It’s been a few years since we have heard a hit from turn-of-the-century hip hop sensation Nelly. His latest hit, however, isn’t a collaboration with a younger, fresher artist in an attempt to gain ground in the game. No, Nelly’s latest hit comes to his bank account by way of the IRS and a $2.4 million tax lien from 2013.
His last hit albums may have been in 2004 with the dual releases of Suit and Sweat, (Seriously. Those were his last platinum albums. M.O. which was released in 2013 only sold 23,000 copies to date.) but Nelly still has a fan base, apparently, as his fans are banding together to stream his music in order to help him defray the cost of his tax lien. Specifically, fans are turning to what may be his greatest hit, 2001’s Hot in Herre in a campaign to #SaveNelly.
According to an article in the Washington Post by Elahe Izadi, fans will need to stream Hot in Herre (or their favorite Nelly track) on Spotify 287,176,547 times in order to pay off the 2.4 million dollar levy. Essentially what this tells us is that Nelly makes $0.008 for every play of one of his songs on Spotify. That’s not even a penny, folks.
As of today, Hot in Herre has been played a total of 60,108,586 times which of course includes every play since it became available to stream on the music service. That isn’t even close as it stands right now, although we do not know how many plays Nelly has got since the #SaveNelly campaign went live this week. However, it does mean Nelly has earned $502,301 from this one track alone from Spotify.
Fans are making their best attempt to help the rapper defray the cost, but the effect is merely a Band-Aid on the left cheek of his overall tax problems.
So that is the story that is going around the Internets this week, clogging up my Facebook news aggregator. But to me, that is not the interesting part of the story. The fan response is where it’s at, so to speak. I have so many questions:
1.) Does Nelly really have that many fans to rally together to put their efforts into saving him from his IRS issues?
2.) How many people are just doing this because its a fun thing to do on the Internet? Has the hashtag campaign really brought such public awareness that people are jumping on the bandwagon to stream his music?
3.) Why are people so worried about a guy who basically screwed up and didn’t pay his taxes? (Yes, I know, blame the accountant.)
The thing is, streaming a song, however noble, does not require anything of the person doing it. It costs the listener nothing. There is little investment on the listener’s part. I’ve written before about cost to a consumer vs. their investment in an artist/event/movement. This isn’t a Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaign where someone is trying to fund an album by giving things away to a person who will put up cash to see a project completed. That is a way to gain invested fans. But is this #SaveNelly campaign indicative of how to leverage existing fans? Or,is this just people on the Internet getting a little chuckle about referencing a hit they remember from college and throwing up a hashtag on Twitter?
Apparently, Nelly is beloved by enough music fans in 2016 to start a movement, but I question whether this is a noble gesture. I suspect the #SaveNelly campaign will be hot (in herre) on Internet news feeds for a few days, then people will go back to forgetting about Nelly. Meanwhile, he will have to pay future tax on his $0.08 earning on each new play his fans are doing to help him.
Ok, so my natural instinct is to go skeptical. But, when I think back to what I was listening to from 2000-2006, there was a lot of Nelly on my iPod. I really was a fan of his first album, before the Hot in Herre era, and I loved a lot of the music off Nellyville and Sweat/Suit. Maybe it takes no investment to play a few tracks on Spotify, but maybe that’s the key thing about this movement. It cost nothing, it helps out an artist who’s music played a pivotal role many people’s hip hop education, including my own. Nelly might not be tearing up the charts these days, but he was at least relevant enough in the lives of his fans that they want to give the guy a hand when he is down.
I highly doubt that the #SaveNelly campaign will make a dent in his tax problems. But maybe the gesture is one of the most beautiful things to take place in a world full of skepticism and negativity.
All that being said, I personally contributed $0.024 cents towards the goal to #SaveNelly. You know, because sometimes you just have to give back.