Bad Rap

Nelly and the St. Lunatics are riding high, but their brother City Spud isn't riding with them. "I'm human. I made a mistake," he says from prison.

With his partner driving -- someone Spud says he knew to be bad news, so never hung with -- the two cruised to the customer's neighborhood and Spud pointed out his house and car. Then the two zipped to a 7-Eleven around the corner, where Spud called the buyer and told him to swing by Spud's to make the transaction. They stopped in a parking lot a block away. The partner put on a mask and grabbed his gun. Spud stayed at the car. His partner, according to City Spud's written statement to the police, "got out of the car and ran and hid by [the victim's] house. I'm sitting in the car thinking why am I getting myself into some crazy bullshit like this for $500. Thinking of that I got out of the car nervously to see what was going on. First I ran the opposite way of [the victim's] house thinking of just leaving. But for some strange reason I ran back. Got back to the car started to get back in but I didn't. I walk over toward [the victim's] house to see if anything was going on and did not see anything. Walked back to the car got in 2 minutes later I heard gun shots fired. Sitting there panicked [sic] like I looked back and seen [the partner] running back to the car. When he got in he said man he didn't give up shit but this $30.00 and said man I had to pop him. I looked at him and said man you tripping."

The victim was shot five times in the back but, miraculously, lived. He suffered severe internal injuries that will stay with him for the rest of his life. He lost the use of his left hand. But he lived, and when he came to, he told police the gunman seemed to know that he had $1,500 in his pockets. Only one other person knew that bit of information, and that was Lavell Webb, a.k.a. City Spud.

The police started looking for him and stopped by the home of his grandmother Regina and her husband, John, who helped raise Lavell. They didn't want their last name mentioned. "When I found out that they were looking for him," says John, "I put the word out, 'Lavell, you go down there now, for two reasons.' I know Lavell didn't know anything about the law. And when the police told me that they were looking for him for a shooting, I said, 'Lavell is subject to get scared, take off running and these trigger-happy cops -- a young black man fleeing -- were going to kill him.'"

City Spud and Kyjuan in the early days of the St. Lunatics.
City Spud and Kyjuan in the early days of the St. Lunatics.
City Spud at Boonville Prison: "The fact that he did the right thing cost him a lot," says his mother, Donna Webb.
Jennifer Silverberg
City Spud at Boonville Prison: "The fact that he did the right thing cost him a lot," says his mother, Donna Webb.

Adds grandmother Regina: "Lavell's thinking is, 'I'm going to tell the truth about this situation, because if I tell the truth, then everything's going to be all right.'"

"And that's the result of his Christian background," says John. "Tell the truth."

So Nelly drove City Spud to the police station, and Spud owned up. He told them that he made the phone call that set up the victim. That he didn't pull the trigger. That he didn't think there would be any violence. That he stayed in the car. And he told the truth without an attorney present. Why should you need an attorney present to tell the truth?

Lavell Webb has almond eyes and a complexion that closely resembles his friend Nelly's. Because of this striking resemblance, when the two hung out, they were often mistaken for brothers, which never bothered them. It happened so often that they stopped correcting the mistake. Ask anyone Webb's defining characteristic, and they'll all say that unlike Nelly, Lavell is low-key.

"He's real quiet," says St. Lunatic member Ali. "We called him City Spud for the fact that he was -- it was like calling a fat person Tiny. He was from the county. He was always from the county, real passive, real nice, real neat, just a really cool guy. He was so county that we called him City."

"He'd sit over on the side of the room," adds fellow Lunatic Murphy Lee, "quiet and on his own, and then come over and say, 'Hey, yo, I got this song.' He'd wrote a song in two hours, a whole song, verses and all, and know how the beat should go. It was crazy. He's just the music man."

Nelly's Country Grammar and the St. Lunatics' Free City both have a defining sound, one that's simultaneously smooth enough to appeal to the ladies and youngsters but hard enough, and with enough bounce, to attract hardcore hip-hoppers; the sound has built a bridge between rap and R&B. The beats and melodies on Grammar were created by Jason (J.E.) Epperson and City Spud.

"Beat-wise, me and J.E. was just constantly in the studio," says City Spud. "We was just making beats after beats all day. We just put them on tape, give them to the rest of the group, and they pick whatever they like. And if it sounded hot -- something they could just ride -- it'd come back to us. And if it's hot, then we do it. As long as the beat's just banging, with a lot of bass. Just well-put-together music. It wasn't sloppy and scattered. I like the smoothness to a lot of beats, man -- I like the chords. I really like doing R&B music, so that's why my rap music was kinda more R&B-ish. I think a lot of my music was meant for it -- R&B hooks for them."

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