If slow and steady truly wins the race, Stalley should start prepping for his victory lap. He’s avoided having to resort to gimmicks or chasing trends in pursuit of mainstream acceptance, and has instead allowed hard-work, sacrifice and persistence to guide his career, and it has paid off. The Ohio native, who signed with Rick Ross‘s Maybach Music Group in 2011 released his long-awaited debut album, Ohio this week. “That slow grind and staying consistent is what makes people respect you and really grow with you,” he says in regards to his years of grinding and hustling his way up from the underground to major label success. “I think that’s why I’m still here and the excitement around my album is the way it is.” It’s been a long time coming for Stalley, and he’s finally about to have his moment. Life + Times caught up with the “Jackin’ Chevys” rapper early one morning to discuss Ohio, his love for De La Soul and not having to change for MMG.
Life + Times: Why did you decide to name your debut album Ohio?
Stalley: I just felt like that was the most unselfish thing I could do. Ohio is where I’m from. It raised me. It’s the reason I am who I am. It’s the reason I make the music I make and the reason I carry myself the way I do. I just really wanted to give back to the state. I definitely wanted to put a spotlight on the state as far as music goes, because we’re kind of overlooked, especially when it comes to hip hop, so I thought it would be cool for people to see Ohio on the charts. I really just want people to start paying attention to the Midwest.
L+T: You’ve described Ohio as “Intelligent Truck Music.” What exactly is “Intelligent Truck Music”?
Stalley: It’s just a sound. “Intelligent Truck Music” is really just a sound that I created with my producer Rashad. He’s also from Ohio. It’s a sound that represents Ohio and the Midwest. We like our music with a lot of bass, but also to be though-provoking and to have some sort of concept.
L+T: Being that you’ve been working on Ohio for some time now, was it a challenge narrowing down the records that made the album?
Stalley: Definitely. I didn’t know exactly how many songs I wanted on the album, but I knew that I was going to record until I felt it was completed. As far as the narrowing down process, it was about getting the music together that felt as complete as possible, both sonically and conceptually. I also wanted something that I felt told a story and something that could get across the message I was trying to give. I wanted to give you me. I wanted to give you who Stalley is as a man, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve been through.
L+T: De La Soul is featured on the “Navajo Rugs” record. Were you a big fan of theirs coming up?
Stalley: Definitely. I grew up around a lot of older people. I never really hung around people my age. I was always the young one, so I got a lot of that music early. I was introduced to De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and even N.W.A. and Scarface at a real early age and that’s when I really fell in love with hip hop. For me to have them on my album and for them to look at me as one of the artists that’s really carrying the tradition of what they’ve done is an honor.
L+T: Who are some of the producers you worked with for Ohio?
Stalley: The production is really in-house and from my team. It’s the guys that I came up with. I got Rashad, who built the sound for some of my mixtapes. I have this producer named Black Diamonds on there. That’s pretty much the bulk of the album right there.
L+T: What’s your favorite song off of the album?
Stalley: That’s a hard one, because I love everything. If I had to narrow it down to one I think my favorite is “System on Loud.” That song is one of my favorites just because it’s just one of those vibes. Growing up I would be listening to music while riding around in the car and there was always that one song that would stand out. I don’t know if you always had a record on certain albums that you kind of rapped to yourself on the beat or you tried to feature yourself on that song, but “System On Loud” is one of those records I did where I left space on it for people to kind of vibe out and add on their wordplay or flow to it. It’s also dope to me, because it was one of the first songs that I recorded and it stuck around and made the final cut. When I recorded it I knew it would be a fan-favorite. People have been checking the album out on the stream and I see a lot of people checking it out, which is dope.
L+T: Ohio has never really had a specific sound. Do you think that offered you a little more freedom to experiment and explore when developing your individual sound?
Stalley: Definitely. Being from the Midwest, we don’t have a biased opinion on anything really, because we get a little bit of everything. I feel like that’s what my sound embodies. It embodies a little bit of everything. It has a little bit of that East Coast lyricism, a little bit of that down South bang and a little bit of that West Coast smoothness that you can ride to. It’s a complete hip hop sound. It’s also a distinct sound. For Ohio, I tried to bring that funk and soul element to it too, because Ohio is where the roots come from. I definitely think the Midwest is getting a sound and identity with the Ohio album.
L+T: Did you ever feel as if you’d have to adjust your sound to fit the MMG mold?
Stalley: It’s always been me as Stalley and what I bring to the table. That’s why Ross signed me and wanted me to be MMG. That’s because I brought that versatility and that different feel to the brand and the label. It was just more about me finding myself, being comfortable with the sound and the music that I made, really just owning that sound and giving it to the world the way I wanted to. That’s what Ohio is.
L+T: This has been years in the making for you. In your opinion, how have the years of grinding benefited you in the long run?
Stalley: It helped me to grow. I’ve earned every stripe. It helped me to grind and really get through the grit. There’s been a lot of ups and downs during this whole process, and not only musically, but also for me as a man. You have to get comfortable with the situation and learn how to deal with the situation. I love the pace that I came in the game at and I love the pace I stayed at. It helped me realize some things that I needed to correct, both as an artist and as a man. I’m more comfortable, confident and passionate, because of the grind. I’m complete now. I look at it as I was getting my M.B.A. I’m coming from the basement. Coming from the basement to signing with Ross takes a lot of preparation.