The early 2000s belonged to Nelly. 15 years ago, his inescapable single “Hot in Herre” was the song of the summer, Nelly’s album Nellyville sold over 700,000 copies in its first week, and Nelly was on his way to becoming one of the best-selling rappers of all time.
With back-to-back number one hits in “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma,” the St. Louis-born hip-hop star topped the Billboard charts for three months straight in 2002, from June 29 to September 28. And nothing feels more quintessentially “2002” than Nelly rocking his trademark face Band-Aid in the video above.
“Hot in Herre" was undeniably catchy as hell. The early aughts earworm was produced by Pharrell Williams' The Neptunes and features samples from Chuck Brown’s 1979 go-go song “Bustin’ Loose,” Neil Young’s “There’s a World,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “As Tears Go By.”
Hearing the song’s infectious beat instantly transports you back to a time when the first-generation iPods were brand new, cell phones didn’t have cameras, and Now That’s What I Call Music! was a must-have CD.
Maxim spoke with Nelly about the cultural impact of “Hot in Herre,” what’s next for his career, and the origins of the song's most curious lyric: “Girl, I think my butt getting big.”
How does it feel reflecting on the 15th anniversary of “Hot in Herre” topping the charts?
It makes me feel old. No, it’s cool. “Hot in Herre” was a great record for me. As an artist, you hope to create something that will stand the test of time. You want to make something that people will remember and have great moments with. “Hot in Herre” was one of those songs for me.
Why do you think the song had such a big impact on people?
We created a moment for people. Music is always most memorable when you’re growing up. A lot of people want songs that remind them of certain moments in their lives. And I think “Hot in Herre” was able to do that.
When “Hot in Herre” came out, it didn’t really sound like anything else on the radio at that time. Did you feel like you were taking a risk with the overall sound of the record?
Me and Pharrell, who produced the song, are similar because we both think that there’s no such thing as a ‘dumb’ record. Just do it and if you don’t like it, just cut it. You don’t have to put it out. But as a creator, you still want to do those things. Every artist probably has not loved every painting they’ve ever done. But we tried it, and that’s our organic creation. The sound of the record had a big impact.
Where did the “Girl, I think my butt getting big” line come from?
We put that line in there late. The song was really a rough sketch of the beat. As we come up with stuff, we started adding more into it. Pharrell had the beat, but he built a lot of it around what I was doing lyrically. And I think that’s the difference between producers and beat makers. Beat makers just make the beat, and producers try to create more of a vision. But the lyrics are all me. I came up with that line.
Have you been recording recently? Do you have any new music coming out in the near future?
Yeah, I’m recording. I just finished a song with my man Ty Dolla Sign and the homie Hitmaka that’s really dope. I have a country song out now called “Sounds Good to Me” that I’ll be performing on tour. We’re working, baby, we’re working.
Right now, it’s our second go-round of this tour with Florida Georgia Line. We did it back in 2014, and we were the first people to ever cross-brand hip hop artists with country artists. We crossed boundaries, and it was hugely successful. I’m a hip hop artist, but I love music. I like working with people who have a love of music across the board.
The South is home to many of the biggest artists in hip-hop right now. Do you think you helped make Southern rap what it is today?
Let me think about that. As an artist, you see your contributions in things that influenced a different wave. Considering that there weren’t many people doing what I was doing at the time, how could I not see my influences in the way people approach songs, as far as the melodic part of hip hop.
I wasn’t the first to put melody in hip hop, of course. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony were awesome, Arrested Development were awesome, even Juvenile, they were all able to do amazing things. But there’s a certain generation of hip hop artists and hip hop fans that grew up on Nelly. How could they not be somewhat influenced by what I was doing at that time? And that’s a blessing for me.
How has your sound been influenced by the current generation of hip-hop artists?
I’m a musical artist, so I’m influenced by good music. I’m a fan of Drake, and I’m a fan of Migos. Even though a lot of them may have grown up on me, I’m a fan of what they’ve been able to do. Migos are my homies, man. I love them to death. I’m proud of them, and I’ve been watching them do their thing for a long time.
It’s a dope situation having people respect what you’ve been able to do. But I also say, “Yo, I like what you’re doing too.”
When reports came out about some supposed financial troubles, your fans tried to support you by streaming “Hot in Herre” on repeat millions of times. Did you see any of the impact of that effort?
That got a little bit blown out of proportion, but it was dope. It’s cool to see your fans rally for something they think you need help with, but I was totally in control. It’s a good thing because I don’t know of any other artist who has it like that. It goes back to being able to create moments for those people. I was so much a part of their lives at one point that they’re like, “Yo, this is my brother. This is something that I want to do.” That feels good.
You’ve been in hip hop for 20-plus years. How do you sustain such a long career?
You try to grow and expand, and hopefully, the fans grow and expand with you. My fans have allowed me to be very creative and musically free. But you’re not going to please everybody. The same thing that makes Nelly successful is the thing that hurts Nelly a little bit. I have certain fans that love “Hot in Herre,” and I have certain fans that love “Dilemma,” or “Grillz.” It’s about walking that line and getting out all of the music that’s inside.
Versatility is also key. No artist can just stay one way. If you do, then you won’t last. You’ll just be trapped in that moment and trapped in that era. That can be cool, but I want to continue to make music as long as I can make music.