Still a lunatic. Get inside this St. Louis hip-hopper Ali!
Heard you’re out on the road?
Yeah I’m out with Nas.
How’s that going?
It’s all good. It’s going real good. He’s showing me much love and allows me to tap into an audience I might not be able to.
Are you alone while everyone else is out doing their thing from the Lunatics?
Well I’m doing my thing, but I got Murphy Lee with me, the young dude. Keywan and Nelly are out doing their thing with the Grammy’s and the NSYNC remix and then they heading back to St. Louis to do some charity show for kids. This is the first time we’ve been separated for this long.
How long after the St. Lunatics album was released did you finish your album?
I just recently stopped making songs. I made songs right to my deadline and even then I just couldn’t stop so I just kept on adding them. I just wanted to get the best product I could get out.
Were you working with the others while working on your own as well?
Yeah. When we hear a beat we know it’s a Nelly beat or an Ali beat or a group beat. We just know. We never really waste any time. We always work on something but we always keep it in motion.
What are you doing to keep busy between shows?
We still have our whole entourage. When we are usually traveling there is like eighteen people in the group, but now we have nine people that are out with us and there are nine with Nelly. We play cards on the bus, video games, dominos, smoke, and joke. It’s still the same thing, but we don’t have all them with us, but we are missing them and we talk all the time to see what they are doing.
It’s like house on wheels.
Yeah like a big old mobile home.
Do you get a chance to meet any fans or is it on the bus and out?
On the bus and out because we are trying to get to the next city. It’s always like time is limited. But its good to get on stage do about twenty minutes and just jet out. I don’t have to be sweating like a dog, so I can just go and rest and relax on the bus and lay down and just rest.
Do you get any time with Nas?
There is peace, but its business and I’m coming and going. We know that’s how it is, when they come in we are going out. He’s been showing me so much love, its great.
What’s it like to go out and be the front man?
It’s a little different, but I was the front man back in ’98, but then we decided to put Nelly out front. We all family so it doesn’t make any difference, we are just happy to be successful.
Are you finding that people are surprised by your style?
Definitely, it’s like you been to a show or something. (Laughs) They are like ‘damn, I didn’t expect you to come like that’. I catch them with the element of surprise. Some people know I’m coming because they hear it on Rapcity and stuff or on the radio, but most come just to see Nas. But we get to the stage and drop it and it’s more hardcore and people are nodding their heads. By the time I get to “Batter Up” or “Midwest Swing” people are like ‘that’s them’, but some are like ‘awww, shit, we were rocking and now we find out its him from them. There ain’t nothing we can do now but keep rocking’. (Laughs)
So you have people coming who are Nelly fans and St. Lunatics fans who come expecting the sing-song?
They never get it. It’s strange because some fans are like ‘I told you, they got different stuff’. You should see their faces. (Laughs) Some people who don’t know who we are would never put the picture together unless Nelly was with it. It’s almost fun doing that to people.
It’s like when N.W.A. came out and all you focus on is Eazy-E and then Ice Cube drops a solo album and you are like ‘wow, what is this?’
Definitely. And when he put out his first record it was sort of east coast with Shocklee. It was tight.
When you are writing tracks are you writing to a beat or do you have lyrics ready already?
Specifically writing for a beat. Sometimes I have titles and find that a title fits a beat. I never write a hook without a beat. I may have dozens of song titles floating around but I don’t write the song until I find a beat.
Are there any topics where you say ‘I don’t want to go there’?
I don’t run from anything, but if I find I have to many songs about females or about a certain topic. I try to go for my strengths. I have a more of a street edge and deeper tone.
If you think about other crews, like a Cash Money you think of blinging, you have no real focus, which may sound bad, but to me its really good.
We targeted for that. Like we didn’t want a name that would ride out and not be like Immature. You know one day that’ll wear out. You don’t want to be New Edition, because one day you’ll be old edition. With our music we didn’t want to be targeted by anything in particular. We wanted some party songs, some gutter hip hop, some bling songs, but we never wanted to be stereotypical. And the instant you come out with too much of something in the beginning they want you to keep doing that. Everyone expected a bunch of “Country Grammar” tracks. But we ain’t all nursery rhymes. When you put stuff out you can keep changing it up. If Cash Money does a slow track fans would be like ‘what the hell is this?’ We are in the position to do stuff like Outkast. They just make what they feel and everyone is wide-open. People just look at their music as just being good music no matter what it is.
Outkast is a good example. They are just entertainers. When everything started happening, what did your family think when it started going?
It was like a storybook. We knew it was going to happen because of the way people reacted to us. It was like the Temptations story. (Laughs) We had a member that quit and went to another group and then it was like a storybook. We had some local success in St. Louis and our family felt like we had a record deal anyway because we made a record and spent our own little money. But what they didn’t understand was when we got a record deal and then we were on their shows like Jay Leno or David Lettermen they have friends at work by Nelly or the Lunatics and they are like ‘that’s my nephew’ or ‘that is my son’. We just got on a roll and the next time our family sees us they are like ‘wow’ and they really enjoy it too.
Lastly what do you say to kids that may want to follow in your footsteps?
I would tell them to use constructive criticism to their advantage. If someone is just dogging you then don’t listen to them, but if someone gives you good ideas you need to pay attention to that. Also get an opinion outside of your friends and family. And be honest to yourself, if you feel like you can really do it then keep running with it. But if not then find something else, you might be a better producer or manager or something else, it doesn’t mean it’s less important. There isn’t room for everybody, but you need to be honest with yourself. Lastly don’t stop. If you feel like it’s going to work then don’t stop. Master P. proved that there’s no limit.
+ Charlie Craine