In the year 2000, CD sales hit their all time peak. Acts like Britney Spears, NSYNC, and Eminem were breaking records and selling millions and millions of albums. But it was also the year that a completely unknown rapper, who didn’t have the co-sign of any major producers or rappers, who hailed from a city that had no real hip-hop history to speak of, managed to go diamond with his debut album.
That rapper was Nelly, and the song that propelled his remarkable rise was “Country Grammar (Hot S***).” This is the story of how Nelly and the St. Lunatics went from having a local St. Louis hit with 1997’s “Gimme What You Got” to getting props from Michael Jackson and eventually playing at the Super Bowl. More than just the song that made Nelly a star, it also put St. Louis on the hip-hop map at a time when the city was a popping place to be.
For our latest episode of Magnum Opus, we talked to Nelly, Murphy Lee and Kyjuan of the St. Lunatics, and the song’s producer Jason “Jay E” Epperson. Nelly and Lunatics recall how hard it was for them to get a record deal. “‘Country Grammar,’ ‘E.I.’ ‘Ride Wit Me,’ ‘Batter Up’—my four demo songs that I was shopping my deal with,” says Nelly. “Those are four singles off my biggest album ever.”
Nelly goes on to reveal that the song is actually partially ghostwritten by other members of the Lunatics because no one was feeling the beat besides him. “I was taking everybody’s paper [of rhymes],” says Nelly. “I think the first eight bars is Ali’s, then I wrote the whole second verse, and then City [Spud] had a little bit of the last verse.”
We also spoke with Marc Klasfeld (who directed the video for the song) Cedric the Entertainer (who did the skits on the Country Grammar album), as well as our own Editor-In-Chief Noah Callahan-Bever. “If you listen to it, it’s still pretty hood,” said Cedric the Entertainer, in response to “Country Grammar” being perceived as a pop song. “Street sweeper? Wait a minute Nelly, you’re shooting people?”
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