He's a Grammy Award-winning, multiplatinum hip-hop star who's scored a host of top 10 hits, collaborated with heavy hitters from T.I. to Tim McGraw, owns a label and a successful clothing line and is celebrating his 10th anniversary in music.
But for rapper Nelly's teenage daughter, the biggest validation that her father is still "cool" came only last week-from Taylor Swift. "I'm so in love with that new Nelly song," the country phenom tweeted about Nelly's latest single, "Just a Dream," produced by Jim Jonsin and Rico Love.
"My daughter was like, 'OMG!' " the 36-year-old father of two says about his daughter's shock at Swift's recognition. "I'm only cool to her because I know Chris Brown and Bow Wow, and now Taylor tweeted about me."
Apparently, Swift isn't the only one enamored with the track. "Just a Dream"-one of two lead singles from Nelly's upcoming "5.0" album from Derrty/Universal Motown (Nov. 16)-debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 8 on Hot Digital Songs, marking his first top 10 hit since "Grillz" topped the Hot 100 in 2006. Released concurrently with club track "Tippin' in Da Club," the midtempo, guitar-driven "Dream" is No. 7 on Hot Digital Songs and No. 13 on the Hot 100.
"When I did the song, I knew I had something; I loved the strings in it," the St. Louis-raised rapper says. "As an artist, you get those feelings, like when I did 'Dilemma' [with Kelly Rowland] and 'Over and Over' [with McGraw]. Me, Jim and Rico . . . we just felt it."
Jonsin points to the "super contagious melodies" and Nelly's strong fan base as key reasons behind the breakout success of "Dream." And Love agrees. "It just shows that people are still in love with great songs minus the bells and whistles," he says.
But Nelly's fan base hasn't always been as impressed with his work. His 2008 album, "Brass Knuckles," has only sold 223,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In fact, "Dream"-about missing a former love-has already outpaced sales of "Brass," moving 252,000 downloads, according to SoundScan.
While Nelly was disappointed by the "Brass" outcome, he used it as motivation for his upcoming sixth album. "Like the 5.0 Mustang, it's going to be a classic," the rapper says. "This album is a lot more melodic than most of my previous albums. It has the power, energy and diversity that my fans have allowed me to [draw from] over the years, including pop, rhythmic, urban and even country."
In addition to "Dream" and "Club," the album includes "She So Fly." Featuring T.I., who also produced, the song is about having a second opportunity to impress someone you desire. "1000 Stacks" is another club track featuring Sean "Diddy" Combs and the late Notorious B.I.G. Other guests include Rowland, Baby, Plies, Chris Brown and Nelly's own St. Lunatics crew. The Runners, Polow Da Don, Dutch and Juke Box are among the set's producers.
Aside from "5.0," Nelly hopes to release a St. Lunatics project on the same date and plans to issue the accompanying video to "Dream" in the coming weeks. In between, he's been staging stateside in-stores in support of his Apple Bottoms fashion brand and recently acquired the rights to the Troop clothing line. He also continues to work on his nonprofit organizations, 4Sho4Kids and Jes Us 4 Jackie-the latter inspired by the loss of his sister Jackie to leukemia.
As the countdown to "5.0" begins, Nelly is savoring his return. "I was always told good artists are only one hit away from re-establishing themselves or becoming bigger than they were," he says. "I love the comeback. I love the triumph in it."