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 copies worldwide.

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 premier artists.

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''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 strategies.

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.

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