Nelly is no longer just an emcee. Preferring to walk to the beat of his own drummer, he wants his career moves to be just as diversified as the varied musical path heard on his 7th full length solo album “M.O.”
“I went in and did good music. I wasn’t thinking about the first single. I took time to figure out this album,” he says passionately. “I tried to pull from what other successful albums were, not go in with expectations, and just have a new energy. So I made sure I had the right songs and the right collaborations. I got Pharrell, 2 Chainz, Future, Florida Georgia Line, Fabolous and Nelly Furtado. We are artists and things are relative to our life at that time, so some people will feel certain songs and others won’t.”
Unfortunately, people aren’t responding to Nelly’s newfound musical foray. Debuting at #14 on the Billboard 200 with only 15,500 copies sold, sales of “M.O.” reflect the lowest figures for a Nelly album to date. Having sold over 21 million records, Nelly helped raise a generation of babies with his breakout anthem “Country Grammar” in 2000. Though his newest album “M.O.,” has gotten off to a sluggish start, it’s still a solid release showcasing everything, from contagious club singles like “Rick James,” featuring T.I., that could easily be heard playing to soul claps on any dance floor; to “All Around the World,” featuring Trey Songz which should rotate next to any single on a top 40 radio station. The problem is that Nelly has been away for so long that his fanbase has grown up and moved on to new obsessions like Miley Cyrus, Drake and Rihanna – more mainstream and more in line with what everyone else, except Nelly’s new album, sounds like.
Stepping away from the familiarity of his core audience, his focus has evolved. During Nelly’s musical hiatus, he invested his earnings from entertainment into other interests and streams of income, including his Apple Bottom and Vokal clothing lines and an ownership stake in the Charlotte Bobcats. He’s also elevated with his education venture, The E’xtreme Institute. Founded over a year ago in St. Louis, and accredited by Vatterott College, the trade school educates approximately 300 students in engineering, graphic design, music and other careers in the field of entertainment. “We designed it so that you can participate at your own pace, day or night, and it enables students to be involved in creativity at their own pace,” says Nelly, who keeps a firm hand in the community by also working with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Covenant House, 4Sho4Kids, and Jes Us 4 Jackie, a campaign named after his sister Jackie who passed away from leukemia in 2005. “I always tell kids that as long as you’re making some kind of difference, you’re doing the right thing.”
Today, Nelly continues his acting career by appearing on the second season of BET’s The Real Husbands of Hollywood co-starring Kevin Hart, Boris Kodjoe, Duane Martin, and JB Smoove. “Kevin is a good friend of mine. I was in the original trailer for the show and then it all fell into place after that,” he says. “It was a great concept and a great cast. We get a chance to make fun of ourselves and other people. It’s the realest faked reality show on TV.”
But in the non-fiction world, all Nelly wants to do is reinvent, stay creative, and rearrange his resume in a way that strives to stay out of a musical box of suffocation. “I want people to think about me as a diverse brand,” he says. “Look, you don’t have to do just one thing, and I have become as diverse as my music has allowed me to be.”
*Additional Reporting by Yussuf Khan