Last week’s release of M.O. marks Nelly‘s seventh full-length solo album, his first in nearly three years. Hard to believe the Midwest twanging rap mogul has been churning out hits for us to cruise and grind to for nearly two decades. And though the Nielsen SoundScan numbers released this morning don’t reflect the quality of Nelly’s latest - M.O. debuted at #14 on the Billboard 200 with first week sales topping out around 15.5k – he isn’t sweating the quantity.
The man who taught a generation to spell here with two r’s recently talked to VH1 about being an underestimated veteran, his cameo-filled and powerhouse-produced LP (2 Chainz, Nicki Minaj, Pharrell Williams) and the vibe Cornell Haynes Jr. is about in 2013.
Considering Nelly helped put the Midwest on the map 14 years ago by popularizing a pop-rap flow co-opted by contemporaries like Drake, who are resting higher on the charts this week, expectations that he will succeed or fail get higher with each successive release.
“Anything you’re in that’s competitive…more people grow doubtful of it,” Nelly said. “The longer you survive, more people say, ‘Oh can he do it again, or will they be able to stay again?’ I don’t take it personal, I think it’s just the way life is.”
So Nelly’s M.O. is to keep it moving by introducing something new to his fans. Case in point his foray in to country led to collaborations that cracked the top five on the Billboard Hot 100: “Over and Over” with Tim McGraw and, more recently, “Cruise” remix with Florida Georgia Line. The latter re-teamed with Nelly for another country-pop track “Walk Away.”
Anyone who’s watched the STL native over his expansive career, which includes selling over 21 million albums 2000-2010, knows Nelly isn’t afraid of eyebrow raising that comes with branching out. “Obviously some fans want you to remain the same as they remember you. They want you trapped in their moment of life forever but you know the reality of it is that everybody changes,” Nelly said.
Even if the multi-platinum rapper isn’t expecting every record to sell like it did at the height of his Band-Aid rocking fandom, where’s the adulation for being the third highest chart-topping artist of the last decade? Nelly says coming from the Midwest in a media market, where coasts are king, might have something to do with his absence from many greatest lists.
“I would either have to be from L.A. or New York. There’s no other way. That’s just the way that it is,” he said. “If you’re not from a major market…you’re not going to get the recognition you may think you deserve. Well, in this country definitely.”