Nelly first debuted nationally in summer 2000, he seemed like
a novelty, but it quickly became apparent that he was, in fact,
an exceptional artist, a rapper with truly
universal appeal. He wasn't from the East or West Coast, and wasn't
really from the Dirty South, either. Rather, Nelly was from St.
Louis, a Midwestern city halfway between Minneapolis and New Orleans.
His locale certainly informed his rapping style, which was as
much country as urban, and his dialect as well, which was, similarly,
as much Southern drawl as Midwestern twang. Plus, Nelly never
shied away from a pop-rap approach, embracing a singalong vocal
style that made his hooks incredibly catchy. As a result, Nelly
became an exceptional rapper capable of crossing all boundaries,
from the Dirty South to the TRL crowd and everything in between.
His first hit, "Country Grammar (Hot...)," became a
summer anthem, and many more hits followed. In particular, his
popularity peaked in summer 2002, when he topped seemingly every
Billboard chart possible with his Nellyville album and its lead
single, "Hot in Herre."
Nelly was born Cornell Haynes Jr. in St. Louis, where he encountered
the street temptations so synonymous with rap artists. And like
so many of his contemporaries, a change in circumstance at a pivotal
time in his life may have changed the course of Nelly's life.
In his case, when he was a teenager, Nelly was taken away from
those streets when his mother moved to nearby suburban University
City. It was there that he shifted his attention to playing baseball,
storytelling, and writing rhymes. With some high-school friends,
Nelly formed the St. Lunatics, who scored a regional hit in 1996
with a self-produced single, "Gimmie What You Got."
Frustrated with failed attempts to land a record deal as a group,
they collectively decided that Nelly would have a better chance
as a single act. The rest of the group could follow with solo
albums of their own.
The gamble paid off, and soon Nelly caught the attention of Universal,
who released his debut album, Country Grammar, in 2000. What distinguished
Nelly's take on rap from others was his laid-back delivery, deliberately
reflecting the distinctive language and Southern tone of the Midwest.
The album featured contributions from the St. Lunatics as well
as the Teamsters, Lil' Wayne, and Cedric the Entertainer, and
spent seven weeks on top of the U.S. album charts. All along,
Nelly's goal was to put his hometown of St. Louis and the St.
Lunatics on the hip-hop map. Though Nelly had become a star as
a solo artist as planned, he said that he is and always will be
a member of the St. Lunatics, a collective that also includes
Big Lee, Kyjuan, Murphy Lee, and City Spud. Nelly fulfilled his
promise in 2001 with the release of Free City, the debut St. Lunatics
album featuring the hit single "Midwest Swing."
summer Nelly returned with his second album, Nellyville, and lived
up to his self-proclaimed "#1" billing. The album topped
the Billboard album chart while the Neptunes-produced lead single,
"Hot in Herre," remained atop the singles chart. In
all, Nelly impressively held the number one spot on ten different
Billboard charts the week of Nellyville's release. Few rap artists
could boast such numbers, and Nelly surely savored his number
one status, particularly after being dismissed as a novelty two
summers earlier when he debuted. You could call him a pop-rapper
if you liked, but you surely couldn't challenge his number one
status. After all, his hit streak continued unabated, with "Iz
U" (from his stopgap Derrty Versions remix album) and "Shake
Ya Tailfeather" (from the Bad Boys II soundtrack) keeping
him in the spotlight while he readied his double-disc Sweatsuit
project (following the lead of OutKast and R. Kelly, who had both
recently released very successful two-disc sets). The seperately
released double album dropped in fall 2004, preceded perfectly
by a pair of red-hot singles: "My Place" (a slow jam)
and "Flap Your Wings" (a club jam). A stroke of commercial
(and to an extent, creative) genius, the superstar-laced project
catapulted Nelly back atop the pop-rap world, where his presence
was peerless. ~ Jason Birchmeier, All Music Guide