Stalley Gives Me Beard EnvyBy Esra Gurmen
The Ohio-made rapper Stalley has been on the scene for a few years now. He's been putting out mix-tapes since 2008, but it's his recent-ish signing to Rozay's label, MMG, that shot him to mainstream popularity.
Stalley raps about how he hates fake women, and promotes a blue collar, hard, Midwestern work ethic. Coming from a small town in Midwest America, being an ex-nine-to-fiver, and staying true to his religious roots, Stalley is not your average rapper. And by that I mean he doesn't bang on about bitches all the fucking time. Not that I'm a psychopath who's trying to be PC about hip-hop, but you know, sometimes it's refreshing to be able to listen to some hip-hop that I don't feel guilty for enjoying.
In the midst of our conversation last night, I realized that I might be in the process of interviewing one of the future kings of rap. We talked about how he put Ohio on the map, muscle cars, and trunk music. Hell, we even got to talk about Raymond Carver and Morrissey.
NOISEY: Hey Stalley, how're you doing? How's the American Dream working out for you?
Stalley: It's really good, yeah. You know, I'm moving every day. People are getting familiar with the music, checking it out. And it's growing. It's started off really good. It's been steady since the drop.
You once said that each mix-tape follows a period in your life. So what has changed since Lincoln Way Nights? In that, you were telling the story of a blue-collar, hardworking, patriotic guy from Ohio. Then in Savage Journey he reaps the benefits, earns more, but that becomes a whole other struggle in itself. Is that what's savage about it?
Yeah I mean it's basically what you said, Lincoln Way Nights was just a time and a place in my life that I reflected on, just growing up in Massillon, Ohio, a small town where it's all blue collar and self-made. And when I say self-made, it's just like a lot of self-made individuals, a lot of family owned businesses, a lot of hardworking individuals who come from the factories, the steel mills, and the car industry. Also, it was just reflective of what I've seen growing up, what I've been through growing up, as far as the car culture, you know, dealing with family, dealing with friends. And Savage Journey is kind of the transition into where I'm at now, the things that I've seen and a more recent state of being, like, just dealing with the industry, dealing with a bigger fan base, seeing more of the world, traveling overseas for the first time, and seeing how people live in different parts of the world. It is a savage journey; you definitely go through the ups and downs, the good and the bad of this industry. And the life that you live as an artist is what I wanted to show in Savage Journey.
That gold shopping cart in your video "Live at Blossom" is an amazing metaphor for this, no? You know, the grind is still the same, but now you do it with style.
You had an artistic say in that, right?
I always have an artistic say in every visual I put up, whether it's a vlog, or music video, or an extra. You know, anytime I'm seen by the masses, I'm always hands-on, I'm always giving my opinions. That was definitely a good reflection. And that's why I wanted that video to come out so bad, and to be seen, because a lot of people may have thought that I've lost that touch in the music, but it's still there. It's just how you said, it's still the same grind, it's just in a different place in your life. You know we all work to be successful, we all work to have better situations for ourselves and our families. But at the same time, everything that glitters ain't gold, you know what I mean? You gotta be careful what you ask for.
Just a bit more about Ohio, and Lincoln Way Nights. That whole mix-tape is a bit like a short story set in Midwest America. You know the way you rap about the blue collar life, the muscle cars, and the candy colored cars. Ever read Raymond Carver?
That's what Ohio reminded me of.
That's what I was doing, I wanted to bring you into my world, I wanted all listeners to feel at home with me. That's why the first song on there is "See the Milq in My Chevy". It's kinda like I opened the passenger's door for you to sit in, and to take a journey with me, and I show you the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful. You know, how we live, how we party. Just everything from the relationship I have with my mother and my sister, to the relationship I have with women, to the battles I have with myself, and what I want the world to get from me. It was me telling my story and being more personal than I've ever been in music. I put out two mix-tapes before that and it wasn't as personal, as in-depth. I kinda drew you into one little area and that was Massillon, Ohio where I am from. I didn't take you anywhere outside of that city.
