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Grammy award-winning artist Nelly breaks four years of silence with straight hand-to-mic combat on his fifth studio album Brass Knuckles.
The St. Louis rapper has sold 30 million albums to date -- and he's approaching his upcoming release with renewed intensity. "When you're the champion you have to psyche yourself into thinking you're the underdog, even if people don't see you as that," Nelly confesses. "Nobody going to give you anything, you got to work hard for what you want. You got to continue to press."
Nelly makes his statement in the form of brass-tacks vocal tracks, dance floor anthems and suggestive, seductive slow jams. A master at dynamic collaborations, he's assembled a cast of all-stars to collaborate including Usher, Pharrell, Akon, Ciara, Chuck D, Snoop Dogg, Jermaine Dupri, Ashanti, Avery Storm and the St. Lunatics. "When you hear the energy change, or the tempo switches to a nice flow, it means something," he says. Nelly shows his versatility spitting rhymes with deep, percussive flow, and then switching it up to sing over soulful hooks.
Party People: The first single, "Party People," pairs him with Fergie. It's a raucous attention getter, laying the foundation for what's to come - the party is in full swing. "People wonder why I keep the clubs jamming. You can't make a club song if you don't go to the clubs. People always think I'm going out partying, but what I'm doing is seeing what the DJ is spinning. I want to hear and see what's the next thing."
Let It Go: Nelly gets dirty, Derrty style, with Pharrell on vocals over the Neptunes' crackly beats.
Self Esteem: The vibe changes with "Self Esteem," a fluid, inspirational track featuring Chuck D about staying true in the face of struggle, such as a soldier serving in an unjust war. "There are so many obstacles in life to overcome and as soon as you jump over one, there come another one. But we got to be strong and stay strong."
"My all time favorite collaboration is with Chuck D. I heard the track and did the song and I felt something was missing." Public Enemy's "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos" ran through his head. "Before Chuck even heard the song, he was like, I'll do it. That felt so good to me, that he trusted me. He knew that I wouldn't bring him no mess. That's Public Enemy, that's our CNN of hip hop."
Long Night: Nelly smoothes it out with Usher on "Long Night" -- an intricate musical cut, stacked with thick harmonies. "Sometimes you do songs with R &B artists and you do your verse, and they sing the hook but this one wasn't like that. This one, we're into the song."
Stepped on My J'z: The signature Nelly song featuring Jermaine Dupri and Ciara pays ode to the classic Jordan sneakers. "Shoes are a part of the hip-hop culture. I love my J's. I grew up in that era. I'm part of the reason why Jordan's don't come out on the weekday no more. I used to cut school to get a pair of the new joints"
The time away from the spotlight has been wrought with life lessons for Nelly, balancing the personal and the public, with the loss of his sister Jackie in 2005 after a long struggle with leukemia. "That's the biggest thing to ever happen in my life. That was my heart. Everybody deals with pain differently. I am not one that's going to sit in the room and sulk. No one can harm me worse than I can harm myself. It put me in a different place, but it put me in a better place. I see what is now. It's really simple. It's your family. It's your kids. It's the charitable work that you do. It's keeping it real with yourself."
While some would've thrown in the towel, Nelly never strayed far from the studio and he continued to grow his business ventures -- the Apple Bottom brand, Skybox a new St. Louis Sports Bar and part ownership of the Charlotte Bobcats -- and philanthropic work through his charities 4 Sho 4 Kids and Jes Us 4 Jackie.
Nelly is a man about his business. An award-winning artist who's up for the challenge, primed for battle .....here we go, round five with Brass Knuckles - ding ding.