Complied and Edited by Michael Krieger for The Higher Plane
As our Spotlight week rolls along, we are blessed to get a closer look at one of hip-hop’s most raw up and coming talents in Stalley. His journey through the industry has led him from his home of Massillon, OH to the bright lights of NYC where he has begun to make his mark in the game by working with the likes of Creative Control, legendary producer Ski Beatz, Curren$y, The Cool Kids and the list goes on.
As this 3-3-0 kid continues to push the genre forward with his heartfelt narratives and creativity, I have a sneaking suspicion that Stalley will be gracing the cover of XXL’s Top Freshmen issue for 2011. From travelling to China to do shows to displaying his skills in Nike ad campaigns, it seems as if the bearded MC they call is here to do it big. He just dropped the lead song, ‘Hercules’ off his upcoming project Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music. In the interview we talk about his come up, working with industry vets, what he’s learned in the game and what music you can find him and Ski cooking up in the studio.
THP: For our readers who may not be familiar with Stalley, can you give us a little background about where you are from and how music became such a huge part of your life?
Stalley: I’m from Massillon, Ohio. Music has always been a part of my life. Each stage of life its role has grown, and here we are today. MadStalley: The Autobiography is available now. Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music is about to be with you.
THP: I have to commend you on your style as an MC. Your music is very rich and heartfelt. It seems you are able to successfully bring your reality to listeners in a very relatable manner. The production you rhyme over also complements your narratives extremely well. How much of that do you attribute to your Midwestern roots, and who were some of your musical influences that have helped you develop and enhance your style?
Stalley: I told this story in another interview, but it’s a good one I think. As a child I listened to a lot of Country music with my grandmother. Garth Brooks, Reba, great storytellers. From them, I learned about narrative. Then, my love of rap developed through the likes of Nas, you know big names, but also Midwestern acts like the Dayton Family. I’m influenced by both the great storytellers and also the folks that made music to ride with. I’m a car guy. I appreciate a little trunk rattling.
THP: For those aspiring artists out there, can you tell us a little bit about your grind leading up to the release of your breakthrough mixtape, MadStalley: The Autobiography?
Stalley: Well, before that I had released my first real project called Goin’ Ape with Terry Urban. It’s not like I wasn’t around, but that project was more of just me doing songs than anything conceptual. That was also before I linked up with GFCNy (who I no longer work with) so Goin’ Ape wasn’t really pushed that hard anywhere, and I realized that I really needed more support to get where I wanted to be. If anything that was when I was just getting on my grind and figuring out what it takes to be a success in this industry. That was a big learning stage.
THP: I have done interviews with other Ohio natives Mick Boogie, Terry Urban and L.e. For The Uncool. They are all incredible talents like yourself. However, the common denominator is they are now all Ohio transplants living in NYC. What was the motivation behind your move? Also, how has your perspective on life been enhanced along with the benefits your musical career has seen?
Stalley: I moved primarily for school. I broke my foot and moved from Michigan to LIU-Brooklyn. It was an opportunity to get out of the Midwest and slowly transition away from basketball as a full time lifestyle. I’d always rapped when I was around basketball, and when in NY I just became more serious about it. Mos Def heard my music and encouraged me.
That’s an opportunity born in NY. The benefits are enormous from that standpoint, and now being around the industry is important. I’ve just done work with Nike, representing NYC, so that’s a big look that comes from living out here.
THP: After the move to New York, you eventually found yourself in some pretty impressive company with Ski Beatz, Dame Dash, The Roots, Mos Def, Curren$y, etc. How did those relationships come to be? Did you ever imagine growing up in Ohio that you would encounter that type of opportunity?
Stalley: Imagine? Never. It’s been amazing. Just a series of productive encounters really. I met Ski, Dame and Curren$y from working with Creative Control. I met The Roots from participating in their Highline Jam Session. Mos I met at Prohibit years ago.
THP: What are some of the important lessons you have learned from being around grizzled industry veterans like them relatively early on in your career?
Stalley: Work hard. Stick to your guns. Push yourself. Make music for yourself, first.
