Sweet Nelly

Local-rapper-made-good is really just a nice guy

Our eardrums still vibrate with the lingering shrieks of teenage girls, more than 1,000 of whom converged on the parking lot behind the Delmar Streetside Records Friday afternoon to get autographs from Nelly and the St. Lunatics, whose debut, Free City, was released the first week of June. The precious little hormone bombs waited in line for hours, preening for the cameras and clutching their copies of Nelly's multiplatinum solo debut, Country Grammar. They were herded in a few dozen at a time, and when they finally got a minute with their idol, they were powerless to do much besides blubber endearments and hold out their posters with trembling hands. Nelly hugged some of the more enthusiastic ones, causing them to weep uncontrollably and stagger around the store.

Watching the bedlam from a safe perch on the sidelines, we strike up a conversation with the correspondent from national hip-hop glossy the Source, a nice guy named Jon who flew in a couple of hours earlier to cover the in-store. "This just doesn't happen with other rappers," he marvels. "Other rappers, they're more like thugs. Guys are into them, not little girls. Nelly gets the kind of reaction you'd expect with 'N Sync or something." Jon is interrupted by a distraught girl, 14 or 15 years old, who stumbles into us, blinded by tears, breathless and hysterical. Her name's Brandy (at least we think it is; she bawls the entire time she talks to us). "Why do you like him so much?" we ask her. "Because he's so fiiiiine!" she wails. "I've loved him forever! I used to see him hanging out in the Loop." Wracked by sobs, Brandy chokes out something about a recent kidney transplant, how important Nelly's music has been to her recovery. She proudly displays the poster Nelly and the Lunatics signed for her, caressing each man's likeness, his Sharpie script. Her eyes are shiny, her lips parted, her face wet with tears. Ecstatic and reverent, she's glowing like some teenage saint under the fluorescent lights.

Toya was right: Nelly's a sweetie, no doubt about it. Despite news accounts of his air-travel exploits -- he allegedly sassed a sky-waitress after the pillow he requested didn't appear -- Nelly strikes us as a nice guy, especially in the pop-star realm, where airplane disturbances are, after all, pretty much de rigueur. He and the 'Tics played basketball with students at Vashon, Sumner, Beaumont and Berkeley high schools, who kept their promise to improve attendance . He's also said that he plans to start a charity to air-condition city schools. He bought his mother a house and a car and urged her to retire. He seems to realize how lucky he is, and he's giving back the love in spades -- to the people who matter, if not to the staff of TWA. "Use me up," he likes to say, a statement that conjures inappropriate images in the sorry brain of Radar Station.

At the press conference before the signing, most of the media nitwits address all their questions to Nelly, largely ignoring the other 'Tics. The TV anchorwomen are shameless -- vapid and officious, uninformed and unprepared, forever huckstering the human-interest angle. One of them asks Nelly about the little Band-Aid stuck high on his right cheek. He launches into a funny skit about how he's starting a new trend. "So, if you see your kids wearing a bandage on they face, don't be mad at 'em. They're just being like Nelly!" he chuckles. "Really?" she chirps brightly. "So it's not a zit?" Nelly laughs, doesn't deny it. Radar Station is appalled by the audacity and idiocy of our TV brethren. We summon up the nerve to ask whether the rumors we've heard are true, whether he's really buying a house and opening a nightclub downtown. Nelly confirms that he's buying a house, but he won't give specifics about its whereabouts (we heard it was in Lake St. Louis -- oh, say it ain't so, Nelly; surely you hate urban sprawl as much as Radar Station does!). No doubt he worries that an honest answer will bring busloads of screaming girls to his front door (either that, or he's understandably embarrassed about its unhip location); still, we feel cheated. Then he fixes his pretty brown eyes on us, flashing those gold-capped teeth, and sends us into a convulsive giggle fit. We feel exactly like one of those anchor-idiots.

After the press conference, we slither among hordes of hangers-on and silicone-enhanced Carmen Electrawannabes, cute little kids and jewel-encrusted minions. We catch Nelly's eye and congratulate him on his three Slammy Awards. We are suddenly paralyzed by the horrible suspicion that he doesn't know what the hell we're talking about. "We thought you might, you know, want to say something to the RFT readers who voted for you," we stammer.

"I want them to know I appreciate it, and I just hope I win again next year," he responds politely. "Thanks, sweetheart," he says. (Sweetheart! He called us sweetheart!). We feel exactly like Brandy: He's just so fiiiiiine.

 
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