Humility is a characteristic rarely possessed by hip-hop artists, but for Murphy Lee it’s an inherent trait. Despite his collection of gold and platinum plaques, the calm and measured member of the St. Lunatics is noticeably devoid of arrogance. Yet Murphy has always made his presence felt since making his debut on Nelly’s eight million seller, Country Grammar (2000). On tracks such as “Steal the Show” and “Batter Up,” the charismatic MC’s fun and playful rhymes made him a superstar in the making. On the heels of Nelly’s solo success, the St. Lunatics—Nelly, Murphy Lee, Ali, Kyjuan, Slo’Down and City Spud, who was incarcerated at the time—followed up a year later with their own platinum disc, Free City. Again Murphy made standout appearances and set the stage for his first solo offering, 2003’s Murphy’s Law. The album went gold thanks to the smash single “Shake Your Tailfeather,” which originally appeared a few months earlier on the Bad Boys II soundtrack. Featuring Nelly and Diddy, the song went on to win a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 2004. Since then, Da Skool Boy has been relatively quiet on the music front, opening up a vegetarian-friendly restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis and taking classes at Southeast Missouri University. Now, Murphy is ready to return to rap with his sophomore album, U C Me. Set for release this fall, the LP features production from Jazze Pha, Jermaine Dupri and Mannie Fresh, who produced the first single “Hatin’,” featuring Young Dro. XXLMag.com caught up with Murphy Lee to discuss his new project and how he plans to revive the St. Lunatics legacy.
Looking back, how do you feel about your debut album, Murphy’s Law?
I think the last album was rushed. “Shake Your Tailfeather” blew up kinda fast, so I had to hurry up and put something out. This time I had a lot of time to make [my album] perfect.
Murphy’s Law still went gold, though.
It did great, [but] we did it in a month. I didn’t have any songs prepped before we went in or nothin’ like that. I just went in and created Murphy’s Law. This time I had a chance to see music go in and out [and] see who flopped on their second album. I saw a lot of things so I was able to [make] mine be right.
Originally your new album was supposed to be called The Package. Why’d you change the name?
It’s called U C Me, which is also the name of my label. It’s an independent label [that] takes artists from St. Louis who may not be able to sell a certain amount of records. I wanna make sure they get exposure [and] be a part of the St. Louis movement.
People still associate you and the rest of the St. Lunatics with Nelly. Do you feel you have to really establish yourself as a solo artist with this album?
It’s kinda hard to come out of something so big. It’s not easy being in the shadows but we make it work. I did good on my first album. I came out with the big dawgs and everything—OutKast, R. Kelly and four or five other rappers that dropped the same time. My album did well in that mix. Anything I touch is good. I think the future for Murphy Lee is gon’ be crazy.
Hip-hop sales across the board are at an all time low. Do you have to lower your expectations for U C Me?
People are buying people; they’re not buying songs. There’s a lot of hits out there [but] your album is garbage. It needs more. When it comes down to it, they’re gonna separate the single makers and the actual artists. Fans let it be known that Tuesday. Personally, I got a classic album—front to back. The last album people were telling me, “Man, you gonna sell three, four million.” [But] I’m like, “Come on, man, you gotta know where it’s at.” I just wanna grow from here. I wanna keep climbing. I don’t wanna just go boom and then [it] ain’t nothing but downhill.
Some critics feel Nelly and the St. Lunatics’ popularity and momentum has slowed down over the years. How do you responds to that?
That’s false. When it’s album time, you gon’ hear about it. It’s quiet now, but when it’s time, it’s time. When the momentum comes, you damn sure gon’ know. We work everyday, all day. Don’t nothin’ stop. We businessmen first—we done opened restaurants [and] companies. You just gotta watch yourself and make sure you jump in. Don’t jump when that wave is going the wrong way—you done went against the wave. You gotta watch it. It’s like surfing and I got a cold surfboard.
What about those that say St. Louis hip-hop is too pop influenced?
I don’t know. [Nelly’s] Country Grammar was one of the most gangsta albums I ever heard in my life. So I don’t see how people say that. It’s weird that when everybody buys your music you’re considered something. That’s sad. [Laughs] We can’t help that we sell to more people. People like what we like. You can’t help that. But once it gets bigger and you’re in the limelight more, people are gonna say things. That’s fine. The point of being in this business is to sell records. All that other stuff can be on. We can box in the street. I’ll holla at you—whatever. [But] these people feel like they gotta be [gangsta] when you don’t. You rich now, so don’t make these people feel like that. It ain’t about making happy or jolly songs. I make music. I got all subjects. We can go gangsta, hood, whatever. Make music. Make songs—real talk.
How do you feel about the new artists coming out of St. Louis? Some people feel they are trying to duplicate the St. Lunatics’ sound.
They doing their own thing. It’s a big movement coming out of St. Louis. It’s great to see everybody doing their thing. I just wanna remain humble. Just because you on 106 & Park don’t mean it’s all good. Just remain humble [and] keep yourself St. Louis like you do. The light be shining crazy on St. Louis. We lovin’ it, man. Shout out to everybody who dropped [an album from St. Louis]. I bought everybody’s album for the whole fam.
Did you hear Huey’s diss to Nelly, “Down, Down Baby?”
Yeah, I heard [it]. That’s fine. He’s funny.
Nah, let him have all that. If he feels good [by] doing that, then that’s cool.
When’s the next St. Lunatics album coming out?
We’re here recording right now. We lookin’ at the beginning of 2008. It’s gon’ be crazy, though. We got a lot going on. We just waited so we can drop it and make it a movement not just a moment.