SF Weekly Interview: Nelly
By Tamara Palmer
Rap star Nelly has some very public love affairs. He loves to make and sell millions of records, he loves him some Apple Bottoms and he definitely loves to represent his hometown of St. Louis. But he’s also quite the fan of our Bay Area rap scene, a movement he insists is worth supporting even when some of the locals just don’t anymore. And until it gets more love here, Nelly’s sharing it with “The Bay.” The song, produced by E-40’s son Droop-E, is rife with references to lyrics by 40 and Too $hort, bounces to our regionally specialized beat and even makes a cameo in the season premiere of Entourage.
We called Nelly to talk about his love of the Yay Area, and found him to be full of energy and inspiration—the textbook of what hyphy really is—and genuinely interested in discussing the topic rather than pushing his latest product (the album Brass Knuckles, which comes out next Tuesday). He makes a rare S.F. appearance to perform on Saturday, September 13 at Mezzanine.
You’ve been vocal about your support of the Bay Area, but why do you identify with it so much?
I don’t know if you ever drove through Oakland before, but if you get a chance to drive through neighborhoods in Oakland and neighborhoods in St. Louis, you wouldn’t be able to blink an eye without thinking you’re in the same place. It’s very scary and eerie almost! You could swear you’re on the north side of St. Louis and some places look like the South side of St. Louis. They’re so similar.
You can look at all the lingo in rap, and I guarantee you if you trace it back far enough, it comes from the Bay.
It's good to hear you say that, because I don't think we always get our due.
You know what it is? The people that don’t give the due is more of a younger type of generation that isn’t really interested in tracing the history of it. They’re just in the moment right now and digging into history is too much work for them. But if you look at the older generation that’s been a part of hip-hop for so long, you have no choice but to understand that E-40 is the slang-atician!
Even the “fo shizzle” talk, a lot of people would credit Snoop for that. But even Snoop will tell you that’s the Bay, that’s 40 and all that. I think it’s evident in the minds of the people that it needs to be. You’re never going to get the full credit that you want. A lot of people give Michael Jordan the credit for jumping from the free throw line, but you don’t know that Dr. J jumped before Michael Jordan did.
You’ve been friends with E-40 a long time. He was on the remix of your first single “Country Grammar,” and now you have his son making beats for you!
Yeah, man, Droop-E is amazing. He’s got that funk! But what would you expect when your dad’s a fuckin’ rap icon? It’s like, where do you go from there? I know it doesn’t work for everybody. But the best thing that Droop-E did, I’m sure his father was his inspiration, but instead of trying to rap, he honed his skills into something that was slightly different from his father but still in the same area of entertainment. He didn’t decide to be a rapper, he’s a producer and now he can sit and get credit for being a producer and not worry about having to be compared to his father and his uncles and his cousins.
How did you decide to do “The Bay?”
I was working on my album and [was with] one of my good friends that works for Universal, a guy that we like to call “Big Paul,” he lives in LA but he’s originally from the Bay Area. We were sitting there and I had just wrapped up a song and I was in the mood to do another song. We were talking and I was like, “Yo, I really like the hyphy movement.” I love it when regions come up with their own shit because that’s how I feel that we did at our start. But the only thing that makes a difference is when other regions accept it and show love. That’s what people don’t get. What your region does isn’t gonna become big until other regions step in and say, “You know what? This shit is hot! It’s so hot that I wanna do it!” That’s when it becomes a bigger thing and I get that, and that’s what I was hoping to try to show.
It’s not like Nelly’s trying to steal from the Bay or he’s trying to make fun, the man is showing love! That’s what you want! That’s when you get recognized, when you have a star that has sold 30 million records jocking your style, it tends to make more people pay attention, duh!
Some people don’t get it here because it’s coming at a time when a lot of people have lost interest in hyphy and don’t realize that people around the world were starting to pick up on it.
That’s what took St. Louis so long, because we weren’t supporting our own movement until “Country Grammar” and everyone was like, “Ohhh, we get it!” You have to support your own and hope other regions fall in line and show you as much love. It’s not a matter of hating or of people trying to take your style or making a mockery. It’s like come on! I love Spice 1. Too $hort is my father’s favorite rapper, period. You don’t get it, my father thinks “Freaky Tales” is the best rap song ever made, better than mine and he don’t give a shit! And I love that because my father is not from that, he’s from the Isley Brothers and Al Green generation and he loves Too $hort. He might not like all of the rap, but Too $hort is his man. And I love E-40 and those were some of my influences growing up: Spice 1, Too $hort and E-40. I first started rapping by emulating my favorite rappers.
So when I was in LA and I had a chance to try something hyphy, Big Paul said, “You should call Droop-E.” We called him at four in the morning and he woke up and emailed me some tracks. As soon as I heard it, I was like, “Yeah, I gotta fuck with it.” I went in there to pay homage and let everybody know that I love the Bay and I think that hyphy is something you’ve gotta stick with. Don’t let it die because it’s energy, and any time you’ve got the energy and the music, it goes a long way.