Nelly (born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr. on November 2, 1974 in Austin, Texas), is an American rapper who rose to fame in 2000.
When 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."
The St. Lunatics managed to put out another song called Who's The Boss, which became a local hit. The song helped their reputation locally but didn't grab the interest of record companies. The frustrated St. Lunatics decided to try their luck in Atlanta and teamed up with Kula who was managing Mase at that time. Eventually they realized Nelly would have a better chance of scoring a record deal on his own. So with Kula, 19 year-old Nelly attracted Universal Records exec Kevin Law in 1999. Nelly's career was off like a rocket with the release of his song Country Grammar, which borrows the hook from the children's song Down, Down, Baby. On June 6, 2000, Nelly released his first full-length album - also called Country Grammar. The album managed to sneak past Eminem and Britney to the number one spot on the Billboard charts on August 26, 2000.
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."
With the release of the song Ride Wit Me Nelly the rapper has secured his spot as a popular rap artist who's known as much for his signature low-riding pants as he is for his music. Nelly's second album Nellyville was a huge hit and his third album, Da Derrty Versions: The Reinvention, which is out in November of 2003, is bound to be as huge. Tell your 'rents not to worry - there's a clean version of Da Derrty Versions available too.
Nelly first came to mainstream audiences with his song, Country Grammar (2000) and released Free City with the St. Lunatics in 2001. Country Grammar turned out to become a mainstream success that set the stage for his breakthrough album, Nellyville. Nellyville established him as one of the most famous rappers in the early 2000s, with an image of being equal parts handsome boy-next-door and tough gangsters. From the beginnings of his pop career, the lyrics of "Country Grammar" explored this dichotomy, posing the question: "Who says pretty boys can't be wild niggaz?" and containing references to gun violence and drug use while also sending shout outs to billionaires Bill Gates and Donald Trump, as well as fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
Nelly on his double album Sweat/Suit (2005)The 2002 single "Hot in Herre" was also tremendously popular (to the extent of being parodied by Weird Al Yankovic's "Trash Day"), as was its follow-up, "Dilemma," which featured vocals by Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child.
At the 45th annual Grammy Awards Nelly received two Grammy's for Best Male Rap Solo Performance and shared a Grammy with Kelly Rowland for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
In early 2003, Nelly released the controversial single, "Air Force Ones". MTV, MTV2, MuchMusic, and VH1 refused to air the video due to product placement for Nike's popular sneakers of the same name. BET, however, played it. (Nike and Nelly agreed on a 1 year deal contract in 2003 to release a limited-edition sneaker called the "Air Derrty" which was a retro remake of Charles Barkley's signature sneaker the Nike Air Max2 CB '94 which was released on June 13, 2003 at select NIKE town stores. Limited to 1,000 pairs.)
The following year in 2004 Nelly won his third Grammy for his number one hit single "Shake Ya Tailfeather" which featured Murphy Lee & P.Diddy. On September 14, 2004, Nelly released two albums simultaneously, Sweat and Suit. Suit, an R&B-oriented album, debuted at #1 on the Billboard albums chart and Sweat, a rap-oriented album, debuted at #2 on the same week. From the Suit album, the slow ballad Over and Over, an unlikely duet with country music star Tim McGraw, became another crossover hit. Nelly performed the song with McGraw on the latter's CBS Television concert special in 2004.
In 2006 he scored another #1 hit Grillz, which features Paul Wall.