What Do ’90s Babies Think About Nelly (aka “The Dude With the Band-Aid)”?
Ten years ago, Nelly was arguably hip-hop’s biggest star. In 2004, the St. Louis country boy had watched his Sweat/Suit double-album go quadruple-platinum, beating then-current sales figures by Jay Z and a still-emerging Kanye West. Sweat/Suit was Nelly’s third consecutive number-one album and the number of smash hits it contained meant that his voice was inescapable. Radio, MTV, Grammy awards, Nelly was on top of the world.
Fast forward to 2015 and Nelly’s biggest recent contribution to pop culture has been a Cheerios commercial. His last album, 2013’s M.O., sold only 15,000 copies in its first week, a staggeringly low number for an artist who routinely trafficked in the millions just a few years ago. So that got us thinking: while a slightly older generation quite literally grew up on Nelly’s music, would millennials even know him at all? Or had Nelly actually now become retro-cool, like baggy clothes and Air Force 1s?
There was only one way to find out: hit the streets and talk to some millennials. So that’s exactly what we did.
Joseph, 19: “’Air Force Ones’ is what I remember most. That song made me never want to scuff my kicks. That and the Band-Aid. I instantly think about basketball and music videos—it seemed really made up and fake. He was definitely a product of mainstream at the time.”
Roosevelt, 19: “I think Nelly was revolutionary. The first song that played in my head was ‘Hot In Herre.” I just think he was a hot rapper. Now he just seems like a personality, I wish he would have gone behind the scenes and made hits, but that’s not the case. My Dad used to play him all the time.”
Radley, 18: “He was the dude with the band-aid on his face. I grew up with dude’s music and we would always dance and turn up all the time to “Hot In Here” when I was growing up in the Philippines. He’s one of the people I look up to because he didn’t change and stayed real.”
Chris, 19: “Coming out of the Midwest I super identified with him and the St. Lunatics as a kid. I even got into Murphy Lee. I’ve always had a certain respect for Nelly, too, because he was one of the guys who also branched out with the clothing brand Apple Bottom, which was a womenswear sensation.”
Brittany, 21: “Nelly was just that dude who had all the hits back when I was in middle school and stuff but now I just know him from like reality TV shows and whatnot. Isn’t he on that show with Kevin Hart?”
Jessica, 20: “Nelly…he was the guy that had the Band-Aid on his face all the time and had that song with the girl from Destiny’s Child, right? Yeah, of course I remember him, but definitely not as the biggest rapper in the world or anything. He always dressed like he was trying to be an athlete or something.”
Well, that proves a couple things. First, Nelly’s not nearly the star he once was, but his name is certainly far from forgotten, his legacy continues to live on,. And second, despite the millions of albums sold, the awards, the massive songs, he’s remembered first and foremost as the guy who rocked a Band-Aid on his face. Which come to think of it, as long as we’re bringing back millennial fashion trends…