Nelly is a renowned name in hip-hop and will always be known as one of the kingpins of 2000s rap music. Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, the emcee (real name Cornell Haynes) was one of the first artists from his city to crossover into the mainstream and achieve vast amounts of success.
As the frontman of the St. Louis-based collective St. Lunatics, Haynes was a highly visible figure in his city, and the renowned local taste DJ Kut would heavily play the group on Beat FM 95.5.
By independently flooding his area and engulfing states with exceptional high-octane mixtapes, before long, around the turn of the millennium, record labels were beginning to notice the traction Haynes was picking up, and in 1999, he signed with Universal Records.
Nelly’s unique and previously unheard country twang was a refreshing sound, and his music was received extremely well across the US. That said, the St Louis act’s 2000 debut album, Country Grammar went straight to the top of the Billboard 200 and cemented Haynes as a rapper to be reckoned with.
The album remained atop the charts for over a month. From his rap anthem ‘Hot in Herre’ to his slow jam smash ‘Dilemma’ featuring Kelly Rowland, the St. Louis rapper has undoubtedly had his taste of success, and in a 2021 interview on Fox Soul’s The Mix, the icon unveiled the two rappers that had the biggest impact on him growing up in Missouri.
As a rapper from Middle America, Nelly selected one from the East Coast and one from the West and unveiled that Tupac Shakur and LL Cool J were his two favourite MCs of all time. Giving a requisite, Haynes stated, “Me personally, I definitely think Pac and LL, but you have to understand where I come from and how I see it.”
The ‘Flap Your Wings’ musician asserted that his choice of Shakur needed no explanation as he is unanimously considered an icon within hip-hop. However, he did expand on his choice of LL Cool J.
Explaining how LL’s style caught his attention, Haynes detailed, “I look at LL, when I was growing up, there wasn’t a lot of dudes that was rapping at L’s time. A lot of rappers that was coming up in the early ’80s and all that, they was just mean muggers or they was kinda grouchy looking and all of this.”
He continued, “And here you got this fly dude, he was hard, but he was also getting the girls and that inspired me. And he would get on the mic, and he would match bar for bar with anybody. From that perspective, that inspired me and I was just like, ‘Yo, he’s the best.’” You can listen to Nelly’s interview on The Mix below.