NEW YORK - As he tried to slip in a side door before a recent performance, Nelly got accosted by a fan waiting for his arrival.
Nothing unusual - except the fan just happened to be uber-hip singer-songwriter John Mayer.
"Hey Nelly, can I come in with you?" Mayer asked the rap superstar after an embrace. Nelly gave security the O.K., and his posse - which already included Murphy Lee, the rest of his St. Lunatics crew and Jermaine Dupri - grew by one. Later on, P. Diddy joined Nelly onstage for the Webster Hall performance, broadcast live for America Online in front of hundreds of screaming fans.
Everyone wants to be part of Nelly's clique these days - and who can blame them? The man who put St. Louis on the map has sold an astonishing 15 million copies of his first two albums, and on Tuesday released not one, but two separate albums - "Sweat" and "Suit" - on the same day. One is more of a party disc reminiscent of hits like "Hot in Herre," while the other has smoother songs that recall the smash success of "Dilemma."
Not only does he have musical success, his Pimp Juice energy drink is a hot commodity, he's got his own clothing lines and is filming his second film - a remake of "The Longest Yard" with Chris Rock and Adam Sandler.
AP: These albums have so many collaborations, but the most unusual is country singer Tim McGraw. How did that come about?
Nelly: I used to see Tim a lot as far as like going around for awards shows, when "Country Grammar" first came out, him and his wife Faith. They would just tell me how they enjoyed my album, and everything I was doing. And you know how that old saying goes - 'Yo, we should do something.'
AP: Could you ever do a country song?
Nelly: Nah, nah. It wasn't like that. It was just me being me, pushing the limits.
AP: What was your reaction when Spelman College students protested your appearance there to promote bone marrow donation because of your explicit "Tip Drill" video, in which you swiped a credit card through a woman's backside?
Nelly: To me, it was a personal attack. It couldn't have been about what they said it was, because if it truly was, and this is truly your view, you're basically cutting the grass at the top instead of diggin' up for the roots, because Spelman is 10 blocks from a strip club. You're not out in front of the strip club picketing. You wait until somebody comes in there and does something very dear to his heart, such as saving a life, and doing something that should be educating the community, to come in and talk about a video?
AP: Would you ever do another "uncut" video?
Nelly: If I wanted to, yes, because I don't see anything wrong with it. Like I said before, it was made for adults. I do stuff for the adults but I also do stuff that appeals to kids. So, I try to keep a fine line. Hopefully, parents raise their kids and don't let music raise their kids and entertainers raise their kids. How is it that I can keep my child from seeing a video that I did, but you can't keep your child (from seeing it) and you're there a lot more than I am? So you can't be serious.
AP: What everyone really wants to know is ... was that really your credit card?
Nelly: Yeah, that was my credit card! That's the thing. I think everybody is most upset about the credit card issue, but she said do it! This is a grown woman that told me, 'Go ahead, do it.' I never forced any of these girls to do anything. This is a job, they agreed to do it, they knew everything that was into it and these girls would be doing it whether Nelly was shooting a video or not.
AP: You recently joined BET founder Bob Johnson as part owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. Will you have clout to say, "Hey, you need to trade this guy?"
Nelly: (Laughs) Yeah, yeah - I think in a minute he's going to be second guessing his decision, because you know, I'm a sports nut. I'm always in it. I'm aware, and I have many friends who are athletes. I think sports and entertainment go hand in hand. I definitely want to voice my opinion. But I'm just appreciative that I'm in this position.
AP: You got some criticism for naming your energy drink Pimp Juice.
Nelly: I don't think they understand. They hear the word, and they think, 'Oh, my goodness,' but you're not protesting Coke and Pepsi, and they have caffeine and stuff that is addictive and stuff that can harm you if you drink that. Pimp Juice has none of that. It's good for them. Sometimes you have to wrap it up in bad so they can get the good out of it. If you understand me, it's not even my angle. My son might come in and get two As and a B, and be like, 'Man, I pimped that test!' ... It's just different these days, it's just lingo, it's just slang.
AP: How do you respond when people say you're not a role model?
Nelly: I don't see myself as a role model. I see myself as an inspiration. I can be an inspiration for someone who's been in the situation that I've been in and making good out of it. A role model should be someone who's close to you, someone who you can pick up and call when you're about to do something stupid or you have a question about life ... A role model should be some person who you can actually see the role of their life. You can't do that with athletes and entertainers, so I don't know why people just insist on making us role models. We're success stories.