'Nellyville' Turns 15: Nelly Looks Back on the Singles, Guests & Bad 'Hot In Herre' Jokes

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On Sunday (June 25), Nelly's second studio effort, 2002's Nellyville, will turn 15. While his official debut Country Grammar made the St. Louis rapper an official member of the Diamond club, Nellyville -- home to the Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers "Hot in Herre" and "Dilemma" featuring Kelly Rowland -- went six-times platinum, automatically avoiding the sophomore slump.

During his visit to the Billboard headquarters, Nelly (whose real name is Cornell Haynes Jr.) took a stroll down memory lane about the album that cemented his star power, the singles that almost didn't make the album, and the real story behind "Hot in Herre." 


I recorded Country Grammar in three weeks. You know, you get your whole life to make your first album. And you get a year or two to make the next ones, from that point on. So Country Grammar in my head was done when I was 12, probably because you build it up -- and once you’re a fan of music, you constantly listen to certain songs, you’re like, "I want to make that type of record" or "I want to make this type of record." And obviously, you grow up. So your mental plays in a sense of, okay, it’s my turn to make my record. I’m not biting these people because I have to be original but my approach is going to be whatever that song had that made me feel like that. And that goes back to who your influences are as rappers, your Tupacs, your Biggies, your UGKs, your N.W.As, Eazy-Es, Bone Thugs, Arrested Developments. You’re just like, "I want to embody that, I want to take all of that out and put that into what it is that I’m doing." So going into Country Grammar, it was already done.

Now, the thing about Nellyville was, I went to Miami and recorded [it] probably in a month and a half. And I was a little disturbed, because I felt like, "What took me so long?" Like, “I’m slipping, I’m slipping!” Because [I'm] like, “Three weeks, and now a month and a half?” But I didn’t rationalize it in my head to think like I waited a long time to do that. But, now, a month and a half is nothing to do a whole album, when you’re a different caliber of star. Now, you’ve got rappers that could do whole albums in a week. But when you are a hip-hop superstar, your expectations are a little different in the sense of, people expect your songs to almost capture a moment or to make them feel a certain kind of way. You expect a different type of record or album from JAY-Z as you would from Lil Uzi [Vert]. Like, If Jay went in and did an album in a week, and Uzi probably went in and did an album in a week, Uzi’s album probably would sound like Lil Uzi. JAY-Z’s album probably isn’t going to sound like what you’re used to hearing from JAY-Z. It still might be a dope JAY-Z album, because if you’re a JAY-Z fan, you’re probably like, "Oh, I get it, he did that in a week. Jay sounds like Jay went in there and freestyled, or something.”

Going into Nellyville, I had turned the album in, actually, without two songs on it. The two songs were “Hot In Herre” and “Dilemma.” I hadn't even done those records yet. Coming from the success [of] Country Grammar, turning that album in, I was like, "Yo, the album is done done,” because I had people within my collaboration circle as far as the guy who I was signed to, Cudda Love, my A&R from Universal and Kevin Liles at that time. [With Nellyville], we were all feeling like, “I think we might be missing. We’re missing the fuse to the bomb. We’ve got a great record here, we’ve got a great album, we just need something to set it off." And after doing that, we were able to get into the studio with Pharrell and come up with "Hot In Herre" and then the last song that I put on that almost didn’t make the album -- because the album was three days away from being printed -- was "Dilemma." I came up with that record at the last minute. I was really, really infatuated with the beat, that one of my producers at that time had made and I was like, "Yo, this is hard, this needs to come up with something. And then I came up with something real quick, we were able to get Kelly [Rowland] on it, and yeah, it was history.


My sister who passed liked Kelly. She picked Kelly. Don’t get it twisted -- she loved Destiny’s Child but she was just like, "Yo, if you can’t get the whole Destiny’s Child" -- which, at that time, I wanted Destiny’s Child [on the song]. She was like, "Well, let’s get Kelly. See if we can get K to do it.” And you know, she did it, and I think she was more surprised because, justifiably, Beyoncé is Beyoncé. At that time, they were still very much a group at its core. The only one that was stepping out of the group at the time was probably Beyoncé, so I think it was big for them. And I do know that Beyoncé was very supportive of K doing it. When the song came out, obviously, it was pretty huge. [With] the whole group, it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t in that room when that discussion was brought up. [Laughs] Things happen for a reason. My sister thought all the girls were the world -- she’s a huge Destiny’s Child fan -- but she just loved Kelly.


