Nelly Furtado

Multiple directions

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By Gary Graff  

Her first album had us saying "Whoa, Nelly!," but her latest release, Loose, has us just saying...Whoa! After two albums of polished pop, multi-platinum Canadian singer-songwriter Nelly Furtado decided to explore the hip-hop sound, working in Miami with producer Timbaland and charting a course closer to her collaboration with Missy Elliott on the hit remix of "Get UR Freak On" than to Furtado's previous hits like "I'm Like a Bird."

The change has paid off, though; "Promiscuous," the first single from Loose, hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album debuted in the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart. Whoa, indeed.

Q: What sent you in a hip-hop direction for Loose?

Nelly Furtado: Basically it was me just kind of rediscovering my sound again. The seed was planted almost two years ago when I first went into this small studio in Toronto, by myself, with beats from local hip-hop producers. I got in the vocal booth and tried to rap. It was just a starting point, like "OK, where can my voice go?" I was searching for something, for that inner inspiration, that cue to where I would go next. I kept working towards it.

Q: Where does hip-hop fit into your life and your musical influences?

Furtado: I kind of denied my R&B and hip-hop roots for a long time, 'cause I was really that poppy, R&B, hip-hop kid when I was from 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 years old. We loved R&B and hip-hop. It was, like, life and the music didn't have any separation. It was the soundtrack to our lives, listening to a pretty New Edition song or a great Salt-N-Pepa song that got you hyped about being a girl. And TLC and LL Cool J, too. I used to write R&B songs in my bedroom. They sounded like Mariah Carey. So to tap into that again is really cool.

Q: This has let you be a little sexier than you were before, too.

Furtado: People ask me about the sexuality on the album, and it's not that different from what TLC used to do, where they used to assert their sexuality, but weren't sexy on all their songs. They just showed that they were three-dimensional women, that they could be -- it's a cliche, I know -- crazy, sexy, cool. I have every side to me, and I'm not afraid to show those sides. It's my third album, so it's kind of in due time, y'know?

Q: The single "Promiscuous," was primarily written by someone else, right?

Furtado: That's right. I'm notorious for writing all my lyrics and all my melodies, but this great young rapper from Virginia was just hanging around, and he came up with all these great lyrics. I just wrote four or five lines and spent most of the time just trying to figure out how I can get Steve Nash into a rap song.

Q: Have you run your course as a "pop" artist?

Furtado: Oh, totally, yeah. Don't get me wrong. There were beautiful songs I'd written with some other producers, but I just felt like they weren't my songs, at least not right now. The cool thing that's happened is that a lot of the demo tapes have turned into songs for other artists that are coming out. I think the line for me between songwriter and artist was blurred, and now I have more separation between what I do as a songwriter and what I do as an artist.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.