It’s unlikely anyone would have expected a public back-and-forth between Nelly and Ali over St. Lunatics history in the new year, but that’s exactly what the first few days of February have brought us.
Earlier this week, Ali—who had previously criticized Nelly on social media—shared an extended post on Instagram in which he accused the Country Grammar artist of having “hustled” the group on his path to solo 2000s superstardom. This has spurred a debate among longtime fans, as well as a response from Nelly himself.
Hopefully the two are able to set aside their differences soon in favor of the larger St. Lunatics legacy. In the meantime, we’ve broken down what, exactly, has transpired in recent days and detailed where things stand now. Read on for more below.
As is common knowledge at this point, the group was initially launched in St. Louis, Missouri back in 1993. The canonized lineup is Nelly, Ali, Murphy Lee, City Spud, and Kyjuan. Slo’Down was formerly a member. In 2010, Slo’Down—who performed in a hypeman capacity during his time in the group—alleged that he was not fairly compensated. Nelly later disputed those claims.
While the St. Lunatics had success with the track “Gimme What U Got” in the late ‘90s, they didn’t release a full-length studio album until after Nelly released his then-ubiquitous Country Grammar LP. Free City, the title of which is a reference to City Spud (who was in jail at the time), was released in the summer of 2001 and opened at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Shortly after its release, the Universal Records-backed project was certified platinum by the RIAA.
Famously, Nelly rocked his signature look of a band-aid on the face as a nod to City Spud during his early years in the spotlight as a solo artist. Talks of a sophomore studio album from the group have persisted off and on in the years since Free City’s release. In several interviews, the project has been referred to under the title City Free, a nod to City Spud’s release.
Ali, notably, has been featured on most of Nelly’s solo releases, including the back-to-back blockbusters Country Grammar and Nellyville.
A few days after sharing a screen recording showing that Nelly had unfollowed his Instagram account, Ali claimed in an extended post caption that Nelly had “hustled” the St. Lunatics group while pursuing a solo career. Ali says he started the group in 1993 and taught the members “how to rhyme, from writing to teaching them what 16 bars [was] and how to count bars.”
Ali also said that he had to fight for Nelly to be featured on the group’s “Gimme What You Got” track, as—in his words—the label didn’t want him on it. From there, according to Ali, he decided to turn down a solo offer of his own in favor of keeping the group together. In 1999, Ali said, Nelly was offered a similar opportunity and took it, later (allegedly) having his manager call Ali to tell him he didn’t need his help with the writing process.
“I ended up helping him write…but got no credit!” he alleged. “Wow! I got hustled!”
During an appearance on the St. Louis-based show Wat Up Doe, Nelly disputed Ali’s take on how this all went down. Nelly even contested the nature of Ali’s original role in the group.
“There’s three people in this group that’s been a Lunatic since day one: Nelly, Kyjuan, and City [Spud],” Nelly said. “We all went to school together. Alright? Cool. When we first started the Lunatics, Ali was not in this group. Stop me when I’m lying.”
Nelly also got more specific in the interview, arguing that Ali didn’t perform with the group during the early days and was at first only aboard in a manager capacity.
As for the “Gimme What Ya Got” aspect of Ali’s comments, Nelly disputed those too.
“Ali done got everybody to sign but me,” Nelly said. “My back against the wall. I ain’t got no leverage.” His later decision to go more in a solo-focused direction, he conceded, “did not sit well with everybody.”
Elsewhere, Nelly said the group was initially reluctant to do Free City unless they were each paid in an appropriate manner, something Nelly says he personally ensured, resulting in the label taking that money out of his own solo budget.
Ali has since shared a number of IG posts taking issue with Nelly’s comments in the interview mentioned above.
In one post, Ali claimed Nelly was lying about trying to bring the whole group back together surrounding the 20th anniversary celebration of Country Grammar. To make his point, he shared two screenshots alleged to be of text message conversations with a road manager:
In subsequent posts, Ali has insisted he’s “telling the truth” and explained why he considers the interview to be the “perfect tool” to show that Nelly is lying. Early Friday, Ali reiterated his argument about having started the group, noting that his initial goal wasn’t to be a member but a teacher.
“Now [one] student has moved to HOLLYWOOD and chose a lifestyle that doesn’t allow him to remember thins as well as others,” he said.
Nelly, meanwhile, has largely remained quiet on social media aside from sharing promo for Lay’s Flamin’ Hot Chips.