THP: You have done a bunch of dope videos with Creative Control. Two that stand out immediately to me are ‘S.T.A.L.L.E.Y.’ and ‘Do It Big’ with The Cool Kids. Great creative concepts, but simplistic as well. What is the process like working with them, and how beneficial is it to have them as, essentially, your in-house creative team?
Stalley: Obviously, it is amazing. To have access to talented folks behind the camera is a blessing. The process is very organic, very collaborative.
THP: I want to switch gears back to talking about MadStalley: The Autobiography for a moment. You have a ton of dope narratives on there that showcase your smooth, controlled delivery. What did you want listeners to take away from that project about Stalley?
Stalley: It’s a project that stems from a period of introspection. I was really reflecting on the transition from the small town where I grew up to the cosmopolitan world of New York City. The project also reflects the types of beats I was into and the sort of backpacker [I hate that word] side of my vision of hip-hop. I think the project introduces me as a songwriter and lyricist above all. The tone of the beat being a good platform for that.
THP: Let’s talk about the state of the industry for a moment in regards to developing your fan base. Wiz Khalifa is an interesting model for success in this new era of hip-hop. Most of his growth came as an independent artist outside of his former label situation with Warner. I think he is a great example because he not only has an online buzz, but a real, tangible cult-like following.
In today’s era, do you feel one is more important than the other, or do they go hand in hand? Also, where do you think playing shows factors into that equation?
Stalley: Shows are obviously a key factor. You have to connect to the audience. I’ve just rocked shows in China. I’ve been through the Midwest this fall. Each town has new folks to connect with and the connection is real. I love to perform. So, it’s obvious. Shows are the key. Wiz isn’t unique, he just does what successful rappers have always done: hip-hop adapts to technology. Clue changed the game with CDs and others followed. That’s just one example. Adaptation is hip-hop. I pay close attention to my outlets and the potential of all of them.
THP: Outside of developing your fanbase, sales is another large issue. Digital sales are beginning to heavily outweigh traditional SoundScan numbers. As an artist in today’s industry, first, how do you define success overall? Second, how do you then measure the success of a project?
Stalley: That’s an interesting question. We talk about it a lot in my team. 30,000 downloads? 100,000? You see a lot of dudes with 500,000 views of a video with no street buzz. Success today is sold out shows where everyone knows your lyrics. Tangible evidence of impact.
THP: I heard there will be a new Stalley project coming out soon. On the first project you had the legendary J. Rawls on there, you have been working with Ski. What can we expect from this new project, and will there be any production from $haddy who did a phenomenal job with L.e.’s The Measure?
Stalley: L.e.’s record is dope. Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music, which is my next official project, is produced in full by Rashad. It’ss big 808s, an ode to my Ohio roots. I’m actually in the studio with Ski right now. We are doing some Reasonable Doubt meets Atliens shit that will blow your mind.
THP: Have to bring it home to end this. How do you feel about the current hip-hop scene in Ohio right now? Also, where can people find out more about Stalley?
Stalley: First, people can follow me on Twitter, @stalley. Second, hip-hop from Ohio is good. I like the music CuDi makes even if he doesn’t have the hardest bars. There are guys from Ohio doing it. I support people from my area.
Overtime with The Higher Plane
THP: I know you attended the University of Michigan. Were you a Fab Five fan growing up even being from Ohio?
Stalley: Of course. Who wasn’t? They had great style on the court.
THP: Chris Webber the hooper, or Chris Webber the producer?
Stalley: On court. Nas is my favorite MC, but even his co-sign ain’t enough for me to rate Chris.
THP: Thoughts on Ron Artest’s ‘Champion’ track?
Stalley: He has less business on a mic than Dana Barros did. Or Ced Ceballos. All of these dudes are clowns on the mic. Iverson almost destroyed his legacy rapping. Shaq too except he dressed up as a genie, so his rapping doesn’t even register anymore.
Find out more about Stalley on the web:
Stalley Twitter: www.twitter.com/Stalley
Stalley BandCamp: http://stalley330.bandcamp.com/
The Milq at Creative Control: http://www.creativecontrol.tv/www/#/shows/the-milq/
Stalley’s Blog at HighSnobiety: http://highsnobiety.com/columns/stalley/
Stalley’s Blog at Slam Online: http://www.slamonline.com/online/category/blogs/milqandrookies/
Stalley Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/stalleymusic