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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 12:19 GMT
Nelly: From St Louis to the world
Nelly has had huge hits with Country Grammar and Hot In Herre

Rapper Nelly is up for three awards at the Grammys in the United States on Sunday.

He has brought a new sound of hip hop to the music world, one informed by the Midwest of St Louis, Missouri, rather than the East or West Coast scenes.

When Nelly was in his teens he had an important decision to make: was his future in baseball or rapping?

The St Louis rapper - the man responsible for recent hip hop anthem Hot In Herre - may be one of the biggest new names in rap circles, but his career could have been very different.

Such was the teenage Nelly's prowess on the baseball pitch that he was tipped to be a player in the major league. But he decided, while still at high school, to turn to music

Baseball's loss was hip hop's gain.

Nelly has ushered in a completely new sound for hip hop, one that borrows some of the bravado of gangsta rap but lightens it with loping beats and a Southern drawl.

From the outset, Nelly's music stayed true to his roots, his accent a mix of southern and Midwestern typical of St Louis.

He has an unashamed delight in pop hooks alongside the rap star posturing.

Nelly at the 2002 Grammys
Nelly was nominated at last year's Grammy awards

And Nelly has vowed to remain true to his roots , staying in St Louis rather than moving to the media capitals of New York or Los Angeles.

"When you move to big cities like L.A. and New York, that's when you get the reality part mixed up. What can I say? I'm just more of a Midwest guy," he told the Los Angeles Times last year.

Being away from the normal industry powerbases did not stop him becoming a huge star.

He was born in 1979, real name Cornell Haynes Jr, the son of a retired Air Force officer and a mother who worked in fast food restaurants.

Baseball star

When he was in high school he started trying out for baseball teams, and was soon playing for the St Louis Amateur Baseball Assn, the first step towards a professional baseball career.

However, he was also making music with a group of friends. He formed a rap group called the St Lunatics when he was 16.

His friends urged him to make a solo career when they realised his talent for rapping.

Kelly Rowland
Nelly's duet with Kelly Rowland has been a huge hit

Despite his solo success, Nelly is still an official member of the group and has helped each of his bandmates record and release solo albums.

Nelly's first success came with 2000's hit single Country Grammar, a tongue-twisting, mischievous track that went from underground favourite to bona-fide sensation.

The album Country Grammar, which followed soon after, became the tenth-biggest selling album of 2001 in the US.

Sticking plaster

He was nominated for a best rap solo performance at the Grammys in 2002.

As his fame grew, Nelly's image became synonymous with a sticking plaster on his cheek - the mystery of it remains, though it is rumoured to be a reminder of his brother who is in prison.

Nelly's success skyrocketed last year when Nellyville was released, spawning the massive hit Hot In Herre, a global bestseller despite being about the tale of a night spent trawling strip clubs.

But his biggest success has come with the duet Dilemma with Destiny's Child's Kelly Rowland, a hip-hop-styled ballad that spent weeks on the top of the US and UK charts.

The song has been shortlisted for record of the year at the Grammys this year, with Nelly also receiving nominations for album of the year and best male rap solo performance.

Nelly has definitely made the major leagues - just not in baseball.



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