Despite selling more than 20 million albums in the U.S., having nearly a dozen top 10 singles, being ranked as the third top overall artist of the 2000-2009 decade by Billboard magazine behind Eminem and Usher and snagging a mantle's worth of Grammys, American Music Awards, Video Music Awards and BET Awards, he still feels looked upon as the underdog, and that perplexes him.
“I think it's because you’ve had so much success," he reasons, while noshing on fried shrimp in a private dining room at a West Hollywood hotel. "When you’ve had so much, people are tired of rooting for you to win."
It doesn't take long for the frustration to appear on his face.
"It boggles me. I’m still looked at as the underdog. I mean, how is it, a ... sells 30 million records and be looked at as the underdog? For some reason, I get it," he chuckles as he shakes his head. "It’s a mystery to me. I feel like no matter what I do, it’s going to be something.”
He knows part of that is due to the performance of his last album, 2008's “Brass Knuckles,” which delivered first-week sales that paled in comparison to the storied blockbuster success of his previous albums. That slide resulted in his latest release, “5.0,” being pegged as a "comeback."
The disc, which debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 for the week of Nov. 24 after selling a relatively few 63,000 copies, rides on the strength of his platinum single “Just a Dream.”
The St. Louis native doesn’t mince words on how he feels -- including taking to Twitter recently to blast his label, Universal Motown, for not promoting the album enough and providing retailers with only a certain number of copies.
“It’s hard being compared to yourself. I ain’t never met a person that can beat themselves. For some strange reason, people hold me to myself. It’s just like, ‘Yeah, "Brass Knuckles" didn’t do Nelly numbers,’ but it damn near sold 800,000. If you look at 800,000, today’s top artists are selling that,” he says. “I sold 800,000 on my worst record. Some people wait on you to not succeed the way you did before to call it a failure, a brick, a flop, to call it what you want to call it. There’s nothing I can do with that.” [For the record: A representative for Universal Motown clarified that while the label shipped nearly 800,000 units of "Brass Knuckles," the rapper only sold 230,000 copies.]
Since his debut 10 years ago with “Country Grammar,” the rapper born Cornell Haynes Jr. has cemented his pop crossover status with radio- -- and club- -- friendly hooks propelled by his Midwestern twang and sing-songy flow. He's the first hip-hop artist to debut at nos. 1 and 2 in the same week after putting out "Sweat" and "Suit" on the same day in 2004, and his single "Over and Over" with Tim McGraw made him the first rapper with a hit on the country chart.
No stranger to success, he almost walked away from it all after the death of his sister, Jackie, in 2005 following a battle with leukemia.
“After you lose someone that close to you it makes you reevaluate things. You look at yourself in a different perspective, and music was one thing,” he said. “It made me want to stay home and spend more time with my family, my mom, my kids [he adopted Jackie's two children after she died]. There was so much she wanted to do. Trips she wanted to do, places she wanted to see. I don’t know if I could’ve lived through [what she did] and ever smile again.” CONTINUE READING..