Road To The Grammys: The Making Of Nelly’s ‘Dilemma’

St. Louis MC makes last-minute addition to Nellyville after hearing sample of Patti LaBelle's 'Love, Need and Want You.'

Nelly had just finished Nellyville when an unknown St. Louis producer by the name of Bam handed him a skeleton track sampling Patti LaBelle’s “Love, Need and Want You.”

“I heard the beat and started playing around with it, writing stuff,” Nelly recalled last fall. “And then I wrote the whole song out.”

Nelly liked what he was hearing and decided to make it a last-minute addition to his album. Once he returned to the studio, his vision for the song changed. “I thought, ’Whoa, I need a girl for this!’ ”

The rapper instantly thought of a friend he met on the “TRL” tour the year before. “He wanted Kelly [Rowland] from the beginning,” Nelly’s manager, Tony Davis, said. “He had in mind what kind of sound he was looking for.”

Nelly phoned the Destiny’s Child singer and a few days and dozens of takes later, “Dilemma” was born.

“I remember him telling me how Kelly is a perfectionist and kept wanting to do it over and over and over until she got it just right,” Davis said.

Rowland enjoyed every minute of it.

“I love Nelly,” she said on the set of the song’s video. “This song is so catchy. Nelly has a great ear. He came up with this really catchy hook, ’I love you/ I need you,’ and everybody sings it! A lot of people can relate to it, people find themselves in the dilemma. I just had a lot of fun recording the song. It didn’t even feel like work.”

Once “Dilemma” was finished, Nelly played the track for Destiny’s Child’s manager, Mathew Knowles. “I said immediately, ’This is a #1 song,’ ” Knowles recalled. “And Destiny’s Child has had seven #1s, so I know one when I hear one.”

Knowles was right. Radio programmers flocked to the track once Nellyville dropped, prompting Nelly to release it as the second single. Within a few weeks, “Dilemma” was sitting atop the Billboard singles chart, where it would stay for two months. In January, it was nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy.

The success of “Dilemma” forced Rowland to rush her solo album into stores (see “Nelly Hit Forces Change In Plans For Destiny’s Child LPs” ) and served as a nice propeller for her solo career. “Kelly has a beautiful voice and in no way is she a background singer,” Knowles said. ” ’Dilemma’ showcased her the way it should have. She’s a star in her own right.”

The song, centered around Rowland’s hook, “No matter what I do/ All I think about is you/ Even when I’m with my boo/ Boy, you know I’m crazy over you,” is about having feelings for someone while in a relationship with someone else. Like Rowland noted, it’s easy to relate to.

Nelly’s smooth delivery of such raps as, “I never been the type to break up a happy
home/ But there’s something ’bout baby girl, I just can’t leave her alone,” and the soothing groove of “Dilemma” gave it an even wider appeal.

“The melody, the old familiar song, that’s what I think attracted a lot of people to it,” Davis said.

One listener was particularly excited about the origin of the song.

“I was so happy to hear them use my song, I jumped for joy,” Patti LaBelle said. “It’s the same feeling I had when I heard ’Lady Marmalade.’ It’s 26 years old, so I recorded that song before either of them were born. And Kelly is such a sweet person that I would welcome her into my heart and my home. Actually if I ever had a daughter, I would envision Kelly.”

LaBelle, who also claims to be a big Nelly fan (” ’Hot in Herre’ coincides very well with my menopause,” she said), has garnered increased attention since “Dilemma,” especially when performing live. “I’ve added their version to the introduction of my song and the crowd just goes wild,” she said.

Good thing Nelly made that late addition.

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