Stalley on timeless music, being underrated and the grind before signing with MMG
When Stalley set out to record his latest mixtape, Saving Yusuf, it was time to return to the basics – sitting alone in a room, with just his mind, computer and some beats.
“I wrote whatever came from the heart, whatever I felt like I wanted to express,” he shares, the day after the Toronto stop of his “Me to You Tour”. “That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to be more free, I wanted to be myself.”
As the humble, down-to-earth Ohio native explains, it’s not that he hasn’t been himself per se, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up.
“When you in the industry, you get jaded sometimes, or you get things that happen that might throw you off course, so I wanted to get back [to] what I originally set forth to do and that’s just create great vibes and feed my fans with great music.”
The result of this process: a 15-track introspective, lyrical project that is fully representative of the unique brand of conscious trunk music Stalley’s become synonymous with.
“I wanted to get back [to] what I originally set forth to do and that’s just create great vibes and feed my fans with great music.”
YOU TALK ABOUT BEING YOURSELF AT THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE MIXTAPE. THERE’S A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO, I THINK, WHEN THEY GET INTO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ARE TOLD ‘YOU GOTTA CHANGE THIS’, ‘YOU GOTTA BE SOMEBODY ELSE’, ‘YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL IF YOU STAY BEING YOURSELF’. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE GETTING THOSE MESSAGES?
I would say don’t listen to them. Because I was told all of those things (laughs), everything that you just said I was told. It might be a little tough, it might be a harder road to follow, but at the end of the day, it will make it you happy and it’ll definitely show in the music and people will definitely recognize the greatness that you show when you being original, being yourself and you’re giving the world something different. Because I think a lot of people, like you said, they listen to everybody else, or they’re listening to what everybody else is doing, trying to keep up with them, like keeping up with the Jones’ so to say. And that comes and it goes, but when you’re original and you stay true to yourself, it lasts forever.
ANOTHER THING YOU SAID AT THE BEGINNING THAT CAUGHT ME WAS THAT YOU’VE GROWN A LOT PERSONALLY AND YOU’VE REALLY COME INTO YOURSELF AS A MAN. HOW DID THAT IMPACT MAKING THIS PROJECT?
That was probably the biggest impact – just me sitting back and kind of observing – really just reflecting on the past and reflecting on everything that got me to where I am now and picking apart the good and the bad out of it and becoming comfortable being an artist. Sometimes when stuff happens fast, it’s not a comfortable situation because it seems like you’re kind of thrown in there and then, like you said, you start listening to other people because you feel like they’re professionals, they’ve been doing this for awhile, so they must be right. Sometimes you just have to listen to yourself and listen to your heart and follow that. That’s where I really came into myself as a man and just sitting back with my family and my friends, having conversations with them about the growth, about where I’ve come from, not only as a man, but as an artist. I think those things helped me create Saving Yusuf and that’s why it’s getting such great critical acclaim and such great reviews because like I said it shows through the music – I think people can really hear it.
SPEAKING OF THE REVIEWS AND WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING – I WAS COMBING THROUGH WHAT PEOPLE WERE SAYING ON TWITTER AND ONE PERSON SAID THEY COULD PLAY THE ALBUM FROM BEGINNING TO END AND THEN PUT #TIMELESS. THAT STOOD OUT TO ME BECAUSE I’M A BIG FAN OF PROJECTS YOU CAN LISTEN TO WITHOUT HITTING SKIP, BUT THERE AREN’T AS MANY AROUND RIGHT NOW. WHAT DOES CREATING TIMELESS MUSIC MEAN AND LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
I try to tell a story, I try to create a vibe more importantly that people can really get through from top to bottom and learn something and grow from it. Hopefully, a lot of critical thinking goes along with listening to the project, that you kind of have to sit back and analyze your life and the space you’re in and kind of be like, man, I’ve been through some of those things or I see myself going there or I see myself retracting from those things – I want people to really reflect and hopefully it applies to their life in some way and it’s helpful more importantly. I think that’s what timeless music is because it’s always going to put you in a place and a space in your mind and it’s going to help you through any situation when you put it on. And that’s the biggest compliment you said, when you can listen to it from start to finish, intro to outro and you can really vibe and [you] feel like you listened to one song, or feel like man, I need to go back and listen again. To me, a timeless record is you don’t skip around – you always feel like you have to listen to start to finish. You never feel like I’m just going to go to my favourite song.
