Nelly is most famously known for his songs “Hot in Herre” and “Dilemma” from the 2002 album Nellyville. Though they were the first time he had overwhelming success in the charts, they weren’t his first studio outings.
Nelly’s first song was “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)”, from his debut studio album of the same name, Country Grammar. The song did well in the charts, with a particularly strong performance in the US Rap charts.
Although it might not have been the song that gave him the most chart exposure, it was a huge hit for the American rapper. It is still his album that sold the most, managing to shift more than 8 million copies in the US alone.
Before Country Grammar
Before releasing music as a solo artist, Nelly was a part of the group The St. Lunatics, along with friends he had known since he was a child. The group consisted of Nelly, Ali, Murphy Lee, Kyjuan, and City Spud.
The group had actually independently released a song called “Gimme What U Got” and were attempting to get themselves signed by a record label. Unfortunately for the group, they ran into constant difficulty in their attempts and eventually decided that Nelly may have more success striking out on his own in search of a deal.
After the success of his debut album, his old group finally got signed with the record label he was currently with at the time, Universal.
Sadly for the group of Missouri friends, the original lineup lost one of their key members, City Spud, in an assault charge. The unfortunate turn of events is what caused Nelly and his group to name their first release together Free City.
They wouldn’t get to perform together under their old-school St. Lunatics lineup until 2008 after City Spud had served 9 years of his sentence. In commemoration of the event, they had planned to put out an as of yet unreleased album entitled City Free.
Releasing Country Grammar
This was the first time that Nelly released a true studio single and despite his obscurity beforehand, the track was incredibly successful, giving Universal faith that the American rapper could be a commercial success.
The album even went diamond, one of a very short list of hip-hop albums to do so.
The video originally filmed for the song is complete with all the kinds of trappings of a hip-hop video. All the cars, women, and prestige that money and fame can garner, draped over a stylish Nelly that was fresh on the scene.
It was a little too early in Nelly’s destiny to be snatching up number one spots in multiple countries, but he did earn that top spot on the US Hot Rap Songs chart, cementing his place as an upcoming star in the eyes of new fans and critics alike.
Although it wasn’t an unknown single or album by any stretch of the imagination, and its success abroad was a big indicator of eventual stardom, it’s definitely not what he was known for. If you asked casual fans or mainstream listeners what they thought his first song was, the response is likely to be one of the singles from his follow-up album.
Nellyville and Mainstream Success
Nellyville wouldn’t be home to his first songs, but it was the album that got to proudly boast of not just one, but two, commercially massive songs that broke the number one spot on the charts across the world.
The first single to drop was “Hot in Herre”. Nelly’s commercial and mainstream success fully materialized with this release, a sign for both the success of the album and for the future single that was yet to come.
“Hot in Herre” was especially catchy and popular, earning Nelly a Grammy for Best Male Rap Solo Performance in 2003. It was the awards first year, owing to the previous category of Best Rap Solo Performance being split by genre, and Nelly was the first to win it despite steep competition from the likes of Jay-Z and Eminem.
The follow-up single on the Nellyville album was “Dilemma”. If “Hot in Herre” was the fire just getting started, then “Dilemma” was the fire getting out of control.
The song simply couldn’t miss, charting in the top 10 in almost every single region, not to mention the fact that it was number one in almost half of those.