That's why I said it was the stuff of short stories, not letting your audience outside of a scene you've set for them.
That's what I try to do with every project. I look at them as books. Each song is a chapter, and it tells a story from beginning to end.
Another thing I like is your car culture. I know you're loyal to your American cars always, although you had a Mercedes and a Jag in your videos!
That Mercedes in "Lincoln Way Nights" video, I mean I don't even know how that played out! If I could do it all over, I wouldn't have that car in there. It was just where we were at the moment, and we just shot the video kinda spontaneously and it happened that way. But Jag: that's an American car. It's still, you know, an American vehicle.
Oh, well, I can't know everything about cars…
Haha. The reason why I had that car [Jag] in particular, and how it came in my mind when I was writing a song is because that car was a part of my childhood. My uncle had that car, the older version. He was my godfather, he would take me to a lot of sporting events and do a lot of things with me because I didn't have a father, really. Well, I didn't have a father in my life. So he was kinda like that father figure and I just spent my childhood in that car. So that was me paying homage to that time in my life. In Savage Journey I still spoke about a lot of muscle cars and American cars, I mean I may have referenced like a Ferrari here and there but you know when I say that, it's like, the way I said it in "Petrin Hills Peonies". It's like when you're a kid you have those posters of women and you have posters of cars. I think a lot of boys, whether they're from America or from Europe or wherever, they have a Lamborghini or a Ferrari hanging on their wall.
Yeah, I know that from my brother. He used to have a lot of car magazines. Actually I wondered something and I really want him to know I was right. Is that the sound of your Camaro at the end of "330"?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Back to "Everything New". It's a dope track. Are you going to work with Chad Hugo in the future again? I know you like to work with different producers for each mix-tape.
Yeah, I try to. I always try to find a different sound that fits whatever story I'm trying to tell next. But, like, right now I am working more with Block Beattaz, and I'll definitely work with Chad some more. But it's all about the vibe and about what fits the story that I am trying to tell.
How is it working with Block Beattaz? That's an amazing sample in "Petrin Hill Peonies". It's Charles Bradley, right?
Yeah, it is. I'm with him right now, and we started working on my album, and working on some more projects, like EPs, and mix-tapes. Working with those guys is great. They have an amazing ear, they sample things that you would've never thought to sample. And that's because they listen to a wide range of music from jazz, to prog, to alternative music, rap, or country. So the way they flip different samples is just amazing. And they really fit the sound that I go for. They are from a similar area to where I'm from. Huntsville is very similar to Massillon, even though it's two different parts of United States, it's very similar in a lot ways and I think that's where that chemistry comes from.
So you're not worried that working with different producers affects your sound? You know, for example, what you did with Madlib in MadStalley: The Autobiography was completely different. Does it matter? Or you just don't care?
You know I always describe my sound as ITM, still. That Intelligent Trunk Music. I always try to keep the same feel of the bass, incorporate the 808s and the 909s and the subs and the big bass sound but I also like to give it something new. I don't wanna bore my fans with the same music, or even the same concepts or the topics that I write on. I'm always looking to just progress, and I wanna show that growth to the music, and to my fans.
You must have been listening to a lot of other things then. You don't listen to hip-hop exclusively, right?
Nah, I barely listen to hip-hop at all. Especially these days, I rarely listen to hip-hop.
What do you listen to?
Oh man, recently I've been listening to John Mayer, his new album, [Born And Raised], I listen to Bon Iver, and SBTRKT. Not a lot of hip-hop, though.
SBTRKT is from London, you know.
Oh yeah. That's where I heard him.
What about grime?
I'm not really familiar enough with it. I haven't really heard enough of it.
I hear you like Morrissey.
Yeah, definitely. Big Morrissey fan.
"This Charming Man." That's my favorite.
The Smiths period, I mean the writing, and some of the subjects they spoke on, is just amazing to me.
Let's talk about your signing to Maybach. How did Rick Ross reach out to you?
