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.
In the early-1990s, Nelly became part of St. Lunatics—a St. Louis-based collective of friends comprised of Nelly, Ali, Murphy Lee, Kyjuan, City Spud, and Slo Down. However, only Haynes would have a successful solo career. Nelly brought a previously unheard country twang to hip-hop and, as the frontman of St. Lunatics, Haynes was a highly visible figure in his city. DJ Kut is one of the primary individuals responsible for Nelly’s success as a solo artist. Kut (real name Brian Nelson), as a proud Missouri native, would heavily play St. Lunatics on The Beat FM 95.5.
Akin to many artists not operating in highly-populated cities, Nelly was independently flooding his area and engulfing states with 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. 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. In an interview with NME journalist Mark Beaumont, Haynes revealed what kind of music he consumed as a child as well as his various influences.
Reminiscing on his childhood, Nelly spoke to NME about the first live show he ever saw as well, which was an Earth, Wind & Fire show in St. Louis. Vividly remembering the event, the rapper (real name Cornell Haynes) divulged, “My father took me, but I was a baby and the only reason I remember it is because I couldn’t see, and this was one of the first times he put me on his shoulders so I could see. They had these flames and shit that used to come up out of the side of the stage, and I thought: ‘Yo, that was incredible, these guys got fire!’ I thought they actually made the fire themselves.”
Speaking about the music that he listened to growing up, he disclosed that the first album he ever owned was NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. Quite an explicit album admitted, “It didn’t make my mother too ecstatic when she found out that I actually had it.” However, he detailed how his mother didn’t confiscate or anything of the sort but allowed him to have it, although she personally did not approve of the genre’s general message. With this in mind, he continued, compared to other mums, “my mum was pretty cool about things like that – she didn’t condone it, but she would let me know that she wasn’t too pleased about me having it.”
Closing the interview, Beaumont questioned Haynes about the first song he fell in love with. Following a brief ponder, the St. Louis native revealed, it was New Edition’s ‘Cool It Now.’ Elaborating on his affinity for the song, Haynes revealed, “I used to really love New Edition [when I was] growing up. They were a boyband but they had all the girls. Right there, that’s the group for me, buddy. The measure of celebrity, no matter how big you are, is how many people love you and the majority of the boybands then were being loved by probably 75 or 80 per cent of girls, so New Edition was the link into music for me.” You can hear ‘Cool It Now’ in the video below.