Sometimes when you have records like that, that are so big and they come from samples from great artists, it kind of jump-starts the great artist again, in a certain way. Not like they were gone. Because Patti don’t need help from Nelly to get shows or get gigs. But I think what it did was it gave the younger generation, at that time, an icon. This was Mama Patti, you know what I’m sayin’? So she came to the set, I got a trailer, she cooked, we lived it up out there. Patti’s the best. I know all the girls -- her and K and my sister -- hit it off.


Cedric’s from St. Louis, and actually, his manager is kin to my [former] road manager. So we’ve always been supporting Ced, and Ced has always been supporting us. If you look at the Kings of Comedy, the old DVD, at the end of it, you see all the comics standing on a basketball court, and they’re talking on the way out and Ced has got on the first Nelly t-shirt ever made. It’s got like, these cards, and it’s got "Nelly" over the top with diamonds. He was promoting it back then. This was 2000.

We [had] already met because he’s from St. Louis. St. Louis is only this big [Demonstrates a small city]. Anybody doing anything good, you know of them. We had a direct connection with Ced, that’s why Ced was helping us out. Ced is family, so when we were doing the album, we reached out and said, well, one of Ced’s running jokes is he didn’t really want no money, but I think we gave Ced probably like, $10,000 to do the skits. And we offered him a few points on the album, because it’s Cedric. But Ced was like, “Nah, it’s all good, I’ll do it for you guys [for free]," because he was doing it for the home team. And now, he wish he took them f--kin’ points [Laughs]. Oh my god, he wish he could take the points. Ten million [dollars]? One point would have got you at least a half a mil.

Well actually, I knew La La before I was even on, so to speak, because at that time, La La was dating a friend of mine that was from up here. And she was working at the radio and she was just real cool. She’s always been cool. And she was doing her thing, TRLing it and we brought her in. And her and Ced killed it.


Nellyville was just this place. Just somewhere where I felt like I wanted to take people or that was going to be my retirement place after Country Grammar. And I’m saying this from an artist’s perspective. I’m not saying it as an actual place. But I’m just more in line of an artist’s perspective.


I did the "Girlfriend" remix [for *NSYNC]. I forgot who brought it to me at the time, but "Girlfriend," the [original] song was a huge song for *NSYNC. When I was approached about doing the remix, I was like, "Yo, that beat [is] hard." And everybody looked at me like I was crazy. My label told me, "What are you doing? Are you trying to ruin your career? Are you serious? This is *NSYNC, this is a boy band." You know, you’ve got this country boy doing this. And I was like, "Man, I don’t care. I’m going to do me on it." When you don’t know no better, that’s the best time. Because you’re fearless, you don’t care. You’re like, “Whatever I do is working. Why y’all won’t let me do what I do? Just let me do me." So they did, and they were super happy that they did at that time, because you know, after that, it was a whole new Nelly after that stage. And then bringing JT back on "Work It," we had fun on that video shoot. We shot it at the Playboy Mansion, that was real dope. You know, JT was a cool dude.


It’s not about a club. It’s a story. I think that’s what makes it a great party record. Certain party records have the same old cliches. It’s all about switching up, you’re popping the bottles, you’re doing this, you’re doing that. And it can be a dope club record, but it comes and goes, because it’s almost the same texture. What I wanted to do was make a party record, but make a good record, and a good record meaning it has a story behind it, or it has a feeling in the moment. And if you listen to “Hot In Herre,” I don’t think I even mention a club in the record. It’s like, [Sing-raps] "Good gracious, a-- is bodacious, flirtatious, trying to show faces, right time to shoot my steez.” I never mention the club. But it’s just like, we started at the club. I flash the keys, she wants to leave, we leave, we go to the Four Seasons, we’re at the top, we rock out, we leave there, we go to my man’s house, he’s got a pole in the basement... You get a chance to experience it as opposed to just locking your mind in on, okay, this is supposed to be a club record. It just happened to be a club record.


I don't think per se, the song itself [did] -- more so people seeing you [and saying], "Hey, it’s getting hot in here!" But they say it in a way like you’ve never heard that joke before. It’s like, got you, buddy... thanks, man. It beats them hating you, you know what I’m saying? I never take it for granted, though. As an artist, I guess the worst thing for you is to not be recognizable. Unless that’s what you’re going for. Some artists, act like it’s over, it’s over. They’re not trying. But I think as someone who took a lot of time, pride and effort in a lot of the work that I’ve done, to have it still be appreciated, is good.