Feature excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
As music fans can be fickle, artists often have to walk a tightrope of sorts, maintaining a balance between presence in the marketplace and overexposure. Nelly seems to have become a pro at this. From guest shots with Jagged Edge and 'N Sync to his contribution on the "What's Going On?" benefit single -- not to mention his association with the St. Lunatics -- the Universal artist has deftly managed to remain a fan favorite. For "Nellyville," due June 25, the St. Louis native looks set to reap the benefits of his hard work.
"I tried to be careful of being overexposed, but you also don't want people to forget you and the things you can do," says Nelly (ne Cornell Haynes Jr.). "That's why the things that we did were universal. It wasn't just about having the No. 1 song, we also worked with 'N Sync and Jagged Edge. It wasn't just constantly picking out songs, but taking my time and trying to decide which songs were right for me. I could probably have been out every other week with something new, but I just tried to do things that were not only beneficial but that would set me up right and keep me going. You don't get to sell 9 million albums without touching a part of the audience you never thought you'd touch before."
Working on 'N Sync's "Girlfriend" marked Nelly's first collaboration with production team the Neptunes, although they had known each other prior to the project. He reteamed with the Neptunes for the lead single from Nellyville, "Hot in Herre."
"Pharrell [Williams, of the Neptunes] said, 'I have this track,' " Nelly adds. "As soon as I heard it, I knew that it was it, but I had to make one of those hooks. I started playing with it, and it just came to me. When I heard the beat, I knew the clubs would pick it up right away. And I think everyone's been to that party where it was real hot, but it was so off the chain you didn't want to leave. You'd rather start taking off clothes than leave."
Nelly's side project, St. Lunatics, is featured throughout the 18-track set. The group reteams to pay homage to classic sneakers with "Air Force Ones." "That's the law, right there in 48 out of 50 states," Nelly says with a laugh. "You can't go wrong with those on, no matter what. Rich, poor, whatever, those Air Force Ones rock. We just had to send love out. Run-D.M.C. put Adidas out there -- not that Air Force Ones weren't already out there -- but we just wanted to show our appreciation for them. We decided we were going to rock about Air Force Ones, and everyone just went in and did their verses as it was going."
Other guest appearances include 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake, Toya, and Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland, who appears on "Dilemma," a potential single. "It's about a girl who's in a relationship and she's not happy," Nelly says. "Sometimes women stay in relationships because they think it's the right thing to do."
Nelly will be performing on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" as well as opening this year's BET Awards, which are scheduled for the same day as the set's release. The rapper has also scheduled a series of events to coincide with his charity, 4Sho 4Kids, which is focused in St. Louis.
Nelly views Nellyville as his Utopia. "All is well with me, even though Biggie never lied when he said 'Mo' Money Mo' Problems,' " he says. "But I'm better off than I was. Any time I look at my problems now, I know that there's someone out there that is doing a lot worse and would trade with me in a heartbeat. I have to accept what it is I do and what comes along with it."
Excerpted from the June 29, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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