Nelly is coming to Bangkok. Remember Nelly? The double-time wunderkind of the Midwest? No? The pioneering member of the St. Lunatics? Still no? The “Hot in Herre” guy…? There it is. Whereas most artists would shy away from this style of reduction, Nelly knows how to generate unending, low-powered momentum from it.
In fact, it is because of connections like this that Nelly has managed to return, triumphant, to the spotlight in 2017.
Realistically, Nelly disappeared from most people’s minds the way many contemporary artists do once their music fades from the airwaves. Despite a string of seven albums in fourteen years, nearly thirty top-forty house party-perfect singles, and a musical movement that birthed the careers of St. Louis neighbors Chingy, J-Kwon, and even Metro Boomin’, Nelly is remembered for his early staples. “Hot in Herre”, “Dilemma” (feat. Kelly Rowland), and even “Country Grammar” were enormous, successful hits from an enormous, successful artist at the naissance of what would turn out to be a short-clipped mainstream career. In 2005, “Grillz” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and signalled the end of Nelly’s run at the top.
As well as being infinitely repeatable—and tastefully explicit—Nelly’s lyrics ensconced the hip hop tastemaker in the world of Country. Beginning with “Ride Wit Me” (feat. St. Lunatics) and best exemplified in “Over and Over” (feat. Tim McGraw), Nelly dabbled in what I have always hoped was a deliberate, extended satire of Southern Hip Hop’s obsession with country music’s tired tropes and traditions. Yes, he snapped out of the nightmare of trucks and cowboy hats with the pure hip hop release of “Brass Knuckles”, but he struggled to make his presence felt despite having enlisted the most impressive producers of that year.
Nelly continued releasing music through 2013, broadening the collaborative talent pool that contributed to his own albums and lending credibility to burgeoning artists through featured verses and cosigns. His most recent release, M.O., is mostly remembered for a meticulous and punchy verse from Nicki Minaj on “Get Like Me” (feat. Pharrell and Nicki Minaj), but otherwise failed to make the lasting impression of his earlier tunes.
In July of last year, sixteen years after it was released, Nelly’s debut album Country Grammar was certified Diamond by RIAA—only the eighth hip hop record to achieve ten million sales. The streaming generation clearly hadn’t forgotten about Nelly and his contributions to the heavy-petting atmosphere of their first middle school dance. The CD-buying generation, fans who first heard his party bangers in the clubs, have found themselves in the bracket of listeners able—and willing—to pay for music more than a decade later. Nostalgia makes money: not something artists should shy away from.
Especially not artists with financial strains. In September, a sudden spike of “Hot in Herre” streams was attributed to an unlikely source: the US tax department. Facing a $2.4 million lien from the IRS for unpaid taxes, Nelly’s faithful fans started a grassroots campaign to #SaveNelly by streaming his biggest hit on repeat until the artist had raised the capital he needed to stave off the taxman—and it worked. No, Nelly didn’t earn $2.4 million off the back off you and I streaming “Hot in Herre” on repeat, but he did gain enough press, attention, plays, and conversation to justify a return to stages across the world.
Which brings us to June 2017, a time when a Bangkok music promoter booked one of the early-2000s biggest hip hop stars to try and salvage a festival that never saw the light of day. Nelly is not a backup plan, nor stand-in, nor hasbeen. Nelly is the denim bandana-toting, plaster-wearing, Jordan-worshipping, party starting hero we all deserve.