Nelly Says New Album “Heartland” Is A Love Letter To Country Music’s “Last Frontier”

Nelly embarks on a country music journey that he knew for many years to be a path he wanted to explore, but which he simply never took out of respect for the genre as a whole.

The 46-year-old St. Louis rapper and “Real Husbands of Hollywood” actor, who has sharpened his irons in hip-hop and pop-smash, dipped his toes into country music in 2004. At l At the time, he enlisted one of his cornerstones, Tim McGraw, to sing the hook on “Over and Over,” a record that went on to reach third on the Billboard Hot 100.

Born Cornell Haynes Jr, Nelly joked to Fox News that he had no idea how the country’s legend would react to the request to jump on a soothing pop and R&B song sung by a master of ceremonies who wanted to try his hand at a its different from what he was used to. Nelly’s sweet serenade concoction mixed with McGraw’s rustic tone turned out to be a recipe that 17 years later many pop-era country music fans would love to enjoy.

Insert “Heartland”, Nelly’s first album in eight years, which he describes as “country influenced”. The record will have the familiar sounds of blues, R&B and hip-hop – but with a modern country twist thanks to a list of features like Kane Brown, Darius Rucker, Blanco Brown, Breland and Florida Georgia Line (FGL).

As FGL fans know, the country duo and Nelly collaborated on the remix of “Cruise”, which peaked at # 4 on the charts.

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“My energy for this project comes from a place where I show my appreciation that the country world has shown Nelly since I got into music, period,” he said. “Ever since I dropped ‘Country Grammar’ I was booked into places where someday it might be someone like Tim McGraw headlining, then I fly to another town and that ‘ is a creepy DMX headliner, you know what I mean? I hadn’t even done Tim McGraw ‘Over and Over’ yet. I hadn’t even done it. “

“Like we booked – we did shows at rodeos, country festivals and things like that. And it was just amazing,” he continued. “It was just like, ‘Wow – I get it now, I’m starting to see things.’ And this album was basically dedicated to the whole country world in the sense that I really appreciate all the energy that the country fans, the country artists, the country radio, the country world gave to Nelly. “

In addition to “Heartland”, Nelly spoke about her musical debut, country music as a whole and more.

Fox News: It’s been eight years since your last album. What was the dynamic like when you set those records with Kane Brown, Blanco Brown and Darius Rucker?

Nelly: You know, we’re just going. I don’t think you’re going into that by saying I’m gonna make that kind of music. The only time I’ve felt like I’m in a certain fashion is if I’m writing for someone else because I know that artist belongs to a genre.

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Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard and Nelly, center, take photos with their Platinum single for ‘LilBit’ during CMT Crossroads: Nelly &; Friends at The Factory At Franklin on September 01, 2021 in Franklin, Tenn.
(Jason Davis / Getty Images for CMT)

If I write for an R&B artist then I would usually try to be aware of this, but what I also discovered is that beautiful lyrics transcend. So you know nine times out of ten the only thing that differs is the beat – the tempo and the sounds and some things that you use in that beat – which I learned from one of the greatest writers, if not the ‘one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Lionel Richie, that’s how I got involved in country music. I turned to country music, through Lionel Richie – through someone who wasn’t even country.

Because my uncles and my father and them – my uncle really, he was the one who introduced me to music at the beginning. And he introduced me to music by singing old Jackson Five records and stuff like that. And my uncle thought he was Lionel Richie. He was a huge Commodores fan – he had hair, he sang like Lionel, he played the keyboard and things like that. And he introduced me to all things Lionel Richie and he argued that I understood not only what this man was doing, producing and being an artist, but his quill and where his quill was going.

“If you listen to some of the renditions of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ – you’ve got Marvin Gaye’s, Dolly Parton’s and you’ve got Whitney Houston’s. They’re all the same words… different vibes.”

