St. Louis, Missouri seems like an unlikely place to produce hip-hop stars, but when rapper Nelly and his St. Lunatics crew introduced southern slang—with the popular double R spelling and drawn out pronunciation—in the form of pop-rap in 2000, it was only a matter of time before others began to emerge. Enter Chingy, whose debut album, 2003's Jackpot, entered the charts in the number two position the day it went on sale. Its first single, "Right Thurr," had made Chingy famous before the album was even dropped, and guest vocalists like Ludacris and Snoop Dogg gave the new rapper instant credibility. A little more than a year later, came Powerballin', with a host of high-profile collaborators, including Janet Jackson and R. Kelly. With that, Chingy beat the tag of "Nelly rip-off."
On March 9, 1980, Howard Bailey Jr. was born to two struggling parents residing in an area called Walnut Park, on St. Louis' North Side. It was a street-tough neighborhood where young Howard lived in a small, two-bedroom house with nearly a dozen of his relatives. Money was almost a foreign concept to the eventual star. Chingy described his upbringing in an XXL cover story. "I don't come from any sort of money. My mama was working and my father was hustlin' ... so we had something, but nothing too much." By the time his parents divorced when he was a teenager, Chingy was writing rhymes and into music. He claimed he began writing rhymes at the age of eight. "I grew up listening to Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations. Music made me think, and party. I wanted to express myself like those artists were. Talking on a record sounded like a good idea to me," the artist stated on his official website. Music seemed the only way to escape the strain of poverty.
Becoming an overnight celebrity in the hip-hop world isn't unfathomable, but it is a risky business that involves a lot of luck. At a young age, Chingy knew there was no other avenue but music for his soul. With his friend Justin, he started a pre-teen rap group called L.S.D., short for Lethal Substance of Dope. The duo played local talent shows, but there was little going on in St. Louis in terms of hip-hop at the time. Meanwhile, the 12-year old Howard got himself into trouble with the law when he hot-wired a car, spending three weeks in a juvenile facility for the prank. After toying with the stage name Thugsy, Howard eventually settled on calling himself Chingy, a name he and his friends called someone with money in his pocket. High school afternoons were spent with the trio Without Warning and later Three Strikes. Neither group got the response Chingy hoped for. They did, however, give him enough exposure to get noticed by fledgling production team the Trak Starz.
Once fellow southern rapper Ludacris heard what Chingy was doing, he signed the would-be star to his brand new record label, Disturbing Tha Peace Records. After Capitol heard Chingy's first offering, the rousing urban party single "Right Thurr," they signed on to distribute his debut album, Jackpot. Upon the song's release to radio and television, Chingy quickly became part of popular music's hip-hop elite, and Jackpot entered the Billboard Top 200 album chart at number two. The instant dance club hit turned radio party was an outright rap-style ode to beautiful women, but it was the way Chingy pronounced his words that got people talking. "I know people are drawn to the terms I'm using on the chorus and the way we talk—'thurr,' 'herre,' stuff like that," Chingy told MTV.com about his southern manner. "I mean, that's just how we talk. We can't help it. You come to St. Louis, you gon' see little kids, old people talkin' like that." The blazing video for Chingy's first blockbuster single featured cameos from both Ludacris and the St. Lunatics Murphy Lee. "Holidae Inn," the follow up single, with guest vocalists Snoop Dogg and Ludacris was a successful chart-topping follow up. His penchant for good times struck a chord in music buyers. "When I made Jackpot, that was just me in the studio just coming up with music every day," Chingy said on his website. "I'm a partying, fun person. I like to go out, have a little fun and that album is basically about partying and having fun."
Wasting no time, Chingy quickly returned to the studio after a year of touring to cash in on his fame. For the November release of Powerballin' in 2004, Chingy tapped into his reservoir of flirty club-worthy songs and even tested the R&B waters. While ballads with both Janet Jackson and R. Kelly gave him respect, the remaining tracks failed to give Powerballin' the same popular attention as Jackpot and received mixed reviews. Blender magazine stated, "The lack of pretense on his second album makes him an approachable Everypimp, and he gets nothing but love from [his] guests." Other collaborations included production by David Banner and guest vocals by Lil' Wayne on "26's" —a nod to the overindulgence in the wealthy hip-hop lifestyle. Chingy confirmed on his website, "You've got a lot of people that make songs about trucks and rims, but this song is about riding and your wheels are so big that you can roll over another car." That over-sized, big-living attitude is exactly what Chingy represented on his sophomore album. "... Powerballin' ... is basically a celebration of my coming from nothing to having a little big. It's about me accomplishing my goals and celebrating that. I'm also talking about what went on after I made the Jackpot album, the success, the downsides of the business and just flossing out here and getting money."
For the Record . . .
Born Howard Bailey Jr. on March 9, 1980, in St. Louis, MO.
Began writing rhymes at the age of eight, dubbed himself Chingy in his late teens; released debut album Jackpot on Disturbing Tha Peace Records/Capitol, 2003; released Powerballin' on Capitol, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Capitol Records, 1750 N. Vine St., Hollywood, CA, 90028. Website—Chingy Official Website: http://www.chingy.com.
Jackpot, Disturbing Tha Peace/Capitol, 2003.
(Contributor) 2 Fast 2 Furious (soundtrack), Def Jam, 2003.
Powerballin', Capitol, 2004.
(Contributor) Coach Carter (soundtrack), Capitol, 2005.
Blender, December, 2004.
Rolling Stone, August, 2003.
XXL, December, 2004.
Chingy Official Website, http://www.chingy.com (December 16, 2004).
"Chingy Set to Hit the Jackpot with Ludacris, Murphy Lee," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com (December 16, 2004).
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