Tuesday, July 7, 2009 | 6:20 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
Nelly has recently been spending a lot of time in a Las Vegas recording studio, and the rapper came to Jet this morning to treat fans to a little taste of what he’s been working on.
People lined up outside the Mirage hotspot in advance of today’s early morning performance, then packed themselves into the club’s main room to catch the show. The chart-topping rapper and his entourage arrived at 2 a.m. and quickly got settled into a large VIP table on the stage.
Nelly wasted little time before launching into his 30-minute set. He grabbed a bottle of Moet and took to the stage with his half-brother, Lavell Webb, a.k.a. “City Spud.”
“I used to wear a Band-Aid for somebody special and this that someone special,” Nelly said.
In 2000, Webb was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of first-degree assault. Nelly wore a Band-Aid on his cheek to protest the sentencing, while he and members of his other rap group, the St. Lunatics, named an album “Free City” as part of their ongoing campaign for Webb’s release.
Webb, who is also a member of the St. Lunatics and contributed to Nelly’s solo smash, "Ride Wit Me,” was released last July.
The half-brothers shared the spotlight as Webb backed up his older and supportive sibling on tracks from Nelly’s 2000 debut record, "E.I.," "Ride Wit Me" and the breakout single, “Country Grammar.”
Using a karaoke-style track, Nelly also sang his part of the Grammy Award-winning duet he recorded with former Destiny’s Child songstress Kelly Rowland, “Dilemma.”
Before that, however, the rapper premiered two new tracks from his forthcoming album.
“I want to try some new sh** from my new album,” he said, noting, “This is my first time being able to rock this sh**”
The 34-year-old performed two new songs: the yet-to-be-released first single, “1000 Stacks,” and an uncharacteristically vocal ballad dubbed “Angel Eyes.”
The new material appeared to have been well-received, as the crowd bobbed and danced en masse. Meanwhile, the performer was visibly pleased when fans sang along with the chorus of “Angel Eyes.”
Among the capacity crowd of partiers at Jet last night were boxer Antonio "Magic Man" Tarver, Jade Cole from “America’s Next Top Model,” and UFC fighter Chuck Liddell. Liddell got especially into the set and, at one point, even did a little crowd surfing.
If the warm reception was any indication, it would seem that Nelly has a hit on the heater.
“The new album is sounding incredible,” he smiled. “It’s comes out in November so be checkin’ for it.”
The fun-loving, poker-playing star has enjoyed mixing business with pleasure in Las Vegas.
“I love hanging out in Vegas,” he said. “I’ve been here for about a month, I’m recording out here.”
He said being in the midst of a city that’s notorious for its nightlife has had been a good thing while working on the forthcoming record.
“Recording in Vegas is always a good influence, especially the type of music I do … especially when you’re doing a lot of party music and a lot of uplifting music and trying to, you know, get people the right spirits,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of energy.”
The celebrated rapper, who has also earned respect for successful ventures in the world of fashion through his Vokal and Applebottom clothing lines, said he hoped the new material would help fans see him for what he is.
“I think they’ll get a real understanding of what it’s like to be in my position, so to speak, as far as having to start over and grind your way back to a position where a lot of people thought that you would never leave,” Nelly said.
He said the new record would feature special guests, including his friend and fellow rapper Akon, and a few others.
“I might be working on something with Janet (Jackson) and a few things like that, so we’ll see what happens,” he said.
This morning’s performance came just hours before Michael Jackson’s tribute took place in Los Angeles. Before taking to the stage, Nelly said today’s memorial would be difficult for him.
“He meant so much,” he said. “It’s kind of a hard thing to watch, you know what I’m saying? ... I mean, it’s (expletive) Michael Jackson, yo. I mean, it don’t get no bigger.”
Though news of the legendary King of Pop’s death was hard to take, the rapper said the resulting media circus was what truly made it difficult.
“It’s kind of hard to watch TV, too, with people really trying to tear him down in a certain way,” he said. “It’s crazy because I never seen them tear down Elvis.”
Despite the years of Jackson scandals and over-the-top media scrutiny, the Missouri-born star said he has nothing but respect for the fallen icon.
“He’s the best,” Nelly said. “He’s the best to ever do it and my heart goes out to the Jackson family. I’m a fan for life.”
Melissa Arseniuk writes about Las Vegas entertainment and celebrity events. She can be reached at 702-948-7823 or by e-mail at [email protected].