Nelly is an underwear model

Nelly is a rapper, an actor, a fashion mogul and now — thanks to buddy Sean “Diddy” Combs — an underwear model!!!

Nelly is nervous about the interview.

He watched the aftermath of Hurricane Ike unfold on television, so he was hesitant to talk about his forthcoming CD, Brass Knuckles, and his gig as the celebrity underwear model for Sean Jean.

Such things seem insignificant, he said.

Life is most important,” Nelly said by phone. “We’re from Missouri, and we have floods. We had a big one back in ’94. That was real crazy, but nothing like this. My blessings are with everyone in Houston.”

The rapper, actor and fashion mogul — whose recent show here was canceled in the wake of Ike — was recently picked by Sean “Diddy” Combs to represent the new Sean Jean underwear line. The ads feature a bare-chested, slightly oiled and tattooed Nelly wearing loose jeans with underwear peaking from the waist. It conjures images of Mark Walhberg in the popular Calvin Klein underwear ads in the 1990s.

I don’t know if they will be that popular,” he said, laughing. “I did it for my man one time. He kind of had to talk me into it a little bit.”

Diddy has mentored Nelly since his early days with his hometown rap group, St. Lunatics.

When I first started my business and getting into clothes, he was willing to give me advice and point me into the right direction,” Nelly said. “He didn’t have to do that. I could have looked at me as a competitor. He made sure a young brother was going about it the right way. That was real special to me.”

Nelly, who was born and raised in St. Louis, started performing with the St. Lunatics in the mid-1990s and was signed as a solo rapper in 2000, releasing his first CD, Country Grammar.

In 2003, he earned a Grammy award for best male rap solo performance and for best rap/song collaboration for a duet with Houston’s Kelly Rowland after releasing his second effort, Nellyville.

Nelly brought to the urban rap scene a unique sound that mixed Southern drawl and country twang.

His newest CD, Brass Knuckles, has been delayed several times. Nelly says it will be released this fall.

You just want to make sure things are right,” he said. “People have been waiting so long. You want to make sure when you come, you try to provide something new and different.”

Nelly started his urban men’s clothing line, Vokál, with several St. Louis friends in 1997. Nelly says they wanted to create clothing without logos, pieces that were unique and could speak for themselves.

Vokál T-shirts and jerseys were sold out of their car trunks at St. Lunatics concerts in St. Louis until the line became a fashion mainstay with other rappers and athletes.

Then in 2003, Nelly launched Apple Bottoms denim line for women. (He says the name came to him while sitting on his sofa at home.) It specifically targeted ample derrières.

Apple Bottoms jeans have been worn by celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Vivica Fox, Fergie and Ashanti. The collection also features intimates, swimsuits, plus sizes, footwear and accessories.

Nelly also recently acquired the license to the 1980s clothing line Troop, which he admired as a teenager but couldn’t afford. Like his career, Nelly’s fashion style has matured. Now 33, he’s trading in his signature athletic jerseys for more grown-up styles and says he’s replacing the two platinum teeth he’s sported since high school.

When I started wearing them, it wasn’t a fad. If you liked a certain player, you’d wear the jersey. Then it got out of hand. People were wearing jerseys and didn’t even know who the player was.”

Ideally, he says, jerseys should be worn only at games or if you’re young.

You can only go so far (wearing them),” he said. “I’m a little older now, and there are just certain things I want to do.”

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