x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Nelly: a man of many talents

We talk to Nelly ahead of his performance at the Atelier/Festival in Dubai.

Nelly performs in Los Angeles earlier this month. Frederick M Brown / Getty Images / AFP
Nelly performs in Los Angeles earlier this month. Frederick M Brown / Getty Images / AFP

Nelly is coming to Dubai and he is not letting a highway drug bust get in his way.

Doubts surrounded his performance at the Atelier/Festival tomorrow night after a police search of his tour bus in Texas last week revealed illicit substances and a weapon.

Nelly was not charged, however; it was one of his staffers who was arrested – and subsequently has pleaded not guilty .

When asked about the arrest, the Hot in Herre rapper expresses a sense of betrayal at the staffer’s actions.

“It was definitely an unfortunate situation and thing are going to handle themselves,” he says. “You kind of feel a bit messed up sometimes because people are part of your family after so long and when things like that happen it doesn’t just hurt them but hurts the family. But it is something that we are dealing with internally.”

Nelly makes frequent trips to the emirate, which often includes visiting the Dubai Mall branch of Apple Bottoms, a female clothing range he launched in 2003.

“We do have a store in the mall over there,” he says. “So I always love coming to Dubai because it’s always exciting.”

The Apple Bottom range and a host of other non-music ventures – including his own shoe by Reebok – would not have been possible with out his 2000 debut album Country Grammar, which sold more than 10 million copies. Then just 26, the rapper shook up the American rap game by breaking up the east and west coast’s grip on the genre.

Born in Texas and raised in St Louis, Nelly – along with his collective St Lunatics – were responsible for ushering Midwest hip-hop into the mainstream.

Nelly explains the region’s laid-back nature as partly responsible for its hip-hop scene being initially ignored.

“When you are in the middle where we are, things are just a little slower,” he explains.

“It’s not that we were slow intellectually or anything like that, but we’re not on a fast-paced scale, like New York or Los Angeles.”

While Nelly credits his signature singing raps as another feature of Midwest hip-hop, it was his achievement to influence other artists such as Drake and Frank Ocean to rap melodically.

“I would say we brought a melodic thing to it with groups such as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony,” he says. “But the whole rap game sounds like Nelly now, so it don’t matter.”

With album sales declining generally, Nelly has steadily ventured into film and television work.

“Everything now is the music and the visual,” he says. “The way social media is, people don’t just want to hear you but hear you and see you.”


• Nelly is playing at the Atelier/Festival at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse tomorrow. Tickets start at Dh350 from www.timeouttickets.com