– Nelly

That’s how I turned to Kenny Rogers and ‘Lady’ and records like that. And then you start to dig a little deeper. So I firmly believe that if you know how to write a song, you know how to write a song. Now being able to put the song in different formats and contexts and genres of music is more about production. It’s more about the production itself than the lyrics, because as time and music have shown it, you can pretty much take the lyrics and just change [the] beat, and the songs can go from “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton to “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston and they’re two different songs – but it’s still the same song.

Kane Brown, right, is featured on Nelly's new 'country influenced' album, 'Heartland'.

Kane Brown, right, is featured on Nelly’s new ‘country influenced’ album, ‘Heartland’.
(Jason Davis / Getty for CMT)

If you listen to some of the renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” – you have “Star-Spangled Banner” by Marvin Gaye, you have “Star-Spangled Banner” by Dolly Parton, you have the version of Whitney Houston. Now they’re all the same words, but they sound so different and have such a different vibe from each other – even if you listen to Marvin Gaye, the one he sang, I think it was in ’82 or ’83. stars and he killed it and it was so R&B, it was so emotional. Like, that was amazing. And then you have Whitney Houston, who has probably never sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” better than Whitney Houston – I haven’t seen it yet, bro. It’s just different.

Fox News: It appears that the feature placements on your album are intentional. Does having so many established black country music artists on one album catapult the genre in a way we’ve never seen before with other genres in recent years?

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Nelly: I mean, country music is the last frontier in that it’s the last musical frontier of diversity – equal diversity in a way. Obviously we had brothers who made it through, and we lost OG Charley Pride – the legend. And I can’t even imagine – I’m so disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to yell at him, talk to him, and ask him about what it was like to make this music at the time. . And about some backlash and probably a lot of the racism he’s been faced with just making the music that’s in his heart, doing something he loved to do something he’s just as entitled to do. to do that anyone else.

“I was more nervous asking Darius Rucker [for a feature] that I was asking Tim McGraw [for ‘Over and Over’] at this moment.

– Nelly

So, yeah, it was a bit of an intentional act to make sure I had a lot of these brothers that are in that alley, that if I had to take that path, I wanted to come in with people that were just as much and I doesn’t mean as much as something to lose, but more to gain from having a project like this successful. We turn to Darius [Rucker], he’s the OG for all of us. It’s like the comedy is going on and Richard Pryor is still alive, he would be the OG for everyone in the comedy – like that’s how we’re looking at Darius right now.

Breland, Nelly and Blanco Brown perform on the set of their new music video with Breland and Blanco Brown on July 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Breland, Nelly and Blanco Brown perform on the set of their new music video with Breland and Blanco Brown on July 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.
(Photo by Rich Fury / Getty Images)

We all love Darius. He’s not a brother who – and I’m not saying that in country music – I mean if you’re into music, period, and you understand what Darius Rucker does, you admire him. I mean, I’ve been a fan of him since Hootie [and the Blowfish], you know. And you have the opportunity to work with them right now and have it – I just gave him a call and was nervous about asking and I was never nervous about it. to ask for anything. I was more nervous asking him than asking Tim McGraw at the time.

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Fox News: In country music, rap, pop, whatever the genre – stories are really what people gravitate towards. What are some of your sweetest stories that you had to put on wax because people needed to hear it in the form of music?

Nelly: Well, I mean, just my whole story period – even if you listen to ‘Five Drinks Ago’ you know what I mean? This is something that is very explainable in the title. You know, it’s just one of those situations where if you’ve ever broken up with someone, you don’t really stumble over them. You don’t pay attention to them – you just keep going.

And then all of a sudden it’s something that trips you up or now you think about it. And it’s usually, you know, right after that fifth drink. [Laughs]

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And it was just like, ‘Yo, I was cool until I had that fifth drink and now I’m all on your Instagram page and flipping through’ and you just remember some moments – and I just think that’s it. It’s not a specific story as opposed to a lot of specific incidents that take place together in the song. I ran into your mom – your mom said I should call you. I don’t call him a–! It’s just one of those situations where you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah. OKAY. They could have stopped me from drinking – the bartender knew I was going too strong. He could have said something. [Laughing].

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