NEW YORK — When Nelly talks about being up close and personal on tour, it doesn't just pertain to being onstage with his fans. In the dressing room, you can catch him laughing and acting a fool with the rest of his crew, and on some nights, Fat Joe, T.I. and who knows who else might pop their head in to show love.
On Friday night, the Sweat/Suit Tour rolled into the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and in the dressing room, the air of competition was thick. Not like how you might think, though: The artists seemed to be genuinely unified, and unlike many star-filled shows where a particular act may perform then leave the venue, on this trek T.I. would often stick around to watch Fat Joe's set, or Nelly would arrive a little early to check out T.I. No, the competition in Nelly and the Tics' dressing room had nothing to do with rap — it was all about basketball and push-ups.
"I did my 50," Nelly told one of the guys in his crew, then divulged that he was going to build up to doing 100 in one session.
"I already do 100," the guy answered Nelly with a smile. The king of St. Louis then had to burst his bubble and tell him the difference between their two regimens.
"Mines are closer to the ground, though," Nelly said with a laugh before actually getting on the floor to demonstrate.
In the background, some of the other Lunatics were focused on the Friday night NBA game, where the Washington Wizards were giving it to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"L's about to serve you, LeBron," Nelly yelled out later, while watching the Wizards' Larry Hughes taking it to the hole against the NBA's King James.
Meanwhile, onstage, T.I. was just finishing up dousing the crowd with such toxic tunes as "Rubber Band Man," "ASAP," "Motivation," "U Don't Know Me" and "Stand Up" with special guest Lil Jon. Fat Joe and the Terror Squad were patiently bouncing backstage while waiting for their turn to rock NYC.
When the music stopped, T.I. — shirtless and dripping with sweat as if he had just come out of a bathtub — Lil Jon and the Pimp Squad Clique exited the stage and took pictures with the Terror Squad.
"Gangsta, gangsta," T.I. yelled to Joe. "They ready for you."
"That was a really good show," Joey Crack said.
Nelly had just as many stars in his dressing room as there were onstage. Singer Anthony Hamilton had joined the fray, and minutes later Prodigy from Mobb Deep and producer Alchemist showed up.
"What up, dunn dunn?" Prodigy said to Nelly, who answered, "What's up, derrty? I appreciate y'all for coming."
Unfortunately, Prodigy's partner, Havoc, was unable to make the show, where Mobb Deep were supposed to perform "Got It Twisted," but Nelly didn't fret. He told P, "You can do whatever you want to do. You can just get out there and [throw your hands in the air] if you want."
"We got everybody today," said Murphy Lee, off in a corner. "Anthony Hamilton, Mobb Deep, Fab is supposed to be coming through. Usher might come through, Diddy might come through. You never know. We freestyling the show."
"That's just us," Ali said about the crowded dressing room. "We deal with it like that. That's our outlet, to have everybody around. I know at certain times it may look a little hectic, but it's going to be a problem if ain't nobody in this dressing room. When it's not crowded, that's when the problem comes in."
"It's crazy 'cause we the unity group," Murph said about the tour in general. "We was like, 'All these artists need to get together.' That's the only way you gonna sell some seats, put everybody together. When we heard we could get T.I. and Fat Joe, it was crazy. This has been like the best tour I've been on."
Around 10 p.m., Nelly and company were getting the crowd open with a litany of hits ranging from "Air Force Ones" to "Dilemma" to "Flap Your Wings," and more guests were showing up backstage to support Pimp Juice. Jaheim stood quietly until it was time for him to go out for "My Place," and although Fabolous doesn't have a record with Nelly, the Brooklyn slick-talker was given the chance to shine on his own, coming out for "Breathe."
As the show was coming to an end, T.I. — showered, changed and holding a glass of wine — returned backstage with the Pimp Squad Clique and his girlfriend, Tiny from Xscape, to catch a few minutes of the headlining act.
The most touching moment of the concert came when Nelly thanked everyone for the condolences following his sister Jackie's death (see "Nelly's Sister Loses Her Battle With Leukemia"). "I went through something real tough," Nelly said to the fans. "I lost somebody close to me."
New York's Sweat/Suit date didn't end solemnly, though. The girls sang along with "Over and Over," and everyone stood for Nelly's closing number, "Na-Nana-Na," where he sings "Shorty, can we leave here" on the chorus.
"Once the fans get to singing your song, it's a wrap," Murphy Lee explained earlier in the night. "You right back into it. It might be a song you been singing for five years strong and you're tired of it, but once the fans start singing your song, you right back in it. You see how much they appreciate it. It's new every day."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.