In the summer months of 2000, steam rose off the banks of the Mississippi River. With the single “Hot,” Cornell “Nelly” Haynes, an unknown rapper from a sleepy Midwestern metropolis stunned the recording industry, selling over a quarter of a million copies of his debut album Country Grammar during its first week of release. Nelly quickly proved his star potential with follow up singles “E.I” and “Ride Wit Me” on an album that would go onto sell 9 million copies — the spirited rapper from St. Louis, Missouri had indeed brought the heat. Out of the gate, the staying power of this breakout artist from the Midwest was underestimated by coastal critics, a naïve assumption that Nelly would easily overcome. Two years later, his sophomore album Nellyville established his widespread appeal, selling 6 million albums and earning him two Grammies for the singles “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma.” The gateway to the Wild West, St. Louis has long struck a chord producing unforgettable talents that stand the test of time – Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner and Miles Davis. For a generation raised with hip hop sensibilities, Nelly has taken the reigns as the residing voice, blending smooth Southern cadence and Midwestern inflection that ride easy over beats and infectious hooks.
It’s 2008 and with 30 million records sold, Nelly is one of the industry’s top recording artists. Yet, he remains the voice of the tough town with heart. It’s high time for Nelly to show and prove once again with his fifth studio album titled Brass Knuckles. His track record is irrefutable — there’s the platinum-selling remix album Da Derrty Versions (The Reinvention) in 2003 and another Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group with “Shake Ya Tailfeather” collaboration with Murphy Lee and P Diddy. Even in a more fickle market, he’s still managed to score platinum on not one, but two albums Sweat and Suit released simultaneously in 2004. On Suit he challenged the formula for a hit record collaborating with country music icon Tim McGraw on the number one “Over & Over.” This unique approach elevated him to four number one hits — the most by a male artist in the Top 40 charts. While Nelly was destined for solo stardom, he’s a resolute team player who builds off those who’ve been there for the journey. He introduced the world to his group the St Lunatics including Ali, Murphy Lee, Kyjuan and Slo Down with the platinum album Free City in 2001.
This release propelled solo careers, including Murphy Lee’s platinum album Murphy’s Law, released on Derrty Entertainment, Nelly’s joint venture with Universal Records. The label is one of Nelly’s business ventures. Nelly remains an artist to the core, albeit one with an uncanny business savvy. His clothing lines for men and women Vokal and Apple Bottoms are sold in major department stores and his beverage, Pimp Juice (inspired by a hit song under the same name) has sold millions of units and been recognized by the beverage industry as the “People’s Choice” for best energy drink. He is a part owner of the NBA expansion team, the Charlotte Bobcats. The sporting world is a natural fit for Nelly, who was a serious shortstop slugger for his suburban University City high school team, scouted by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves before music called. He came full circle to the field performing at Super Bowl XXXV and XXXVIII in 2001 and 2004. Most recently he opened Skybox, a St. Louis sports bar and grill and is putting together a multi-million dollar athletic facility. Nelly, who is still an active athlete, relied on his training to ready himself for his major film debut in the “Longest Yard” starring alongside Burt Reynolds, Adam Sandler and Chris Rock.
The film showed yet another talented side of Nelly, who held his own with the box-office stars. Many artists lose themselves in the glare of stardom, but Nelly has remained true. Perhaps, that has to do with his roots in St. Louis – and the people who’ve been there for him. He launched Jes Us 4 Jackie (www.jesus4jackie.com), a foundation committed to the education of African-Americans about the need for bone marrow and stem cell transplant donations- to help his beloved sister Jackie Donahue find a donor. Unfortunately, Nelly lost his sister in 2005, but he continues to push just as hard with the foundation. To date, nine lives have been saved by the organization’s efforts to match donors. He also started 4Sho4Kids Foundation (www.4sho4kids.org) dedicated to improving the quality of life for children born with developmental disabilities (emphasis on Down’s Syndrome) and children born addicted to drugs. With so many ventures under his belt, how does Nelly find time for music? It’s easy when you’ve got something to say and an audience hungry to listen. Take a closer look at Nelly — this summer the heat is still rising off the Mississippi.