He called my phone personally. He just spoke to me, he thought highly of me and of what I was doing. He said that he was watching me for a while, that he saw videos on MTV and BET, and saw me on the blogs. He just really felt that I was a superstar and thought that with the platform that Maybach and Warner Brothers have, he can aid me to superstardom. He just really believed in me, he really knew the music and really did his research. And I could tell from meeting him that it was just a perfect fit.
Did you have any doubts at all before signing? You know your music is different to his. And you have your own style. Did you feel like you couldn't get along?
I never thought that I couldn't get along because I feel like I can get along with anybody. But there's always going to be doubts when it comes to your art and what you do in music, and it doesn't matter if it was Ross or it was another label that I would sign to, I think that them getting you is always a question, especially the way music goes – especially when you're not doing the popular mainstream music. But I knew that he was a fan, I knew that he did his research, I knew he really liked what I was doing. He knew my music, my lyrics, and videos. Just that, is comforting enough to know that he gets me a little bit. But sometimes it just takes a little time to grasp onto the mainstream when you're not doing everything that everyone else is doing at that moment.
Yeah, it's a hard thing to balance, that's why I wondered if you went through any compromise.
You know, sometimes as an artist you wanna get the recognition. That's what you come for, that's what you do music for. I mean when you do music, you wanna do it to satisfy yourself first, but you also wanna do it to make a living and take care of yourself and your family. But I've never had to compromise on my music, on my brand, or anything like that. I always do what I know how to do, because I can't do anything else, you know.
I can see that he respects it, you bring together the Blue Collar Gang and MMG in the collabs, and it works great. But you know, sometimes… For example, you have a track where you make a reference to a Yeats poem, and talk about settling in with your wife, then few tracks later Ross comes in and drops lines about hoes.
It must have been a different ride for you, no? I don't mean this in a bad way.
Oh no, definitely. I mean, they're gonna do the music that they feel that's true to them, and I'm gonna do the music that's true to me. And I think that's what makes it good. When we do a collab, you get two different stories, two different attitudes, two different moods. Especially, when me and Ross get on a track I think it's a beautiful balance, you know, I guess it's got more of a street edge, and then more of a poetic view of the music. I tell the story, it's kinda the same story and the same message but it's just told differently.
Speaking of collabs, are you going to be collaborating with Nas anytime soon? I know you really like him.
Yeah, yeah. Hopefully I will. I haven't really got to meet him. I mean I've met him a few times, but I've never really got to sit down with him, and speak to him to mention a collab. But it's definitely possible.
Before we go, I know that everyone talked about the beard already but I don't think anyone asked you if it had an Islamic aspect to it. Or does it just symbolize your growth as an artist?
It's definitely the combination of both. On the religious side, it's something that keeps me grounded and rooted to the religion. It reminds me, when I look at myself, that I do carry this religion and represent this religion. I just wanna show to the masses the strength of not being afraid to do so. I think a lot of people kinda hide that fact. You know, I have tattoos, and things like that, I'm not your traditional Muslim, or what people feel like a Muslim should be. I even get backlash from other Muslims but your relationship with God is personal, and it's between you and him. But I definitely carry it to be reminded, like a woman would wear a hijab, you wanna carry it gracefully, and just show that this is what you represent and what you love. The most important reason of you being here on Earth is to serve God. That's what I do. And it's also to show the growth –just to remember the ups and downs. I've been through a lot with this beard. Sometimes I look at it and it's breaking off and I know that I need to be in a better place in my mind and life. And then when sometimes it's full and healthy, I know that I am at a peaceful place in my life, and things are going good. So it's kinda like that measuring stick to keep me grounded.
Where do you see it in like 10 years?
Hopefully, it's down to the floor. Like a real Hell's Angels guy!
Can I get a 330 sign before we hang up?
Can you see it?
Yep, I can. I wish there was a way to transcribe that.
For more on Stalley check www.stalley330.com
Follow Esra on Twitter @esragurmen