After editing the Stalley interview I did for SB.TV, a lot of interesting information didn’t make it in. Always willing to shelter homeless words, I thought it would be best to provide refuge on my website. Dive into the wise words of Stalley as he discusses Hunter S. Thompson as inspiration, hustlers as educators and the meanings behind his lyrics.
LM. You have an old school sound, what did you grow up listening to?
S. Everything from Country to RnB to Soul to Jazz, Rock and Roll and Hip Hop came later. Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye are some of the best songwriters ever. The way they compose music and put together albums was amazing. If you listen to Marvin Gaye’s, Here, My Dear that was a concept album he made for Berry Gordy’s sister who was his wife at the time, it was put in with the divorce settlement. It was genius and well thought out and every song told a story.
LM. Do you think that being less inspired by rap, you’ve had a more unique growth as a rapper?
S. Definitely. One of the biggest influences for this project was the author Hunter S. Thompson. He’s an amazing person and one of the greatest writers of our century. He was a big influence for me to dig into my culture and be able to present it because he would live everything that he spoke on. If he wanted to write about the Hell’s Angels, he lived with the Hell’s Angels. He embodies everything he does. I recorded the whole project back home to be around that culture and soak up everything. I know that when I read a Hunter S. Thompson novel, I feel like I’m a part of that story and that’s what I want you guys to get. A lot of rappers don’t read.
LM. Would you say that you’re a writer before you’re a rapper?
S. Definitely, I wanna be known as a writer before a rapper, as someone who’s a great writer and a great story teller. Eventually I will write books and I want people to know that when they see me write a New York Times best seller or get a Pulitzer prize that they can expect it.
LM. On The Tune Up there’s a lyric about high concentration of rappers almost leading you to stop writing. How close is this to the truth?
S. Everything I say is real. That song was so real to me because I wrote that as a free-Stalley, my version of a freestyle. Rashad freestyles the beat and I write rhymes as fast as possible. No thinking, no contemplating, no second-guessing, just what you feeling at that moment. Tune Up was what I was feeling at that exact time and I was like, ‘Everybody wanna rap, kinda leading me towards putting the pen down’. I start off, ‘I pictured my life to be a bit different’, like I just told you I wanted to be a writer. ‘Lot calmer, lot less hectic’, but its not and money, friendships and everybody wanting to be a rapper can change that. I’m not a violent person but even when I say ‘Make you wanna pull 9s out’, it makes you wanna be rebellious and stand up and die for what you believe in. It’s a lot more that rapping, it’s a life and you can change lives.
LM. Is that the same technique you used to write Babblin?
S. Yeah, Babblin was written in the same way as Hercules and The Tune Up. It took me no longer than 10 minutes to write Babblin. That might have been the fastest song I ever wrote and one of the best. I wish I could let everything go and write that way all the time, I’d have like 80 albums done. But I’m such a crazy thinker and think so deep into things.
LM. Do you over think your writing?
S. I’m very particular on what I say and how it’s presented. Whatever I do I’m very particular with how my brand is represented and how I’m seen and heard.
LM. Hex Murda’s voiced his support for you. Is it good to have genuine music critics supporting your music?
S. If I’ve got Mos Def, Jay Electronica, Hex Murda and XXL telling me that I’m hot and they support me, who cares what anybody else thinks? Those are the people that are important to me, it’s gonna get to everybody else. Some people go against the grain to go against the grain but they’ll come around.
LM. You’re naturally against the grain so it’s funny that people who don’t always support those acts are supporting you.
S. Trust me, I’m surprised too! Hex Murda and Black Milk don’t really like anything. Hex’ll be the first to tell you he don’t like something but he reached out to me. He saw the Babblin video and was like, ‘Yo this dude is nice’. He reached out to a mutual friend that put us in touch and he’s been a friend ever since. I’d rather have those voices than a Diddy. I’d rather have Hex or Black Milk or Mos say I’m that next dude.
LM. Will you be doing more songs with Curren$y?
S. We’ve done a couple songs that are on ice, but Address is gon’ be hard to top because people love that one.
LM. What’s he like?
S. He’s a really funny dude, he’s charismatic and he smokes as much as he says he does. He’s very talented too, I get mad at him sometimes because I think he’s a lot more talented with his pen than he shows. But I understand what he’s doing and he’s enjoying himself so that’s all that matters. He’s been around for ten plus years, I’m scared to see what I’ll be like in ten years.
LM.When can we expect your project with Ski Beatz to drop?
S. We’re still working, I was focused on LWN (ITM) but I definitely gotta get in the studio with Ski. We got half of it done and it sounds amazing, I can’t wait for the world to hear it.
LM. What made you give your music away for free?
S. After this project I won’t give it away for free, I’m just trying to build my brand. At this point in music, if you’re not pushed by a big corny song, it’s about building that fan base and connecting with fans on a personal level. They deserve this and I feel people will appreciate it. When I come out with a next project, they’re gonna know what MadStalley: The Autobiography sounds like, what Lincoln Way Nights sounds like and be willing to buy the album. It’s like going to a supermarket and getting samples of bread and being like ‘This is good, I’ll buy a loaf of this’.
