Nelly's St. Lunatics Finish Recording Debut

Rapper says individuality will mark crew's album, due March 27.

Nelly is out to use his newfound fame as a solo artist to give his rap crew, the St. Lunatics, another chance at the big time.

The St. Louis group, which tried unsuccessfully to score a record deal prior to Nelly's chart-topping ascent, recently finished recording its major-label debut, due from Universal Records on March 27.

But the star of the group asserts that he won't be the only one shining on the LP. "The Lunatics album is four different personalities, flat out," Nelly said. "Nelly's gonna do Nelly when he get on [the mic], and everybody else gonna do everybody else when they get on. And that's what makes us what we are. It's a hot album. I think everyone will give it up for our individuality, and I think that's where a lot of groups go wrong. You got to let everybody in the group be individuals."

Comprised of high school friends, the St. Lunatics are Nelly, Ali, Kyjuan, Murphy Lee and City Spud.

The MCs, who recorded the album in New York and St. Louis, have not yet chosen the first single from the as-yet-untitled LP, and a track listing has not been finalized, their publicist said. The St. Lunatics scored a regional hit in 1996 with their independently released single, "Gimme What Ya Want," but fruitless attempts to land a record deal led them collectively to decide that Nelly would have better results solo.

The rest of the Lunatics made appearances on Nelly's breakthrough, Country Grammar, which was released in June and reigned for five straight weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. The album sold about 5 million copies in 2000, making it the year's seventh biggest-selling record, according to year-end figures compiled by SoundScan.

The Texas-born, St.Louis-bred Nelly (born Cornell Haynes Jr.) was in Los Angeles this week to help announce nominees for the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, picking up two nods himself — Best Rap Album for Country Grammar and Best Rap Solo Performance for the album's "Country Grammar (Hot...)."

"It's overwhelming," Nelly said of the recognition. "To come from where I come from, as far as St. Louis, to be here with people such as Toni Braxton, Faith Hill, Destiny's Child — it's big for us. We watched a lot of award shows back in the studio, making the album. We were like, 'Damn, it would be cool if we could do that.' And here we are, in less than seven months. It's crazy."