Multi-platinum artist Nelly has become a trailblazer within the music industry, as he constantly evolves with the times and pushes the boundaries of mainstream music. Before Lil Nas X took a risk and released his chart-topping rap/country- crossover hit “Old Town Road” featuring Billy Ray Cyrus – there was Nelly who came before him to open the window between genres with Tim McGraw in the early 2000s.
The track “Over and Over” was Nelly’s golden ticket into Music City, as it showcased his soulful storytelling. Following the rapid success of the groundbreaking single, country musicians were eager to add the “Nelly Flair” to their honky-tonk tracks.
It was 2012 when Nelly joined forces with Florida Georgia Line to recreate their summertime anthem, “Cruise.” It wasn’t long until Nelly’s name on country ballads became a norm – Kane Brown’s “Cool Again,” Jimmie Allen’s recent release “Good Times Roll,” and the list goes on and on.
“You try to inspire, you want to inspire as an artist and have other artists go ‘hmmm…I wonder.’ There was a point in time when I said I was going to do a song with Tim McGraw, and everybody in my genre of music didn’t appreciate it,” shares Nelly during an exclusive Country Now interview.
“But, I understand that…because I understand that there are three forms of traditional music and that’s hip-hop, traditional country, and traditional R&B. But, what I have found is that there are some traditionalists that get it and that understand evolution. As an artist, you have to understand in order for you to be remembered. You have to find somewhat a way to embrace the now because if you don’t, then you will get written off,” he adds.
Nelly practiced what he preached, as he recently adapted with the needs and wants of his fans to develop his first studio album in eight years, Heartland. The country-inspired record honors the individuals who gave him the creative freedom to cross over music boundaries and his friends in country music who welcomed him with open arms.
Nelly called in country icons and newcomers that are currently making waves in music city to bring the nine-track collection to life. The genre-transcending music icon brought in Kane Brown to join him on his up-tempo track “Grits and Glamour,” Darius Rucker and City Spud for “Ms. Drive Me Crazy,” Florida Georgia Line for “Lil Bit.” Tyler Hubbard, George Birge, Jimmie Allen, Breland, Blanco Brown, and Chris Bandi also contributed to Nelly’s country debut record.
It’s no secret that the star-studded lineup was missing a critical component –female representation. “I’m going to give you a little exclusive insight on something,” says Nelly to Country Now reporter Tiffany Goldstein. “This album here, we’re looking at the first part of a two-part series. If you look at this one, there is no female representation on this album. So, part one was me with the guys, and part two will be with the ladies of country music,” he revealed.
He continued to share his excitement about his upcoming record and his primary motive to bring female energy to the forefront of the male-dominated industry. “That’s my vision of the goal, and that’s why we are really stoked and really pleased that people gravitated to Heartland so much, because it allows the total vision to be possible.”
“The women of country…they are fierce. When I am with the guys, we are kegging, beering, trucking, smoking and hanging out. I’m going to have to bring my A-game pretty much when it comes to dealing with the ladies because they are not going to play around with Nelly,” he laughed. “They are going to bring it, and I am definitely looking forward to it.”
Due to the current state of the world, the crossover artist is taking proper precautions to keep himself and the women of the country safe. Therefore, he hopes to release the female empowerment collection by the top of next year. “I know we’re still trying to get around the [health] issue, and everybody’s still trying to make sure that we are all respecting one another and its safety first. If it weren’t for that – then, I would be in Nashville right now trying to cram it out,” he adds about the writing and recording process.
Similar to Part A of Heartland, Nelly is keeping the lineup on the down-low until the album is basically done. With Part B on top of mind, he is going the extra mile to immerse himself within the country circle. “I’ll tell you… I am real estate hunting in Nashville. I think I’m more of a downtown Nashville kind of guy. I wouldn’t mind taking up a whole floor of one of the buildings somewhere.”
While he may be still learning his way around music city, he is creating music history as he goes. Come Wednesday, Sept. 1 – the “5 Drinks Ago” singer will be featured on CMT Crossroads. Nelly will become the first rapper ever to headline the series. The 60-minute premiere will feature music off of his latest record and fan-favorite tracks from Country Grammar.
“I know it was groundbreaking for myself to be the first hip-hop artist to host it, but to have Kane, have Blanco, Breland, my brothers FGL, and my little brother City Spud, it was cool, man,” he shares about his upcoming CMT debut. “I know the Country Crossroads people, they loved it, and the staff and everyone was first class. Everybody made us feel so welcomed, and we just had a lot of fun doing it and filming it.”