“Sometimes it takes time for people to get used to you – even your voice, even your flow. Sometimes they’re so trained to listen to certain things that when it sounds different they don’t like that. They fear what they don’t understand sometimes.”
WHEN YOU TALK OF THINGS THAT PEOPLE CAN RELATE TO, I FELT LIKE THAT WHEN YOU TALKED ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL CONTRADICTIONS, LIKE THE DEVIL ON ONE SHOULDER AND THE ANGEL ON THE OTHER. WHAT DOES THAT BEAUTIFUL CONTRADICTION LOOK LIKE IN YOUR DAY TO DAY LIFE?
Man it is definitely something – I feel like as people we go through different emotions from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. When I create, I try to create when I first wake up because I feel like that’s when I’m most open-minded, I’m most creative, I’m not affected by anything because you can wake up with a smile on your face, then as soon as when your feet touch the ground and you bang your knee on the side of the bed, you like ‘shit’, and it just ruined your whole day. It’s one of those things where you can feel feel good and you’re just like today I’m going to do something positive, today I’m going to do something for somebody else, not for myself and sometimes distract that and you get thrown off of course, if that makes sense, but that’s the beautiful contradiction because always in your mind you want to do the right things and sometimes life happens and it comes at you fast like they say. Sometimes you kind of have to sit back again and reflect and be like man, what can I do to stay on course on my ultimate goal and [for me] that’s to progress as a man, to take care of [my] family, friends and loved ones and to do the right things and put something good in the world. But, again, sometimes we like ‘fuck the world’, it’s like we don’t care about them, they don’t care about me so that’s how it is. And I think that anybody who tries to be perfect or portray themselves as perfect is just lost.
SOMEBODY ELSE ON TWITTER SAID THAT YOU ARE ONE OF, IF NOT THE MOST, SLEPT-ON ARTIST OF THIS GENERATION. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT?
I always look at that as a compliment. Sometimes I’ll be humble about it, but I am the most slept-on and it kind of gets a little frustrating at times [but] I appreciate my fans and people who support me for pointing that out. Sometimes I wish their voice was louder. I wish that they formed a coalition and went at the world like y’all better listen, like picket outside (laughs), but that’s not realistic. What is realistic is me continuing to work hard, continuing to do what I’ve been doing and I feel like it grows. Speaking to Twitter I see those comments all the time, I also see people being like, man I was sleeping on Stalley. Like I just seen a tweet – somebody was like I was the biggest Stalley hater, but this mixtape was crazy – and he left little fire emojis. Those things are a compliment as well because now it’s changing people, people are growing. Sometimes it takes time for people to get used to you – even your voice, even your flow. Sometimes they’re so trained to listen to certain things that when it sounds different they don’t like that. They fear what they don’t understand sometimes. But yeah, back to your original question of being slept on or being underrated, I definitely feel I am. I don’t know what makes it be that way – I guess the media and whatnot create their ‘media darlings’ who they’re fans of. Even on my album I have a song called “Lay ‘Em Down” and that whole second verse basically speaks on that. I mention “Back to rapping, I be snapping / Bar for bar I’m Kendrick and Cole / But never mentioned when they mention who’s cold / I mean I’m top five in that lopsided list that they hold.” But then I go on to say, “That’s so narrow minded of me when I envision the globe.” So should I really be mad or should I continue to conquer the world?
