Twenty seconds in the Chelsea Piers batting cages and I’m remembering my respect for anyone capable of playing competitive baseball, let alone those who graduate to the pros. Hitting a fist-sized object as it travels some 40+ feet along a route parallel to your knees, moving fast enough that it blurs past just as you’ve established eye contact, is difficult—difficult to even get a bat on the ball, difficult even if it’s been a decade or so since you faced anything more intense than half-assed underarm softball lobs in gym class. I am scrawny-ish, visually challenged, and somehow unclear on a proper batting stance despite a lifetime of watching baseball and playing baseball games, so I consider it a minor miracle that I whiff on only half of the twenty balls I see, fouling off or weakly grounding the others.
Mike Stud, on the other hand, isn’t challenged at all—he fouls off a few times, but mostly whacks the ball hard enough that it traverses back the length of the cage and slams into the chain links, producing a solid, echoing clang. His form is complete, unlike my tentative herky-jerk motion, fluid and graceful as he carries his arms from side to side. That’s something you can say about Stud: He follows through. A former standout pitcher at Duke and Georgetown, he broke into music after suffering a career-ending injury and has released music videos and mixtapes at Gucci Maniacal rate over the last few years, steadily building a fanbase by appealing directly to a tried and true demographic: college kids, who’ve thus far been eager to swallow his jockish braggadocio and odes to alcohol-fueled hedonism.
Like some of yesteryear’s frat-rap superstars, Stud is trying to get into more serious territory now that his school days are over but without alienating the fanbase that’s given him numbers the market can’t ignore. He could become a Mac Miller, who’s leveraged his independent roots into an irrepressible brand, or if he's unlucky he could become an Asher Roth, stuck between goofiness and sincerity without a defined place in the rap world. It’s tricky territory, and something he’s still working out—as he says, “I just wanna show that I’m more than just a douchey college kid making music.” In a pain-free world, Stud would've been working through the minor league system and trying to make a pro team. Now, he's attempting something similar in a different field where the parameters of success are far less defined. When his next mixtape, Relief, drops in early May, he'll continue trying to figure it out.
So this is your fourth mixtape that’s coming out?
No, no, this is actually my second individual project. I did—if you just kinda look at some of the publications, they said I have three mixtapes, but they just—I did one called #SundayStudDay, but the remixes I did I just put them together as a project and like gave it to them after I was done. But it wasn’t anything like this, they were all remixes. This is my second project where it’s all original work and it’s mainly me. The first one was Toast to Tommy and it was 15 months ago. I’m excited about this one.
I was wondering if you could sum how you got here. I know you were a pitcher in college and you injured your arm?
I probably had the weirdest story as far as coming into music. It’s like your normal student athlete, had never made music, had never played an instrument. Right after I had a really successful year at Duke, and then, just all in one pitch, BOOM, I tore my ligament, went through the reconstructive surgery. During the time of rehab I had just gotten a new Mac and I started to mess around a little bit on GarageBand and I literally made my first project on GarageBand with no engineering, no help. And that’s kind of how it happened. I mean I made one song called “College Humor,” really kind of a bad song, really gimmicky, not very good rapping, but it caught on enough. The kids at school really liked it, started playing it at bars, and from that it got on the Internet. That’s really how it happened, it was the most virally driven thing ever. Cause I never had plans to do music. I know people say that, but I had zero inclination, zero motive. I just kinda made songs for fun cause I had free time, I couldn’t play.
How did you transition from being a guy who wrote this jokey song to a guy doing this full time?
I only had four or five videos out, and I was like “I don’t know where this is going, but this is fun, and kids were starting to pay attention.” And then a booking agency from Manhattan called me, and I was just like, “Whoa, this is kinda serious.” That was kind of the first thing. And then I said, "Look, I’m gonna keep studying, I’m gonna keep making music and then I’ll see where it goes." By the end of the school year I had a million views on YouTube and had played some shows and was having so much fun that I was like “I’m an idiot not to at least pursue it.” I went in with a lot of, not to say hesitancy, but I just didn’t think I would have great success. And that’s where I am now, I think I’m to a point where I know it’s something I’m doing and it’s definitely my career at this point, which is really dope to me, but it’s still a little bit of an open ended thing. I’m enjoying it, and I’m taking it seriously, but I want to see where it goes. That’s kind of where I am, mentally.
