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The Missouri twang in Nelly’s voice made him stand out in a 2000s rap landscape dominated by the two coasts and, increasingly, the South. But the St. Louis MC (born Cornell Iral Haynes Jr. in Austin, Texas, in 1973) used that outlier status to his advantage both then and throughout a career that’s found him blurring borders between hip-hop and other genres. Nelly bounded into pop immediately with 2000’s Country Grammar, debuting his lilting, keyed-up melodic rhymes over boastful cuts like the title track, which converted a schoolyard clapping game into an instantly familiar, uniquely playful hook. He solidified his mainstream status on 2002’s Nellyville thanks to “Hot in Herre,” a funky, sweaty night-out essential blessed by the white-hot touch of The Neptunes. On the very same album, he confidently strode into R&B, holding his own in a romantic duet with Kelly Rowland at the height of Destiny’s Child’s power (“Dilemma”), and sounding surprisingly sweet while attempting to woo a woman away from her man. Nelly continued to court disparate but complementary sounds on Sweat and Suit, 2004’s two-album drop that separated party jams from smooth grooves. The latter produced the Tim McGraw-assisted “Over and Over,” a tastefully country-fied rumination on heart-wrenching breakups. He revisited western territory in later years, lending his amped energy to both Florida Georgia Line and Jimmie Allen early in their careers. With an insatiable curiosity and a penchant for hybridizing country, rap, and pop, Nelly helped blaze a trail for next-generation genre-hoppers like Lil Nas X, who would shatter norms himself.
Born and raised in south Louisiana, Justin Champagne makes genre-bending music rooted in the sounds, stories, and swampy swagger of his home turf. It's a soundtrack for Louisiana's small towns and muddy backroads — a gumbo of hip-hop, country, hook-heavy pop, and hard rock, glued together by a hometown hero who raps and sings not only about his own experience, but also about the country lifestyles of his neighbors in the Deep South and beyond.
Everything changed in 2016, when Justin Champagne wrote "Sun Goes Down." A breakup anthem filled with hip-hop beats, countrified guitar riffs, soaring vocal hooks, and rhythmic rapping, "Sun Goes Down" was the first song to embrace the full range of Justin's musical tastes. By combining a variety of different sounds together, he created something new: a boundary-breaking genre that showcased not only the depth of his influences, but also his versatility as a songwriter, storyteller, vocalist, and rapper. Unsurprisingly, the song became a hit, earning more than a million listens on Spotify and laying the foundation for a unique, trendsetting career. "Why do people need to stick to just one genre?" Justin asks. "I want to do it all at once, writing country songs with pop hooks where I can rap. I just put everything into one big pot and start cooking. People call it 'country-rap,' but it's just music, man. I wouldn't want to call it anything else."