SPEAKING OF WORKING HARD, YOU WERE WORKING REALLY HARD, PUTTING OUT MUSIC, GOING PLACES, TOURING, AND THEN RICK ROSS, WHO WAS PAYING ATTENTION, SOUGHT YOU OUT. THERE’S A LOT OF PEOPLE DOING MUSIC WHO THINK I’M GOING TO RECORD A HOT SONG AND I’M GOING TO TAKE IT TO A RICK ROSS OR A PUFFY AND I’M GOING TO GET SIGNED. IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT THOUGH.
At all, at all. (Laughs)
TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE GRIND YOU PUT IN BEFORE BEING SIGNED TO MMG.
I’m glad you spoke on that after the conversation about being underrated and overlooked. Because I feel like that’s part of the reason. I feel like a lot of the people from the outside looking in think that I was just given this opportunity and they look at me like ‘why him?’ like, why not me, or ‘how was it so easy?’ But it wasn’t easy. It might have seemed like Stalley came out of nowhere, but I’ve been here for years, I’ve been working for years. I performed in many venues in front of anywhere between 20 to 200 to 2,000 to 5,000 people. It took a lot of time to get there. And still, to this day, I’ll do shows, some are bigger than others, some crowds are more energetic, some aren’t. It’s a grind. I don’t think people see that side. I think they just see videos and Twitter and Instagram and stuff like that and think it’s easy, but no, I had to work hard. Before Ross called me, like I said, I did shows all through America. I was overseas, I did shows in London, I did shows in Beijing. I had a mixtape out, I put videos out, I had a video on MTV Jams, I performed live on “106 & Park” twice, I was picked as a BET Music Matters artist and that’s all from being out in New York City, performing in every venue I could, performing for whoever would listen. That was a grind. It helped me to get to where I am. So I would tell people don’t bank on one song, don’t bank on your SoundCloud, don’t bank on one video, don’t bank on your mixtape – just keep working and it’s going to come.
“#BlackLivesMatter [for example], having a purpose, helping change lives and save lives, helping to be a voice and be heard so that history doesn’t repeat itself in a negative way. That’s what the American dream is to me.”
TAKING IT BACK TO ONE OF YOUR PREVIOUS WORKS, SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE AMERICAN DREAM. LATELY THE CONCEPT OF THE AMERICAN DREAM – WITH WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION FOR EXAMPLE – HAS BEEN PUT INTO QUESTION. LIKE IS THE AMERICAN DREAM IN ITS TRADITIONAL SENSE OPEN TO EVERYBODY? OR IS IT JUST FOR ONE TYPE OF PEOPLE? WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
It looks like it’s for everybody, it isn’t just for one type of people and that’s why I touched on it and I tried to touch on it in the music, because I think, like you said, the perception is white picket fence, family, acres of land. And for some people [it] is, but the American dream could be [for] some people just [to] work at Foot Locker – that’s their dream – [or] they just want to take care of their family. Some people want to buy their mom a house, like they work their whole life just to put their mom in a better situation, so I feel like that’s the American Dream to me, that’s what it looks like. It also looks like having a cause, #BlackLivesMatter [for example], having a purpose, helping change lives and save lives, helping to be a voice and be heard so that history doesn’t repeat itself in a negative way. That’s what the American dream is to me. Some of us, our dream was to see a Black president. And we got it. And hopefully we see many more. Maybe we’ll see a female president, a Hispanic president, I hope it continues to grow. ‘Cause I don’t want people to be discouraged, feeling like that American pie, they don’t get a slice of it.
SO WOULD YOU SAY YOU’RE STILL DREAMING?
I’m still dreaming. That’s why I called it Savage Journey to the American Dream because my dream was to be a signed artist, but once you get to that place, you still want more. I’m still dreaming, there’s a lot of things that I haven’t accomplished personally that I would like to. There’s a lot of flaws as a man that I would like to correct and it’s just a lot of opening up that I need to do for myself and bettering my whole environment for friends and family. I’m definitely still dreaming.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jack Lester. All rights reserved.