So when you admit to not having the most rigorous musical background, how do you feel the need to legitimize yourself on that front instead of coming off like a hobbyist?
That’s kind of where I am in my career now. I think this project is legitimizing myself as an artist. I think a lot of people see me and see what I look like and see the original music—usually you see the original artist and you see one video and you’re like “oh,” you kind of make your judgment, that’s human nature. So I know that I have a lot of great support, but there’s also a lot of people I just wanna show that I’m more than just a douchey college kid making music. I’ve worked so hard this past year at legitimizing the craft, or at least just getting better. I think it will show in the music. I haven’t had vocal lessons yet, but I’ve spent countless hours with the engineers just learning the notes and becoming a better singer and all around artist, really creating my music a lot more seriously than I originally did. I think it will show up in my music, or I hope that. I know I put so much time this year just getting better at it, cause I realized once it became a career that this needs to be something—I have to catch up to a lot of people as far as their musical training. A lot of people I work with say that I have a naturally pretty good ear, but again, it’s just tons of work.
That’s a thing with a lot of college-oriented rappers—your Asher Roths, your Mac Millers—the difficulties of transitioning away. Where do you want to take your music from that point?
For every song I put out, I see the feedback. I think people—there’s a really big market for kids who want college music. I don’t know what college music is, really. It’s just like fun and about things that people go through in college. There’s a market for that, so I don’t wanna desert that completely. And that’s kinda where you walk the fine line, it’s like “I wanna keep what I started with, cause that’s how I started.” But at the same time, I’m involved with a lot more industry people now, as far as my management, and we’re making bigger records.
So, that’s where I am. As far as that line, there’s a thin line, and I don’t wanna desert that. So I’m trying to stay on that line where I’m making bigger records but it’s still the same vibe, where I’m not gonna lose these original fans, but I’m gonna grow my fan base as well. I think that’s what I’ve been focusing on, mainly. Making records that are me, but on a bigger scale. That’s the focus.
On one hand you have this college audience, but then there’s also everyone who isn’t in college and might be put off by that.
Right, exactly. So like, I do think the market is serious. I think it’s a very serious market, but I do understand that you need to grow it, and you need to expand that. And who knows if it’s possible to remain on both. I don’t know. But I am making—when I say bigger records, I mean kinda more outside of that lane, in an attempt to make songs that are a bit more universal, that more people can relate to. I’m just being me, man, and I’m making music that I can relate to. And if other people can relate to it, that’s amazing. But I’m not going to do something I’m not, either.
And I’m no longer in college, I’m twenty three years old. People think I’m in a dorm room making music, it’s a little different. I think people are getting it, and I think people that have followed my career are getting it. Like, I’m singing more, I think that’s something that separates me from guys like Asher, who are great, I’m a fan of Mac Miller, even Macklemore, he’s blown up. But I think I do have that crossover pop appeal, I’m singing, making more universal records.
You’re 23, when did you graduate?
You finished pitching the final year?
I pitched my final year at Georgetown, that’s why I went to Georgetown. I had made some songs, but I was going to study, and I was like “I’m gonna come back from this injury and I’m gonna be fine.” It was taking me really long, but I felt like I was gonna be able to get back. And not getting back was really hard. So the fact that music happened kinda simultaneously was like a weird thing, very unexpected and it helped to deal with that process. I would say it definitely saved me, cause I was like a guy that was going to play professionally, at some level. My whole life, that’s what I was doing, and after the All-American season I was a lock, but you just never know what’s going to happen. And when the music happened, it really gave me a second chance at doing something I love. Cause I really do love it, even as much as baseball. It’s been cool to see it grow.
How many pitches did you have?
I was a three pitch guy, I was a closer. I had a fastball, slider, and changeup. And when I played, with the fastball, I had a very above average breaking ball. It was what made really successful freshman year. Cause I threw hard, I threw in the 90s, but so did everybody else in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference]. I played in a very good conference. But the breaking ball was what made me a professional prospect. Kinda what I got all my strikeouts on, the slider.
Did you ever pitch against anyone that ended up in the pros?
Yeah, tons. It’s weird now, every time I watch baseball I faced all these guys, pitched with them. Notables, I would say, Buster Posey, he’s career 0 for 3 against me [laughs]. Matt Wieters, catcher for the Orioles. Tons of guys. Over twenty, thirty in the big leagues. Probably hundreds that I’ve played with, it’s crazy.
