NEW YORK — In the three years between Nelly's last project and his latest — the forthcoming Brass Knuckles due out November 13 — the St. Louis rapper has learned plenty, he says.
"Being away for a minute, I got a chance to see a lot," he told MTV News earlier this month. "This is probably the first time I really got a chance to pay attention to everything else [going on], and to see now from all different angles."
Maybe, then, it was that new sense of perspective that led him to ask Chuck D to contribute to the album. According to Nelly, after participating in BET's "Hip-Hop vs. America" town-hall chat with the legendary Public Enemy frontman, among others, he asked the veteran rapper to collaborate on a track called "Self Esteem."
"I don't think that people got [what Public Enemy was]," Nelly said, explaining how the song came together. "Well, what I took from Public Enemy before I got into the studio with them — just them in their moment of triumph when they were getting down — was be an individual. 'Don't believe the hype.' Right now, we believing the hype. We're trapped in believing the hype. ... I don't think Chuck was telling you what to be or when to be it, but just be it, be yourself.
"I had always had this thing: I want to do a song and I wanted to put Chuck on it," Nelly said. "So when I got [to the BET show], I had the song. I didn't even have a chance to play it for him. He said, 'Let's do it.' Just that easy. [I said,] 'Aiight, but I want you to hear the song,' 'cause I was real anxious. ... He was like, 'Don't worry about it, send it to me. It's done.' And I was like, 'Wow.' "
"Self Esteem" is an uplifting tune in the vein of PE's past classics. But Nelly is running with that topic for more than just records. He has been a target of political activists and social groups, in large part due to his video for the remix track "Tip Drill," which featured him swiping a credit card through a woman's buttocks, and Nelly has become more outspoken in his defense. He's also begun speaking out against issues he feels are more pertinent to his community than his own mistake, the latest being Don Imus' potential return to radio. Nelly felt firing the controversial shock jock was akin to a slap on the wrist compared to other punishments that could have been proposed, had the community been more patient regarding the matter.
"We jumped the gun, and we don't think before we move," Nelly said. "Right when Imus did that, instead of everybody getting all riled up and pulling him off the air, [we could have said,] 'Wait a minute, y'all. Hold up before we pull him off the air. Let's get what we can get out of the situation; because they do it to us every time. Let's think about this; this guy is a moneymaker.' It's obvious [MSNBC] didn't want him off the air, because the incident had happened two weeks beforehand, [and] they were trying to find out where it was going before they let him go. So, what can we get out of this? The guy is a moneymaker. How about we fine both of them? Let's fine both of them $50 million over the next five years; $10 million a year. ...
"Let's start the Don Imus Nappy Negro College Fund," Nelly continued. "And then for the next five years, we're sending brothers and sisters to college off his mistake. And let's hope he does it again next year! So we can get 100 million. Let's provoke him! Somebody call up there and piss him off. But again, us jumping to conclusions, because you got so many people wanting to claim the glory off of it, wanting to step in front of the camera, we got shook out of our 40 acres and a mule again. We missed it again! It was right there! Do I think he should've been fired? Hell no! Stand up, let's dock him. We could've built schools. We could have built rec centers off of that. We could have gone to college. We missed it. Now we got him fired. What did that do? It don't matter, he's rich. What is he going to do, go home, take a vacation, lay up, watch a little TV, then get a bigger deal on a satellite-radio station? [Ed. note: Imus is reportedly expected to return to radio, New York City's WABC-AM, December 3.] Now he's even bigger because now black folks know who he is. Now we're tempted to tune in just to hear if he's gonna say some other dumb stuff. Now he's even bigger. All we did was blow him up."
Right now, though, Nelly is concentrating on making himself bigger. He shot the clip to his first single, "Wadsyaname," two weeks ago in New York, and the Chris Robinson-directed video is scheduled to debut at the end of October.