Hip-hop superstar Nelly (born Cornell Haynes, Jr.) grew up in St. Louis, where he nearly succumbed to the all-too-familiar dangers and temptations of life on the street. He avoided that trap thanks to his mother, who moved to nearby University City. Surrounded by the positive influences and safety of suburbia, Nelly got involved in sports and also discovered the power of storytelling through rhyme.
In 1996, Nelly hooked up with some high school friends and formed the St. Lunatics. Their first single, �Gimmie What You Got,� became a local hit, and the group (which also includes Big Lee, Kyjuan, Murphy Lee and City Spud) thought a record deal would soon follow. Without any solid bites, however, the St. Lunatics made an executive decision. Nelly (arguably the most charismatic and skillful of the bunch) would fly solo to help put St. Louis on the map. The Lunatics were right. Nelly quickly caught the attention of Universal, who released his debut album, Country Grammar, in 2000. The album succeeded in putting both Nelly and St. Louis on the hip-hop map. The singles �Country Grammar� and �Ride Wit Me� helped earn Nelly two Grammy Awards for Best Rap Solo Performance, one Grammy for Best Rap Collaboration, and one Grammy for Best Rap Album. With massive solo success under his belt, Nelly did not forget his posse. He rejoined the St. Lunatics, who released Free City in 2001.
In 2002, Nelly (whose signature style now included wearing sports jerseys backwards and a Band-Aid on one of his cheeks) owned the airwaves and dominated multiple Billboard charts thanks to the multi-platinum Nellyville and the hit singles, �Hot in Herre� and �Dilemma,� featuring Kelly Rowland from Destiny�s Child.

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