More than a few heads had to check their maps when ST. LUNATICS crewmember Nelly hit the scene last year with his now multi-platinum debut, Country Grammar. The St. Louis, Missouri-based rapper copped a style, flow and attitude that held little respect for geography: his music claimed the Midwest, but his country drawl was straight up southern. From the start Nelly made it clear that his offering represents just a small portion of the talent within the six-member, St. Louis-bred hip-hop crew the St. Lunatics. And with the release of their Universal Records debut disc, FREE CITY, the St. Lunatics are preparing to give the entire hip-hop nation a geography lesson – one that will surely challenge your understanding of where the Mason-Dixon Line begins and ends.
Having been friends and family for years the group formed collectively in 1993. The roster, which has been consistent since the group’s inception, consists of Ali, Nelly, City Spud, Kyjuan and Murphy Lee. The group dubbed itself the St. Lunatics and began crafting the unique sound that would place St. Louis on hip-hop’s world map. “We’ve always been crazy, but not killer crazy,” says Kyjuan of how the group chose its moniker. “But we can sometimes act like lunatics, and we wanted to put St. Louis behind it so we named ourselves the St. Lunatics.”
By 1996 the crew was ready to debut its new sound. The group picked up hypeman Slo Down to add a visual element to the act, and hit the studio to record the single “Gimme What Ya Got.” The cut became a local hit, selling 8,000 copies and garnering frequent play on St. Louis’ 103 The Beat FM and at local clubs. “That track was super important, it was the door opener. When it hit #1 it set the tone for things to come,” states Ali.
The St. Lunatics hit the hip-hop fast track in 1998 after meeting up with Cudda Love, owner of Fo’ Reel Entertainment and Mase’s former manager. “We gave the tape to Cudda at Jermaine Dupri’s birthday party,” says Nelly. “He put it in his truck [and] boom, was feeling the joint. Two days later he said, ‘Okay, I’ma help y’all get a deal.'” Cudda brought the crew to Universal Records and struck the deal that not only signed the St. Lunatics, but also garnered solo deals for all of the group members.
FREE CITY, the St. Lunatic’s debut disc, is empowered by the group’s definitive St. Louis style – a hybrid of Dirty South cadences and Midwestern rhythms – and supported by the production work of hometown producer Jason “Jay-E” Epperson and his crew Basement Beats (the producers behind Nelly’s County Grammar). The offering proves just how integral each member has been in crafting the group’s style. Nelly shares his sing-song county twang , while Murphy Lee brings quick-witted rhymes and humorous charm. Kyjuan shares his Midwest flow and lyrics about girls and game, City Spud adds laid back melodies and occasional production, while Ali’s deep voice adds power and sex appeal to the group’s sound. Rounding out the crew’s style is Slo Down, whose role as the energetic, but silent hypeman on stage and in videos adds an extra ingredient. “We fixin’ to give ‘em the veggies and the fruit and the meat and the bread,” laughs Murphy Lee of the group’s creatively balanced debut.
The albums first single, “MIDWEST SWING,” is a soulful posse cut that sets the record straight about life around the crew’s way. “What you think we live on a farm?/N_ _ga’ be for real/We got Benz, Rovers and Jags, Hummers and Devilles/Got a green S Class and broke the door seal/S_ _t ain’t been the same since I signed for real,” raps Nelly on the track’s opening. The crew truly brings the fire on “STL,” a banging bounce anthem that is destined to be one of the summer’s hottest songs. The melodic, sexy “Groovin Tonight” features Brian McKnight and finds the crewmembers getting open about their romantic fantasies, while the chant-groove “Let Me In Now,” pays homage to the female form.
“We’re making things fun,” says Murphy Lee of the group’s debut. “We’re bringing it back to the days of the Fat Boys and Kurtis Blow, some of the people who influenced us.” And just like those early rap music mavericks the St. Lunatics are boldly placing their own energy inside hip-hop’s pantheon. They’re merging cultures, blurring boundaries and claiming territory all at once.