Since introducing his country grammar to the masses in 2000, there has not been a bigger artist from St. Louis, Missouri than Nelly. With a melodic rap style and pop-friendly appeal, his ability to create catchy, memorable hits allowed him to reach an international audience, opening the door for other rappers from “The Lou” such as Chingy, J-Kwon, Ebony Eyez, Jibbs, and Huey among others.

Born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr. in Austin, Texas on November 2, 1974, Nelly was initially raised in St. Louis before he and his mother officially settled in nearby University City. In 1993, he and some friends came together to form St. Lunatics, a rap group consisting of himself, City Spud, Kyjuan, Murphy Lee, Slo Down and de facto leader Ali Jones. They struggled to get picked up by a record label, despite generating a big buzz locally. The group felt Nelly had the most potential to get a solo deal, and he was able to sign with Universal Records in 1999.

With a plan to market him as a “Midwest star,” despite doubt from most at the label, Universal Records released his debut single “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” in early 2000, which performed well and turned any remaining doubters into supporters. Once his debut album Country Grammar came out that summer, Nelly became a household name as the album received positive reviews, reached the top of the Billboard 200, and attained platinum status in less than two months before going on to eventually reach diamond status. The following year, he reunited with his group St. Lunatics for their debut album Free City.

His second album Nellyville arrived on schedule in 2002 despite a boycott attempt by KRS-One, whom he had a brief feud with over a misunderstanding. Debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 and Nelly earning his first two Grammy Awards with its singles “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma,” the album went on to become his second to reach diamond status and his second best-selling. His successful reign would continue with his following albums Sweat and Suit in 2004 (both being separate albums released on the same day), Brass Knuckles in 2008, all the way up to 5.0 in 2010.

Nelly has received multiple accolades from Teen Choice Awards to Grammy Awards, appeared as a guest performer at the 2001 and 2004 Super Bowl halftime shows, listed as one of Billboard’s Top Artist of the Decade for the 2000s, and has sold over twenty million records in the US. Outside of his music career, he is a co-founder of the fashion brands Apple Bottoms and Vokal, a co-owner of the energy drink Pimp Juice named after his 2002 song, is involved with the 4Sho4Kids Foundation and Jes Us 4 Jackie Campaign, and has acted on screen, most notably in the 2005 film The Longest Yard.