Stalley has been waiting his entire life to release his debut studio album. Now that the Maybach Music Group representative has been given the opportunity to present his musical voice via an official LP, the 31-year-old emcee is using the project to not only present himself as an artist, but also shine a spotlight on his home state.
With the album’s title, Ohio, Stalley makes it impossible to even speak about the project without acknowledging the place where his life journey began.
“I wanted to put together something that represented me, represented where I was from, and really give the world a different sound,” explains Stalley. “I wanted to break up the monotony that is going on in Hip Hop right now. I felt like Ohio and the Midwest hasn’t really had a distinct sound that anyone could really pinpoint. That was one of the focuses I was trying to get across.”
The sonic trends of rap music in 2014 mostly encompass the ubiquitous styles of the “ratchet movement,” but it would be hard to imagine Hip Hop even surviving to the middle of the 2010’s if some of the early pioneers did not originally embrace 1970/80’s soul and funk as a soundscape. Many of the samples used by production masters like Eric B., Dr. Dre, Easy Mo Bee, and DJ Pooh were lifted from records by Ohio musicians.
The soulful songs of Ohioans have become so ingrained in Hip Hop that they are almost unrecognizable to untrained ears, leaving some listeners to think Stalley’s embrace of his musical Buckeye State roots is actually a copy of other regions.
“When you hear some of the music on my album like ‘Jackin’ Chevys’ or ‘Always Into Something,’ you hear those beats and think, ‘That’s a West Coast sound.’ Nah, Dr. Dre was brilliant enough to dig into the crates and find that Ohio funk and soul and really be one of the first to flip those beats and make Hip Hop out of that,” says Stalley. “I feel like even when people are so naive to say, ‘[Stalley] has a West Coast sound,’ I’m like, ‘You don’t know your music. That sound originated from Ohio with Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, The Isley Brothers, and The Ohio Players.’ A lot of the Hip Hop from the East Coast and the West Coast has been sampled from those artists.”
The Midwest was Stalley’s first stomping ground, but he also spent significant time in the East. Stalley relocated to New York City in 2000. During his tenure in the Big Apple, the aspiring rapper faced personal hardships that eventually inspired his future rhymes.
“Ohio birthed me, and New York really helped me understand who I was as a man, to appreciate where I come from, and to really hone in on that sound,” states Stalley. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs living in New York – great times and life lessons. New York definitely prepared me to be able to take on and weather a lot of the storms that I’ve been through and to stand out on my own. So New York has definitely been a big part of my rise in music.”
While NYC played a role in the course of Stalley’s career, the culmination of his musical drive – which comes in the form of his new album – is a wholehearted celebration of Ohio. The 12-track project is steeped in representation from the 17th state of the union including eight beats from Columbus native Rashad.
“Me and Rashad have a great chemistry. We started something brilliant when we did Lincoln Way Nights. We created that intelligent ‘trunk music’ sound. I think that we really created that Ohio sound,” says Stalley. “Be it that I named the album ‘Ohio,’ I wanted to keep it as Ohio as possible. Down to the production, down to the album cover shot by Jonathan Mannion who is also a legend from Ohio.”
Of course, Ohio includes other acts from across the country. MMG head and Miami native Rick Ross joins New Orleans singer August Alsina for “One More Shot.” L.A.’s Nipsey Hussle and Ty Dolla Sign show up on the respective cuts “What It Be Like” and “Always Into Something.”
Stalley then brings it back to New York by securing a rare guest appearance from legendary Long Island rap group De La Soul for the album’s closer “Navajo Rugs.” It all comes together for a 48-minute ride through the Massillon native son’s worldview.
“I definitely wanted to give you my life, the stories of the happy times and struggles, what I’ve seen, and the lessons I’ve learned from older OGs and my parents,” Stalley adds. “I really wanted to share those life lessons on this album, and I wanted to bring you to where I’m from – give you a good introduction of who Stalley is as a man and as a writer.”