303 BerryFest Place
By now the story of Grammy-winning, multiplatinum hip-hop superstar-actor-entrepreneur-philanthropist Nelly’s meteoric rise to stardom is a well-known, oft-recited part of hip-hop history. The standout member of the St. Louis rap collective the St. Lunatics inks a deal with Universal Motown Records, drops a sizzling single called “Country Grammar” with a familiar nursery rhyme hook, and follows it up with a debut album of the same name that spawns three humongous hits, spends seven weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart, scores three Grammy nominations, and sells an astonishing 9 million 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. Much to the delight of the legions of fans that now rank him among hip-hop’s premier artists, Nelly charged onto the hip-hop scene in the summer of 2000 with his groundbreaking debut album, Country Grammar. The critical acclaim, accolades, and awards rolled in almost as fast as the record sales. Country Grammar 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). Nelly also topped Billboard’s 2000 year-end chart as the Top Male Rap Artist, and he was nominated for two Source Awards, an MTV Video Music Award, two BET Awards, an American Music Award, and a Soul Train Music Award.