The popularity of Dirty South-style rap artists has helped put St. Louis on the musical map, especially following the huge success of Nelly's Country Grammar album.
The city's true musical style lies somewhere between the South and the Midwest, though, with a diverse collection of artists who draw as much inspiration from Chicago as Atlanta. Born and raised in St. Louis, Toya (born Toya Rodriguez) was mentored by the same people who helped Nelly achieve fame, but used that help to produce an album in her own unique style. After a childhood spent singing in church and school, Toya was attending St. Louis University on scholarship, working two jobs, and writing songs and recording demos in her spare time when she made arrangements to sing for Nelly's managers, Tony Davis and Courtney Benson. She sang a gospel song, "I Won't Complain," on a Friday, and the pair were so impressed that they asked her to give them two new songs by the end of the weekend. Despite having to work that weekend, Toya put two songs together with the help of her longtime friend and manager, Harold Guy, and a professional songwriter. The songs were played for L.A. Reid of Arista Records and he liked them so much that he flew her to New York to audition. That audition led to a recording contract and the release of her self-titled debut album in the summer of 2001. With its first single, "I Do," the album made an impressive impact amidst a sea of releases from other baby divas, in part because of the stylistic diversity of its songs that ranged from hip-hop influenced R&B numbers to jazzy ballads and dance tunes. Guest appearances by Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics and Penelope also helped give the album a unique St. Louis flavor. ~ Stacia Proefrock, Rovi