ST. LOUIS _ Who is the architect of the St. Louis hip-hop sound?
Most would say Nelly. Some might even go a step further and give an appropriate nod to Nelly’s group, St. Lunatics.
But the real credit may belong to Jason Epperson.
If you don’t know who he is, you haven’t read the credits on Nelly’s albums.
Epperson is the founder of Basement Beats, a production studio that takes up the entire basement of his large home.
Epperson’s sounds served as the backdrop for the majority of Nelly’s breakthrough release, “Country Grammar.” Basement beats also thump throughout Nelly’s latest smash, “Nellyville,” the St. Lunatics’ “Free City” and group member Ali’s solo effort, “Heavy Starch.”
And look for more of his influence on St. Lunatic Murphy Lee’s upcoming release, on the group O-Town’s next album and on the upcoming “Basement Beats” CD.
It’s a bit controversial calling Epperson the architect. After all, he’s a young white male from the suburbs, and the sounds have a distinctly black public face.
But it’s easy to make the case that Epperson and Basement Beats helped make Nelly a star.
Epperson is willing to take some credit.
“I’m not being on myself or anything,” says Epperson, 24. “But nobody else came out first with this kind of style. At the end of the day, everything was done right and we sold some records, and that’s how it goes.”
Wally Yaghnam, a Basement Beat collaborator who has his name on a number of Nelly/Lunatics projects including Nelly’s hit “#1,” seconds the assertion.
“You could say we’re the architect or whatever, but we’re influenced by everything else around us,” says Yaghnam, 24.
Epperson says the emergence of the St. Louis’ hip-hop sound -he calls it the Midwest swing -was developed by “my interpreting things a lot differently than a lot of other people.”
Though the root of the sound is hip-hop, it could contain elements of rock, soft rock or reggae.
“I mix everything up,” says Epperson, who officially formed Basement Beats shortly after “Country Grammar” took off.
“Everything is combined. We pile everything into one big sandwich and eat it.”
Though Epperson was found all over “Country Grammar,” other producers come into play on “Nellyville,” including the Trackboyz, a St. Louis production team that worked on “Air Force Ones.”
Another team, Bam and Ryan Bowser, produced “Dilemma,” and the Neptunes gave Nelly “Hot in Herre.”
Epperson began beat-making while attending St. Charles West High School. He worked with various local rappers, “nothing significant.”
Ali approached him, and they worked on a couple of songs together before he met the rest of the group. They decided to take him on, and he became their in-house producer.
“Back then, white guys weren’t making beats,” Eppersons says.
“It was really rare, like you just don’t do that. was that kind of attitude. But the Lunatics looked at me like I was another apple in the fruit basket.”