Rapper Nelly moves forward in life by giving back

Thu Dec 23, 2010 3:59pm EST
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By Bruce Olson

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - Ten years into a successful career, rapper Nelly is all about giving back to his hometown community and to the fans who helped make him famous.

Since his debut album, "Country Grammar," in 2000, the 36-year-old hip-hop star has sold more than 20 million records, has had nearly a dozen Top 10 singles (including this year's "Just a Dream") and was rated the No. 3 artist of the decade by Billboard magazine behind Eminem and Usher. His sixth album, "5.0," debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart in late November.

The record, his first in two years, hasn't sold as well as some of his other discs, but that has been true of many artists recently as digital downloads weakened CD sales.

The album's mix of rap and R&B has not gone over as well with critics, either, and some have even labeled Nelly an "underdog," in moving into arenas outside his home arena of hip-hop. The description puzzles Nelly.

"My music is all about growth," he told Reuters as he entered his 5th annual Black & White Ball in St. Louis this past Sunday. "I've got a lot of great things coming. And to me, ten years of doing anything is a blessing."

"5.0" includes collaborations with Diddy, T.I., Chris Brown and a reunion with Kelly Rowland, who worked with Nelly on the Grammy-winning "Dilemma" in 2002. And while Nelly was coy about his future music plans, he said he is more than satisfied with the progress of his career so far, calling it "phenomenal."

The gentle rapper was all smiles as he made this way through the posh crowd at the Black & White Ball. He wasn't interested in basking in his music accomplishments. He was keen to talk about helping others and continuing his personal push to improve St. Louis' reputation among U.S. cities.

CELEBRATE ST. LOUIS   Continued...

<p>Hip Hop star Nelly stands on the red carpet at the 5th annual Black &amp; White Ball in St. Louis, Missouri December 19, 2010 in this publicity photo released to Reuters December 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jeff Wilson/SYNERGY/Handout</p>