When’s the last time you threw on a mound?
On a mound? Last game at Georgetown. I pitched my last game at Georgetown, last game of the season. And it was tough, I just wasn’t as good. It was hard to cope with. My arm felt pretty healthy, I just wasn’t nearly as good. I couldn’t execute. I was three years removed from my All-American season and still battling what I was originally was the hardest part. But that was the last time I’ve pitched on a mound. On tour, a lot of baseball guys connect to my story and my music, and sometimes we end up going to baseball practices with the teams and play. My arm feels good now, man!
Like, pro teams?
Pro teams and college. We do it at the colleges. Usually the college guys see it and Tweet me, and I’ll go by and we play catch with them and stuff. It’s fun.
Not to be cute, but were there any things in baseball that you drew on to apply to your music career?
For sure. The two biggest would be work ethic—anyone who’s kinda worked with me and been around, I truly think I work as hard as anyone in music. I don’t know if my music’s as good as other people’s, but I’m really working at it. I’m in there every night, staying up late, doing those kinds of things. I think that’s something I definitely took from my days playing baseball collegiately, understanding the discipline it takes to perfect something. And like, I would say the closer mentality. I think everyone and their mom told me not to do it. I graduated from Duke, was at Georgetown, and embellishing the rap career as a white kid with no musical background. You can imagine what they said, pretty much everyone. And I can understand why they would say it was a shot in the dark situation. Once I realized I had my foot in the door, I’m just attacking it. I don’t know where it’s headed, I’m just attacking it. This is my life now, so I’m not gonna patsy around it. I really attacked the music game, I’m putting out as much content as anyone else. I think that’s half the battle.
I heard the song you did "Dreamin'" with Scott Storch. How’d you get with him?
Well, it’s not really public knowledge, but I’ve signed with the guy named Charlie Walk. He’s the executive vice president of Universal Republic Records now. He was a longtime president of Epic Records at Sony. He was a guy that was very involved with Scott’s career. Basically, Scott’s getting back into music, and a lot of the people that knew Scott are involved with me now, so they connected us, and came up with that. It was amazing to work with somebody—I listened to all of the records he used to make. It was amazing, man. I think that’s where I’m going now, making a lot of bigger records, bigger production. Like that legitimacy stuff we were talking about. I think that’s at the forefront now, and that’s definitely one of them.
Are there other people that you’re trying to work with or excited to work with?
As far as bigger collaborations, you know French Montana? He’s a very legitimate artist at this point. I got a record with him on the project that most people will probably be shocked by. I’m connected with him through behind the scenes management stuff, and he believes in what I’m doing which is cool, cause we’re two different people and spheres. But that’s something I’m really excited about, ‘cause it’s a cool hip hop co-sign.
As far as other production, there's Julkeyz, who's Bieber’s main producer. So he’s got records with Bieber, he’s got records with Alicia Keys, he’s a very established kid. He’s from L.A, and I cut a few records with him. The whole tape has really expanded from working with some internet kids who were sending me beats, to going in and creating with real artist. Probably the most notable producer is this guy named Brian Lee. He did Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Good Time” record with Owl City, did a few Gaga records. So we’re kinda just working with more legitimate artists, and building records from scratch. So it feels like a lot more of an advanced project from me, and I’m excited to share it and see what people think about it.
Have you started to think about your next project after this?
Next project? Yeah. I actually have, I mean, I still have a record to finish with this one, so not to look ahead too much, but I probably made 25 records for this, and probably only 13 are gonna make it. So I’ll probably put out another mixtape for free, cause this one’s going on iTunes, it’s an all original album. But I’m gonna put out another mixtape in probably two months, right before tour. I’m just a big believer in flooding the market, anyone can make music now, literally anybody, and if I have a fan base, I’ll just feed them as much as I can. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve been able to create a fan base. Cause like, “oh I didn’t like the other one he made, but I like this one.” So I’ll just keep giving them new stuff. And that’s kind of my mentality. Not to put out average pieces of work, which I don’t think I’m doing, but to put out as much as I can.
To switch gears for a second, are you a fan of Gucci Mane?
Oh yeah, I’m a fan. I’m a huge—my music isn’t really that, because it isn’t really my lane—but I love that whole style of rap right now, I think it’s dope. It’s the kind of music I listen to.
Have you seen Spring Breakers?
Yes. I thought it was terrible. I didn’t like it.
