Nelly was born Cornell Haynes Jr. in St. Louis in November 1974. Born in Texas, his father, who was in the Air Force, moved the family to Spain for three years. Eventually, they landed in the Muddy Mississippi, the city Nelly calls home, St. Louis. "St. Louis is real. It's the rawest of the raw. It's so small so everybody knows each other. I've got a love/hate relationship with it." Nelly's parents divorced when he was eight years old.
Nelly, being the youngest kid in his neighborhood, spent most of his days getting into trouble with other guys. He grew up in St. Louis and experienced first-hand the dangers and temptations of life on the street. As a result, he was moved around to live with a different family members--not to mention attend a variety of schools--in hopes of keeping him on the right track. It wasn't until he moved to University City and became interested in organized baseball that he was distracted from the streets. Nelly excelled at the sport and several offers were made for him to play professioanlly.
Nelly's passion for baseball helped keep him out of trouble. In 1993 Nelly left his gritty St. Louis neighborhood and settled in the suburban area of University City. "I really thought I'd be playing ball right now," he said. But after listening to MCs like Rakim, LL Cool J, Run DMC, Outkast, Goodie Mob and Jay-Z day after day, Nelly was seduced by the rap game. "Rappers like Biggie and Tupac brought something different to the music. They attrected people to it." Fortunately, Nelly has chosen to pick up the mic and lead St. Louis into the hip-hop spotlight. "I've got a style that's all my own. I'm rappin' the blues. I like to think of my music as a jazz form of hip-hop. I don't really even know what I'm going to sound like until I hear the beat."
Nelly continued to work on his baseball skills and formed a rap group called the St. Lunatics with school pals Kyjuan Ali, Murphy Lee and his little brother City Spud. In 1996, with financial banking from management, the supergroup went into the studio and came out with the 12-inch singe, "Gimme What Ya Got," which sold an impressive 7,000 units regionally and dominated airwaves, rising to the top slot on St. Louis' #1 Hip Hop station, 103 the Beat Nelly continued with the Lunatics while playing shortstop in the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Association. At the time, it looked as though Nelly would be a professional baseball player.
The St. Lunatics managed to put out another song called Who's The Boss, which became a local hit. The song helped their reputation locally but didn't grab the interest of record companies. The frustrated St. Lunatics decided to try their luck in Atlanta and teamed up with Kula who was managing Mase at that time. Eventually they realized Nelly would have a better chance of scoring a record deal on his own.