2011 was a good year for Stalley. The Division I basketball player-turned-rapper dropped the excellent, soul-sample heavy mixtape Lincoln Way Nights and then signed to Rick Ross’s imprint Maybach Music. Though still a young MC with just a handful of releases under his belt, the Ohio rapper has showcased a flexibility on the mic that is both honest and reflective but also not afraid to drop a song or two about some of his favorite things, like cars and turning the bass up.
And damn, does Stalley love his bass. Prior to the interview, Stalley was doing his sound check in prelude to a weeknight show at a club in lower Manhattan, and kept requesting the bass be turned up. “Like earthquake-shaking bass, please” he told the sound guy as they went into a brief rehearsal of “Slapp” off Lincoln Way Nights. In a way, this perfectly showcases what Stalley is about. He likes his bass up but is thoughtful and down-to-earth enough to not forget a “please” and “thank you.” When he speaks, he looks you in the eye, has a firm handshake and seems to be always smiling. As he describes himself in “Slapp,” Stalley truly is “classic and old-school mixed with new school.”
With everything that happened in the last year, as well as a new mixtape-- Savage Journey to the American Dream, ready to drop once he reaches 50,000 Twitter followers-- we sat down with Stalley to chat about the whirlwind of the last year and what is in store for the future.
How did you getting signed to Maybach go down?
It was crazy. How it really happened initially was that Curren$y had called me out of the blue and said, "Yo, what are you doing right now, where you at?" And I was like, "Um, taking a cab, heading home. Nothing." And then he said, "Oh, well I'm with Rick Ross and I wanted to know if I could give him your number." So, of course, I said, "Sure."
I didn't know why he was looking for me but I was fine with it so he gave him my number and Ross called me and was like, "Yo, I see you working and I like what you're doing. I would like to invite you down to Texas." They were on the first leg of the I Am Music Tour. So he invited me down, said he wanted to "chat it up" and said that, he "had a couple opportunities" for me. The next day he flew me down and told me that he had been watching me awhile and admired what I had been doing. Then basically he said, "I want you a part of the team if you willing." It just made sense to me.
What was it like the first time you met Rick Ross?
I wasn't really nervous, I just didn't know what to expect, you know? I didn't know if he wanted to work with me musically or if he wanted to sign me or if he had something else in mind. So I was just open to hear what he had to say. I just didn't know what to expect. He was real cool over the phone, though, and the same in person. He was very open and friendly and that was the same with everyone around him.
What has changed since signing to Maybach? Has your access to producers and other rappers opened up?
Well, now I have more eyes and ears on me within the industry and as well as outside the industry. I think it has helped me be seen by a different audience. As far as production? I was working with a lot of producers before and a lot who were interested in working together already as well, too. So I don't think much has changed except on the popularity side.
How much does Rick Ross play a part in the music you put out, producers you select, etc? Does he let you do your thing or does he give his input?
He lets me do my own thing. I can't speak for the others on the label but I know he trust me and lets me do whatever I want to do and has confidence that I can put together a good project. Lincoln Way Nights and "Address" were both what caught his ear at first, so I think he just believes in me and believes that what I have going is going to be right. That's all I can really say. He does want to hear the music, but its because he's excited about it. He never tells me what producers to work with or what to rap about or any of that.
So as of right now, we are waiting on you to reach 50,000 followers until you drop Savage Journey to the American Dream, right?"
I mean I might drop it sooner. It's been taking a little while. I definitely want to get it to a release date, though. I'm itching to release it.
What can we expect from Savage Journey compared to Lincoln Way Nights?
It's a different sound. I think it’s a wider sound as far as just having more of an appeal to the masses. It's still very in the lane of Lincoln Way Nights, though, as far as the Intelligent Trunk Muzik part of it. I definitely try and keep that intact with all my music. As you and me were saying before the interview, I just like that bass, I like that pop and I try to include that in all of my music. Lyrically and conceptually, I think it’s some of my best writing. I am excited about it. Also, I've been dropping these songs for "By Me, Stalley" that people have been really loving. It’s funny because I'm like these are songs you can't even make a project on. These are just giveaways.
Is Rashad on Savage Journey?
Do you plan on working with him again?
I do but I gotta branch out for now.
You mentioned the "Songs By Me, Stalley" series and you just dropped a track with Chad Hugo. Is he on Savage Journey?
He's on the project, but that track I just dropped with him was just me and him in the studio freestyling. He was making a beat and as he was making the beat, I was just rapping. Then he mentioned he liked how it sounded and told me to get in the booth and rap it. That's how that track came about.
You also dropped one with Block Beataz…
Yeah, they are on it too. Block Beataz on it, Chad is on it, Soundtrakk from Lupe's The Cool is on it. I think that might be it. If there are anymore it will be a surprise but yeah, the production is amazing on it.
At one point on Lincoln Way Nights you mention getting called the "Bruce Springsteen of hip-hop," and you also rep your hometown and your blue-collar background a lot. Are you going to continue that way with Savage Journey?
I think I kinda left that a bit behind. With Savage Journey it's more personal. It's more about the things I have seen and been through in the past two years and since Lincoln Way Nights dropped and me signing to Maybach. I rap about some of the attention I've been getting and friendships and friends. There is a lot of that. It's really about that journey, that savage journey to the dream and what I felt was the "American dream." And me kind of realizing that maybe it's not that. I thought the “American dream” was getting signed, being a signed artist. But now I see that there is so much more still. That was my "American dream" but now that I have accomplished that, there is more that I want. Then again, do we ever know what our American dream is?
We get what we want and then we want more.
Yeah, exactly. And that is the savage part of us.
You've seen a fair amount of success in the past 3-4 years but you are still a young MC and still trying to really break through. What is your biggest obstacle at this point?
I wanna be a household name. I want to be known for someone who makes great music, you know? I don't know want to be known as a "hip-hop artist," I want to be known as an "artist," a "musician" and someone who puts together great albums. I want to be heard most importantly. Since I became an artist over the past three or four years I've been getting more and more opportunities to be in front of people and my fanbase has grown. That's the easy part. As long as in the building…. you build it and they will come. I think that's the real focus right now. Just building that. Building that house, that foundation.
As I mentioned before, you have always been super high on where you come from; are there any local MCs from your area or the Midwest that have really caught your ear?
Yeah, I have an artist right now I am working with called L.E For the Uncool. He's out of Columbus, Ohio. He is a real dope MC. Actually, he had a project entirely produced by Rashad as well called The Measure. It's a real dope album, check it out.
You are working with him?
Yeah, I mean, he's under the whole "blue-collar gang" umbrella. But like I said, I am building myself still so I can't really say he's my artist but he is definitely someone I would love to help out and push because he is just an amazing artist, an amazing voice, has something to say and I just really wanna push that. Any artist, though, that is from Ohio or the Midwest I am down with. I am one of those guys. I want the home team to win. (Laughs)
Growing up in Ohio, were there any local acts that really influenced you or did you look beyond that to bigger scenes like New York?
I was looking towards the bigger scenes but I was definitely influenced by Bone Thugs N Harmony. When I was real young I used to listen to MC Brains. (laughs) I was definitely influenced by Bones, though, and MC Breed, AMG and Dayton Family, but also Outkast, Nas, Scarface and Ice Cube. People like that I was real big fans of.
What can we expect from Stalley in 2012 after Savage Journey to the American Dream drops?
Self-Made Volume 2. I will be all on that. I am real excited about that. Then, just working on an album. I got a lot of good projects, though, thats coming...
You gonna keep us waiting for those, though...
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. I got a lot of music coming. We will leave it at that.