities, he has found that family and friends expect more of him these
days and that his busy schedule leaves him little time for solitude
something that he grew accustomed to as a child who moved from city to city. But
despite the changes that accompany success, Nelly embraces his newfound celebrity
and regards the challenges as inevitable by-products of life as a local boy who
sonicnet.com: What do you think it is about your music that makes it so hot
Nelly: It's just different. People like something different. It's all
about being on what's different and what's hot. So everybody's taking to it and
the sound. It's got that vibe, that little swing that's got everybody not really
bouncing but just swinging, heads bobbing. That's how we like to keep it.
sonicnet.com: What's your life been like these days? Been on the road a
Nelly: Yeah, a whole lot. I don't really get no breaks. Everybody promises
me a day off, then it turns into something. But it's all gravy.
sonicnet.com: Have you gotten tired of all the attention and the work?
Nelly: Naw, not really tired. It's just that every now and then you want a
break. You just wanna be by yourself some days. I'm used to being by myself
'cause I moved around a lot as a kid and I used to be by myself a lot as far as,
like, not really talking to myself but really sitting down with myself sometimes.
And now I don't really do that too much because there's always somebody around,
or I'm always trying to get a call or something.
sonicnet.com: Other than the obvious lack of privacy, what's been the biggest
change in your life since your success?
Nelly: That's really it the lack of privacy because I've always
been doing the music and I've always been partying. So really just the privacy
thing, but I expect that. Everybody's been taking well to me as far as giving me
my props and everything. I mean, you got your people who criticize but I wouldn't
even call it hatin' 'cause everybody can't like what you do. I don't like what
some other people do. You know what I'm sayin'? So it's all good.
sonicnet.com: What about financially? I know what your life was like as a kid
coming up ... Your parents couldn't afford to take care of you ...
Nelly: Yeah, that's a big thing now as far as me helping them out. And I
get a lotta phone calls from people. I've picked up a lotta family members. All
of a sudden I'm the shoulder to cry on now, but it's all good.
sonicnet.com: So what's the home scene like right now?
Nelly: Home is crazy. Everybody's really showing love and everybody's just
happy and excited 'cause it ain't even like it's my success. It's like it's St.
Louis' success right now so everybody's real crazy with it.
sonicnet.com: And what's up with the St. Lunatics? They're still down with you
Nelly: I am St. Lunatics. It's not Nelly and the St. Lunatics. It's Nelly
from the St. Lunatics. It ain't like they're gone nowhere. I'm just the first
solo act out of the St. Lunatics. We're working on that album now and we're gonna
drop that joint in one hot second. We got a song on the "Kings of Comedy"
soundtrack, so that's coming out and that's hot.
sonicnet.com: So what's gonna be the next single from Country
Nelly: It's looking like "EI." We're feelin' that right now. We're
starting on the video treatment for that. So we gonna bang that one out.
sonicnet.com: Are you concerned about the follow-up single? Do you think it's
gonna be crucial to how the album continues to do?
Nelly: Well, the album is selling now on just one single. We've been out
five weeks. If it was a one-single deal, it would have passed by now. We wouldn't
be doing 200 [thousand copies] a week, so it's gotta be people spreading the word
that the album is hot and that it just ain't one song on there. I'm getting
suggestions about which single to drop. Everybody I talk to is coming up with a
different song. When you get people coming up to you telling you a different song
should be your next single, you know you're doing something right album-wise.
sonicnet.com: Let's talk about some of the songs. What are some of your
Nelly: I put a great deal into making all of them and each song I did each
time, that was what was hot then. I feel all of them but "Country Grammar" was
the most fun to make, as far as me being able to cut loose. "EI" is smoking; "The
Dedication," that's hot; "Lovin' Me," I be feelin' that sometime. Everything.
sonicnet.com: Are all the songs rooted in something that's real to you or are
they just products of your imagination?
Nelly: Naw, that's just definitely what's on my mind at that time. It's a
lotta plans, a lotta goals in the album that I'm makin' come true. And at the
same time it's a reality check. When you doing certain things in your life, you
always have a goal. You always try to set a goal and what you're doing now ain't
nothing but steps to get to the goal so it's all real to you. You feel it. As
long as you ain't saying nothing that you feel you can't make happen
that's when it becomes fake. If you doing something and you know you can't make
that happen, why you rappin' about that? But if you rappin' about it and you know
you can make it happen and you know that's your goal, you know that's where you
gon' be or you know that's where you at that's real.
sonicnet.com: Does that apply to songs like "Wrap Something," where you're
talking about smoking weed, and lines like, 'For my bitches and my niggas?' Some
people might have a problem with that. What would be your response to them?
