Nelly's big label debut is a crossover hit |


Nelly's big label debut is a crossover hit

The hip hop artist of the moment talks to EW


'COUNTRY' GENTLEMAN The St. Louis native has worked years for his overnight success (<!-- -->)

* HOMETOWN St. Louis

* LATEST ALBUM ”Country Grammar”

* REASON YOU’VE NOTICED HIM His bouncy, boast filled ”Country Grammar (Hot S—)” is hip-hop’s hottest crossover hit.

* HOW HE WOULD DESCRIBE HIS SOUND IF HE WERE A MUSIC CRITIC ”It’s just laid-back,” Nelly says. ”I’m trying to guarantee that it’s nothing like you ever heard. I try to keep ‘em off balance with each of my songs. I think none of them sound alike.”

* HOW WE DESCRIBE HIS SOUND Southern fried rap takes a Midwestern detour.

* TARGET DEMOGRAPHIC People with tattoos on their stomachs

* FASHION SENSE Lovable thug

* TRIUMPHANT TALE OF HOW HE (AND HIS POSSE) BEAT THE ODDS ”We from the hood of St. Louis, you know what I’m saying? The last thing we thinking was to be up under Britney Spears and ‘N Sync. Me and my group, the St. Lunatics, we’ve been putting it down in St. Louis since ‘93. We came up with a nice hit in our area in ‘97 called ‘Gimme What You Got.’ We were No. 1 on local radio for like three weeks. Then we met this guy who was managing Mase, and he signed us to his production company. ‘Country Grammar’ was already a hit back in St. Louis for like a year, so we shopped it. A lot of labels passed on it, but we finally got to Universal and it took off.”


* STOCK QUOTE ON THE PITFALLS OF FAME ”You can see right through people,” he says. ”You couldn’t believe the way people change their whole tone toward you. Some people just want to have nothing to do with you, then all of a sudden you get, ‘I knew you could do it.”’

* INSTANT CHARISMA RATING (out of a possible 5) 4

* FUNKY FACT Nelly is short for Cornell Haynes, his real name. ”Everybody called me Nelly Nel for a long time…. I still sign autographs Nelly Nel.”

* ALBUMS THAT NEVER LEAVE THE TAPE PLAYER Lil’ Kim’s ”The Notorious KIM,” Goodie Mob’s ”Still Standing,” Jay-Z’s ”Vol.3… Life and Times of S. Carter”

* WHAT’S NEXT A second hopelessly catchy single, ”E.I.,” which is about staying in Trump Tower and being ”Sure like Al B.,” among other things.