One, like, do you know Riff Raff? I did a record with him, he’s hilarious. He’s like, “Go see it.” I know him pretty well. You know the whole controversy between him and James Franco? So obviously he hates it, ‘cause he didn’t get credit for them taking his character. But I just didn’t think it was a great screenplay—not to be a movie critic, but I just didn’t like it. We went with like three guys, we went and watched it in L.A. actually. I’m more of an action man. If I’m gonna watch a movie, I like the Mark Wahlberg movies, action type stuff?
He’s got one with The Rock where they’re criminal bodybuilders.
I wanna get involved with Mark. I have a mutual connection to him, and I think that’s something that’s gonna happen.
Like get him on a track?
Nah [laughs]. Bring back Marky Mark? [laughs] He’s actually like a dude who—we’ve already tried to orchestrate it—but he’s a dude who’s been very hip-hop oriented from the start. You know, he’s Marky Mark. He likes getting involved in separate projects. I guess it’s too early to talk about it. He’s like my favorite dude in the world, I love Mark.
The reason I brought up Spring Breakers is because Gucci is cast as sort of an abstract version of himself—like a stylized version of the drug dealer persona he raps about being. If you were cast in a movie for a similar purpose, what type of character do you think you’d portray?
Shit, that’s a good question. I don’t know man, because, it’s like, I think people are trying to figure me out. A lot of the records I come off one way, then you meet me you’re like, I’m just kind of a normal dude. I don’t know how you would portray me, I’m certainly not Gucci Mane. Honestly, the majority of my life I’ve been a student athlete who likes to party and have fun, but also has a serious side. I kinda live two lives. ‘Cause I was a very good student, I applied myself when need be, but I also have a lot of fun. I don’t know how you would really portray that in a movie. If you had to pick one thing I would probably be a college student playing sports, it could show my story, at least. I really do think my music shows who I am. Cause I do this party stuff, but I do this meaningful stuff like “Dreaming.” Kinda have those two separate things going on, two different aspects of who I am. I don’t know if that answered your question.
It’s cool. I was also watching your “Touring’s Boring” videos, and I was wondering why you would let someone film you chugging a bottle of vodka on stage.
Why I let him?
I mean, it’s a lot of vodka to chug.
You know what, the “Touring’s Boring” stuff has this sarcastic undertone, and it was my idea, I just wanted to show—everyone shows what goes on on tour, but they do it the same way. They do it like, “Alright, we have the show, and we have sound check,” and they show you five seconds of the show, and then they’re travelling to the next show. But we wanted to make it more like a TV show. I love The Office, and I wanted to set it up with this sarcastic undertone where I’m kinda making fun of myself. We’re just these normal white kids that are becoming rappers. Well, I’m a rapper, but we’re travelling in an entourage. And it’s just, I think a lot of it is trying to poke fun of it a little bit, as far as our situation.
As far as drinking, that’s just what we do. Like, it’s not like I’m up there faking water or anything like that. We’re actually creating this brand where if you come to the concert it’s more like a party. You can come see the show, but we’ll party with you, we’ll probably end up in the crowd after. I think it’s really helped drive my touring. As far as letting someone show that, I’m just showing you what it is. That’s actually something we all do, we love to party, and I love partying on stage with the fans. I think a lot of the fans connect with that. Sometimes I think we go overboard. The “Touring’s Boring” thing, we’re trying to be honest, but it’s also trying to be comical. It’s supposed to be funny.
Do you still follow baseball?
I do, I have tons of fans that play. I have over ten friends in the system, very close friends in the system, the minor leagues, some in the big league. I follow them when I can. And I’m a Red Sox fan because I’m from Rhode Island. One of my good friends is a third baseman, Will Middlebrooks, so I follow them the closest. But I’m not really one of those Boston die hard fans.
They won yesterday.
Yeah, I watched it—I was driving all day but I watched it in the hotel on ESPN.
If your injury hadn’t happened, do you think that’s what you’d be doing, being in the system?
100%. If I didn’t get injured, I’d 100% be. I can’t tell you where’d I’d be, but if I was pitching the same I was that freshman season, I’d be pretty close, or I’d be in the big leagues, but it’s hard to tell. I’d definitely be playing still. It kinda all came to a screeching halt, is really what happened. But yeah, I’d definitely be playing.
Jeremy Gordon's first dream job was "Dinosaur." He's on Twitter - @jeremypgordon