Nelly: I mean, they can't like everything. It's just impossible. That's
too perfect. If everybody liked it, that's like 50 million records. I mean,
c'mon, you know that ain't going down but if I can get four or five million
people outta 250 million in this country, then I'm all good. I know it's at least
four or five million people I can reach out there, maybe six, seven, eight. It
can end tomorrow but I still reached over a million-plus people, a million-plus
people can relate to me. And I'm thinking more, I'm hoping more, we're pressing
for more, working for more.
sonicnet.com: Have you started writing material for the next album?
Nelly: I ain't tryin' to take no breaks like that. I'm definitely running
the concepts, gettin' my people straight, definitely tryin' to put together the
second album 'cause that's gon' be real crucial. A lot of people like to talk
about the sophomore jinx. I don't know about no jinx. I just think that you have
to be there the same way you was on the first one. I don't believe in luck. I
believe everything happens for a reason. You make happen what you want to happen.
If you put forth the same effort that you did and just put it out there the same
way, it ain't no fluke. You got people out there who ain't never had sophomore
jinxes. So, what's with them? They ain't never had the sophomore jinx. Why?
Because they put forth the same effort they did on the first album. You just
gotta be on the same vibe with the same edge. That's what I think.
sonicnet.com: But given the experiences you've had since this record came out,
will there be new sides of Nelly uncovered on some of this new material? Will we
see a different person?
Nelly: Yeah. For sure. Because, I mean, life is different now. I'm gon'
have to hit them issues but I'm still gonna be the same. Y'know, coming into
this, I used to think that people change. 'Aw man, he changed.' But he ain't
changed. I think the people that look at him change. He never been in that
situation before so how do you know he changed? People get in certain situations
... It's like if I used to call you once or twice a month and now I don't call
you once or twice a day, I changed. But before, I used to talk to you once every
month but now if you don't talk to me everyday and I don't let you know what's
going on, or if today I got an attitude for some reason, I'm changing or I'm
big-headed or something like that. But damn, when I had an attitude every day
before the rap [career], then it was like, 'He cool. That's just him.' So I mean,
it's real different now as far as people looking at you different, people waiting
for you to trip, people waiting to say something bad now, people waiting to be
like, 'Aw, he changed,' people waiting to be like, 'Oh, it's going to his head.'
You can just actually sit down and watch 'em just lay back and wait. I don't know
where they be but they just click on you. They looking at you in a whole
different light. If I ain't talk to you more than a month at a time, I ain't gon'
talk to you more than a month at a time. I ain't gon' step my game up to where
the more I get busy the more chances I got to call you.
sonicnet.com: That being the case, how has that affected your relationships
with some folks that you might have hung out with before? Are they strained?
Nelly: Yeah, they're expecting a lot more. It's like if we hung out and we
used to go to parties together and now if I go out and I didn't call you to go
out or something, now I'm on some bullsh--. C'mon man, I was already out there
and I just decided on a humbug to go somewhere, then somebody will call somebody
else and tell 'em, 'Yo, I seen your man out,' and he goes, 'What? That nigga
didn't even call me. He on some bullsh--.' So it's like, damn, I can't even do
nothing now without calling everybody I f---ing know and let them know. But I
deal with it. I don't need to trip off it 'cause I can't change that and I'll
kill myself trying to make everybody happy.
sonicnet.com: What about love? Any time for that?
Nelly: Nah. Everybody that approaches me says, 'I ain't no groupie.'
That's like everybody's opening line. I'm waiting on that one that's got a
different opening line. That one that comes different, that probably will be the
sonicnet.com: So who's gonna be the next big thing out of the STL?
Nelly: The St. Lunatics album, fo' sure.
sonicnet.com: We know that's coming, but what else?
Nelly: I'm gonna get my label started, get some of these young ones out
there. All they need is the focus, the direction. The thing that I had to catch
on to as far as where to take the music, how to do it. It's got to be for the
people. That's the main thing. I know a lotta people do music for themselves,
which is great, but you're not gon' buy the album. I know you do music for you
and your partners but your partners ain't gon' buy the album, they want a free
copy. So you got to do music for the people 'cause without the people you don't
get another album. You don't get no royalties, you don't get no nothing and then
when your sh-- is over you look at your boys and you like, 'What up baby? I made
the music for you, you know what I'm sayin'?' And they be like, 'Well, I got to
get this job man.' But make the music for the people and if they're truly your
friends, they're supporting you because they know where you coming from.