In a short time, Nelly has established himself as one of the hottest and youngest rap artists of today. Most of his success is attributed to his hit first single "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)," which has become an anthem of sorts to teens all across America.
Born as Cornell Haynes, Jr. on November 2, 1978, Nelly, standing 5'10'', had an itinerant childhood. Being born in Austin, Texas, Nelly spent his early years in Spain (his father, being in the Air Force, had moved his family there) before ending up in the ghettoes of St. Louis, Missouri, where he attended elementary school. His parents divorced when he was only eight years old.
Before high school, Nelly used to get into a lot of fights, but in 1993, he left his St. Louis neighborhood and settled in the suburban area of University City. He went to high school there, became interested in baseball, and his passion for the sport helped to keep him out of trouble. He also began a hobby of storytelling and rapping, so he formed a rap group by the name of the St. Lunatics with high school friends Kyjuan, Ali, Jason, Murphy Lee, and City Spud. In 1996, the group enjoyed local underground success with their hit, "Gimmie What Ya Got." The 12-inch single sold an impressive 7,000 units regionally and dominated airwaves, becoming number one on St. Louis' hip-hop station, 103 the Beat. Nelly and his friends managed to record another local hit, "Who's The Boss," but this song, like the previous one, failed to attract the interest of any recording company. All the while, Nelly continued to play shortstop in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association hoping to land a baseball contract if rapping didn't work out.
Despite the local fame, the St. Lunatics were disappointed and frustrated at their lack of a major record deal. They decided to try their luck in Atlanta, so they teamed up with Kula who was managing rapper Mase at the time. The group eventually realized that Nelly would have a better chance of landing a record deal on his own. So, in 1999, with Kula, the 19-year old Nelly, persuaded Kevin Law, an executive of Universal Records, to sign him to a record contract.
Nelly's rap career began with a big bang, with the release of his first song, "Country Grammar (Hot Shit)" becoming a major hit, and receiving major airplay. The single cruised to the top of the Billboard charts after it was released in February of 2000. Then, on June 6, 2000, Nelly released his first full-length album, Country Grammar. This album proved to be very successful when it took over Eminem at the top of the U.S. album chart and stayed there for several weeks.
Hitherto, Cash Money Records and No Limit Records had been dominating the hip-hop charts. Suddenly, with the release of Nelly's new record, all the talk was of new Midwestern talent, and the new sound of the dirty south with a St. Louis twist.
All Along, Nelly's goal was to put his hometown of St. Louis and the St. Lunatics on the hip-hop map. Although Nelly became a major solo artist, he says that he is, and always will be a member of the St. Lunatics.
"I don't necessarily feel like a solo artist...I'm just the key in the door for the rest of the St. Lunatics. I'm the first to release an album, but we're all family. We came up together from nothing. So it's St. Lunatics for life."
Information gathered from www.nelly.net, www.nelly.org, www.mtv.com, and teenmusic.about.com.