Nelly is one of the biggest names to have performed at UCR for any event. After his energetic performance on Friday, he still had enough “pimp juice” in his blood to give an interview. He spoke with Highlander about his career in music and other businesses, and he shared his secret to longevity.
Highlander: So it’s been about 12 years since you introduced “Country Grammar,” where do you see yourself in your career right now?
Nelly: Basically at a point of trying to continue the type of success that [I’ve] had but also mixing it with reinventing [myself]; also trying to find new and creative ways of writing music to people. Since 12 years, a lot of stuff done changed since then. So it’s basically just trying to find that medium between continuously giving your true fans and your loyal fans that’s been riding with you what they want but also trying to reinvent yourself to capture new people.
HL: If you can tell yourself anything back then, that you know now, what would it be?
Nelly: Keep doing what you doing, stay versatile [and] never be afraid of change. I think so many artists get caught up and they’re afraid of change. And [change is] what kind of allows an artist to veer off. Everything will and must change. Music does too, especially hip-hop because hip-hop is mainly controlled by the youth. Obviously if I’m a 10-year-old, I get to be 17 and 18. I want to choose what I like, myself. I don’t want nobody that’s a little older to tell me “this” is what I should like. As an artist it’s up to you to continuously create music that’s going to generate new hope.
HL: Aside from music, you have a lot of other things on your plate: a show and you started your own music school. How involved are you with each business venture you embark on?
Nelly: I try to be involved as much as possible. It’s almost impossible sometimes to give as much attention as you would like to, to everything ‘cause you’re only one person. That’s why having good people on your staff, people that you trust to bring forth your vision on things, is always helpful and it’s a must in what it is that you do. Especially when you’re trying to expand and be entrepreneurial. It’s hard to find good people. That saying is so true: “good people are hard to find.” But when you can find good people that share your vision and that you trust and [are] hungry as you are…that’s the thing. But the school is unbelievable. I partnered with someone who shared a vision: a young lady by the name of Pam Bell. We came together and created an affordable way to teach students how to be producers, engineers, learn how to record hands-on and things of that nature. The “Real House Husbands” thing on BET, coming up real soon with Kevin Hart is hilarious. The show on the CW, “The Next,” that we’ve been doing is great. We’re just continuously branding out. The new album, seventh album, is coming out later on at the end of this year.
HL: That seems like a lot to juggle. Are you a natural multi-tasker or is that a skill you had to acquire?
Nelly: I’m a natural multi-tasker; Scorpio [laughs].
HL: So you’ve been doing that since you were young.
Nelly: Yea, since I was young man, mainly in sports. I tried my hand in almost every sport when I was younger: football, basketball and soccer…I try to do as many things as possible.
HL: Amongst all these other projects, how important is music now to you?
Nelly: Music is always special. I would be doing music whether I was in here or not ‘cause even before I was in here I was still doing music. Music, I will forever in life be doing.
HL: Is it still number one?
Nelly: It will always be number one. Well, besides my kids. That’s what allows me to do everything else. Now, I don’t know if I will forever be in the music business but in some capacity, you know, I love it.
HL: You released “O.E.M.O.” and you kind of took it back to the streets on that one. What made you want to do a mixtape instead of just dropping an album?
Nelly: Again, it’s about playing the rules to the game. It’s the rules of the game. You can either play the game or go home. But you got to learn how to play it your way so it’s not like you’re adjusting or lowering your standards. It’s just about, “Yo, that’s what it is. They say if you stay in the lane for three seconds now it’s illegal” [laughs]. They used to let us stay in there but the game has changed. Now I got to adapt. I just think it’s just more about adapting. A lot of people have been trying to get me to do a mixtape for a long time though. It was just about how to do it; a way to bring it out. I just felt like, it was a Nelly mixtape but “How does Nelly do a mixtape?” That was the hardest thing to do ‘cause I’m not from that. So how do I do it my own way? I thought “O.E.M.O.” was that.
HL: What are your thoughts about the rap game right now—new artists and how it functions?
Nelly: I’m not here to say if it’s good or bad, that’s not my thing. Hip-Hop is created by the youth, for the youth. We have to understand that and we have to understand that when we were 17, 18, [and] 19, we didn’t like people that was 30, 31, [and] 32 telling us what we should listen to and what we shouldn’t. It’s a rebellious type of music. So it’s almost a rebellious action to it. But what I think is, the game is so open right now with social media, that you really have to be special to be a star. You have to be over-the-top special to be a star now. Because there’s so many people who got hit records but if they walked in the room you probably wouldn’t be able to place which hit record with which star. You probably have never seen them. You’ve heard these people before you’ve seen them. And then when you finally see them it’s just like, “Oh, shit, he could have been the guy next door.” [laughs]. I’m not saying it’s bad or good. I’m just saying it’s the way that it is.
HL: 12 plus years in the game. It’s safe to say that you’re a veteran. What’s the key to longevity?
Nelly: Versatility. Hands down. If you don’t just say, “Fuck it, this is the game. I’m going to learn how to play it but my way then you will get left behind. LL Cool J was very good at versatility. Jay-Z is very good at versatility. He makes himself relevant with what’s going on but he does it his way. You look at the veterans that’s been able to last like that and doing it. I mean, Fabolous, he’s good at being versatile. You know, what I’m saying? That’s it.