LM. What’s your next release likely to be?
S. A full album of some sort, it might be an EP for $4 with 6 or 8 songs on there, but its definitely gonna be album quality material. I’m already planning the next project.
LM. Do you think Creative Control are providing visuals for the next generation?
S. They could have easily got with the Kanye’s and the Drake’s, and did amazing videos that probably would have got more exposure and YouTube views than someone like myself or Curren$y. But we all work so well together because we have the same vision and wanna start this new generation. It’s time for new visions and outlooks on life behind these cameras, no more Hype Williams and Benny Boom.
LM. What’s Dame Dash like? He seems different from the Roc-A-Fella days of spraying champagne.
S. I don’t know him from the past, like you I saw him pouring bottles on models and dancing crazy but he’s much calmer and mature. He’s a very smart dude, very business minded. He has great energy and is a good dude all round, a great friend and business partner.
LM. You have a very clear and conscious flow, who most influenced your writing style?
S. Writers like Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac, Tom Wolfe. Songwriters like Travis Trent, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley. As far as Hip Hop goes, Nas is the one that influenced me the most in writing style. A lot of people say I have my own style or my own voice because I listen to everything, I’m influenced by Kings of Leon, Little Dragon, Phoenix, and The Smiths; Morrissey is so elegant with his writing. I can turn on Charming Man anytime and be influenced, the way he says ‘How can you worry about life’s complexities when the leather runs smooth on the passenger seat?’ Who says stuff like that? You’re worrying about all this craziness and the leather is so soft in this car, you worrying about the wrong things obviously. I listen deep as a fan, I don’t steal or borrow. Coming up studying, one thing that teachers always put on me is that plagiarism is big, it’s a crime. So I admire writing without stealing or borrowing from it and can grab inspiration from it and put it into my own thoughts and writing.
LM. Why do you think a lot of good up and comers are coming out of the Midwest?
S. Being from the middle of the map, we get inspiration from all cultures. A lot of our grandparents come from the South, West or East so we can pull it from all areas. There’s a lot of culture in the Midwest, though most can be considered bad because there’s a lot of fast talkers, pimps and hustlers. I grew up listening to pimps and drugs dealers and learnt so much from them. They might go down the wrong path, but that’s not to take anything from the knowledge that they’ve obtained in life. You can learn something from everybody.
LM. Is it also linked to the collapse of industries in the Midwest?
S. When you fall on hard times you grab inspiration, that’s something they do well in Detroit. Cleveland and Detroit go back and forth in being the poorest major cities in the country, so for someone to grab the negativity and make it a good thing is a beautiful thing in itself. I really enjoy the way Detroit artists put their music together, you can definitely hear that urgency and passion in it. I go back on the stories told by uncles, mothers and hustlers, they do the same thing in Chicago or Indiana with Freddie Gibbs; he does that a lot.
LM. Do you think you stand out because your story isn’t clichéd?
S. I grew up around gangsters, I’m from a poverty stricken area with 30,000 people, only about five of which are rich. I wanna say it in a way that’s not glorified, let you know I lived it and this is the good and the bad of it. In See the Milq from My Chevy I say, ‘A hustler told me only hustle when you need to and please feed the streets, don’t let them feed you’. That’s really what a hustler told me. They will enlighten you; they don’t want you to do what they did. If you’re gonna do something bad, make sure you have all control over it. ‘Don’t listen to them snakes they’ll tell you anything to lead you into that garden so they can squeeze you, with the most venomous approach, they’ll hang you with them ropes, acting like they clean but they be mingling with dopes just some addicts in disguise and you can see in they eyes and they come across so real in they lies’ I go as far as saying ‘Some of my closest partners geeked out, trapped on the southeast side and they ain’t getting out. Either you a hustler or a customer, some ain’t built for the game so they codeine and pilled out’. Those are the stories I’ve heard or seen and witnessed. I’m a young dude and some of the people I went to high school with smoke crack. I was 19 years old, came back from college and my friend supplied another friend with crack. They got in the car together and I was like, ‘Did you give him some to sell?’ He was like ‘No he smokes’. I was like ‘Wow, we just graduated last year and he’s already smoking crack?’ This is the stuff I don’t want to glorify but let you know these things really happen.
LM. Hustlers tend to speak in a lyrical way so learning from them must help structure the stories poetically.
S. Exactly, that’s another thing about being a good writer. I could easily say, ‘Yo my friends sell crack and shoot you’, that’s the easy way to write. It’s easy to say, ‘Yo my friend got money and he’ll shoot you in the face and he’s hard’. Anybody can rap like that.
LM. The sad thing is people would listen if you rapped like that.
S. Yeah, ‘Stalley’s so hard’. I’ll do a parody like that.
Photo by Cynthia K. Cortes.