Lavell Webb, better known by his peculiar stage name City Spud, was a close friend of St. Louis, Missouri rapper Nelly and a core member of his rap crew St. Lunatics. (He was often erroneously believed to be Nelly's brother, a misconception that the pair eventually stopped bothering trying to dispel.) The group had a minor hit in 1997 with "Gimme What U Got," and followed Nelly to Universal shortly after he was signed by the label in 1999. Spud appeared on Nelly's breakthrough hit single "Ride wit' Me," and was working with St. Lunatics on their debut album when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for his minor role in a violent armed robbery. Ironically, he was a quiet, music-obsessed kid with no prior criminal record, who handed himself in and collaborated fully with the police, but fell prey to Missouri's tough sentencing laws.
Shortly after Spud was jailed, Nelly exploded onto the charts, as did St. Lunatics, who titled their album Free City as an homage to Spud. He ultimately served nine years of his sentence, missing out on Nelly and the group's rise to worldwide fame, although his royalty checks accumulated while he was inside. In a bizarre twist, while Spud was incarcerated, an impostor named Antonio Bell, who had served time with him, fleeced a number of St. Louis women out of hundreds of dollars by posing as him. Upon his release in 2008, Spud was finally able to rejoin St. Lunatics, and they immediately started work on their long-delayed sophomore album, City Free. An eponymous single was issued in 2009 and the album was originally scheduled for 2010, but its release date was pushed back numerous times. ~ John D. Buchanan