By now the story of Nelly's meteoric rise to stardom is a well-known,
oft-recited part of hip-hop history. The member of the St. Louis-based
rap collective, the St. Lunatics, inks a deal with Universal Records,
drops a sizzling single with a familiar nursery rhyme hook and
releases a debut album that spawns three humongous hits, yielded
three Grammy nominations and sold an incredible nine million plus
That, of course, is the abridged version of a story that began
years ago in a part of St. Louis known as University City. It's
the story of a young man whose life was so unsettled that he moved
from place to place, from family member to family member and hung
out on the streets with "the big dirties" who introduced
him to the underbelly of the city. But Nelly's is also a story
of achievement - overachievement, even. As a child, Nelly, born
Cornell Haynes, Jr., was always the fastest runner, the best catcher,
the hottest player on the team. He was so gifted, in fact, that
he almost ended up in professional baseball instead of music.
But, clearly, fate played her hand: in the Summer of 2000, Nelly
charged onto the music scene with Country Grammar, much to the
delight of the legions of fans who now rank him among hip-hop's
As his celebrity grows, the twenty-four year old star's story
has taken more breadth. He has become an international, multimedia
star touted by the entertainment industry for his achievements.
The critical acclaim, the accolades and the awards rolled in almost
as fast as the record sales. He snagged four Grammy nominations,
two for Best Rap Solo Performance ("Ride Wit Me," "Country
Grammar"), Best Rap/Song Collaboration ("Where The Party
At," with Jagged Edge) and Best Rap Album (Country Grammar);
two Source Awards; an MTV Video Music Award; BET, American Music
and Soul Train awards. Last year he was heralded as one of People
Magazine's "Breakthrough" talents of 2001.
Describing his sophomore album, Nellyville, as a picture of "life
after success," Nelly says Nellyville depicts him in his
natural element: having a good time. The songs are so vivid, so
real and alive, filled with the sights and sounds of Nelly's utopia:
"Nellyville." "Nellyville is when I'm out kicking
it, when I'm having fun, or when I'm chillin' with my folks, he
says. "My life has been tough already growing up and that's
not really something I choose to dwell on. It wasn't the most
exciting time for me so I don't choose to bring it up on every
song, although I do touch on it sometimes. I think I will always
touch on it but for the most part, on the majority of the album,
we're just rocking and rolling-it's 'Nellyville'."
The album's first single, the Neptunes-produced "Hot In
Herre" ('here' with a St. Louie twist), is a flame-throwing,
soul-burning, shirt-sticking-to-your-skin party joint. "We've
all been to a party that was hot but we just won't leave because
it's rocking," explains Nelly. "You're like 'It's hot
in here but I'm jammin', I'm having a good time, I'm sweatin'.'
But it's fun. No matter how hot it is in there you don't wanna
leave." "Hot In Herre" features Universal Records'
newcomer Dani Stevenson singing the hook.
The Neptunes are just one of the big name acts that appear on
Nellyville, which, by hip hop standards, has a relatively small
number of cameos. With the exception of his fellow St. Lunatics
crew - who are family, not guests - Nelly is joined by *N Sync's
Justin Timberlake on the rump-shaking "Work It" (Nelly
appeared on the remix of N*Sync's "Girlfriend") and
Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland on "Dilemma" "'Dilemma'
is about this girl. She has a baby's father and she has a son
but she's not really happy in the relationship," Nelly explains.
"I'm kinda like the outsider. She's diggin' me but it ain't
that easy for her to just pack up and run out like that. It's
deeper than that between her and her baby's daddy. So all I'm
doing is lettin' her know, 'I'll be there'..it's real nice. Kelly
did her thing on that." Another one of Nelly's favorites
from Nellyville is "Splurge." The deeply personal song
addresses the haters who criticize his success and his wealth.
" I'm blessed and I enjoy cars and jewelry, but splurgin'
don't always mean money, it just means showin' love."
And in spite of all the jewelry and cars, and despite all the
splurging, his newfound success has brought, Nelly continues to
keep his country roots intact. He is forever a mid-western boy,
raised right and taught to say 'excuse me,' 'please' and 'thank
you.' Even after all the success, he's the same person he was
when he was on the grind with his St. Lunatics crew - the same
person, just in a different place. "When I was doing Country
Grammar I was basically at the crib waiting to release Country
Grammar, but with Nellyville I've been on the road." But
the St. Louis flavor follows him wherever he goes. "It's
not like I moved. I haven't broke out to buy a big house on either
coast or to be away from home for too long. I enjoy going back
to the crib and then I keep St. Louis with me with the people
that's around me.. I'm never leaving home. I always got home with
me, so it's love."
He seems unfazed by his success, unblinded by the glare of stardom.
For him, it's the completion of a process that began years ago
and continues to evolve; for him, it's the fulfillment of a dream.
"I think success has brought me more completion as far as
me working so hard to get something and finally watching it come
true. That restores your energy within yourself. You're like,
'Yeah, I can do it.' Whatever I set my mind to I can do it. I
did this, why can't I do that? And everybody needs that to achieve
the things they set out to do." On the field or in the studio,
Nelly's a fierce competitor who likes the feeling of being number
one - a feeling he is sure to experience again with the release
of his sophomore album, Nellyville.
And just as audiences participated on songs like "Country
Grammar," "EI," "#1," "Ride Wit
Me" and "Where the Party At," they'll find loads
of opportunities to sing along once they enter Nellyville. On
"On the Grind," Nelly keeps the party jumping and spits
the truth from one breath to the next. "I'm lettin' 'em know
I'm still on the grind. I'm still in the studio everyday, still
on this road. It's a different hustle now but it's still a hustle."
Another standout song is "Pimp Juice," a track that
Nelly says is a bit of a stylistic departure for him. One part
funk, one part rock, the song boasts a slithering melody, a retro
guitar, and smoothed out vocals that will make listeners do a
double-take. "Like the song says, 'Your pimp juice is anything
that attracts the opposite sex/ It could be money, fame or straight
intellect.' Whatever you use to get ahead at whatever you're doing,
that's your pimp juice."
Forever trying to take a dream "somewhere it ain't never
been," Nelly continues to stretch his horizons and explore
his passions. Less than six months after Country Grammar's release,
Nelly branched out into acting by starring in the independent
movie "Snipes." The movie is slated to be release in
2002. Additionally, the rapper has launched his own clothing line,
Vokal. The urban athletic wear has successfully been distributed
nationally for a year at major and independent retailers. Not
content to just lend his name to a brand, Nelly actively participates
in running the company by designing and coming up with business
Finally, Nelly continues to show love for his hometown through
his charity 4 Sho 4 Kids, a local organization he founded and
sponsors to help underprivileged inner-city children. He sponsors
basketball benefits, literacy efforts and uses his celebrity to
offer incentives for youth to stay in school and increase scholastic
test scores. "A large portion of my audience is kids and
if I can help them as well as they've supported me, it's beautiful
for both sides."
Nellyville isn't a place or a time or a destination. It's about
Nelly's reality: realizing dreams and creating possibilities.