Humility is a rare trait—especially among rappers, who tend to preen and bop about like fighters convincing boxing promoters that they are in their prime. Stalley, however, subscribes to a different G code.
Perhaps it’s his humble beginnings in a small town outside of Cleveland, where a blue-collar work ethic was instilled in him from an early age. Perhaps it’s because he’s a former star athlete who knows firsthand that talent without hard work will only get you but so far.
Whatever his reasoning for keeping a level head, it’s working. Last year Rick Ross reached out to Stalley to tell him what a fan he was of his music and moves within the music industry. Shortly after that, Ross signed Stalley to his Maybach Music Group imprint.
Despite being on a flashy label, Stalley has kept it Blue Collar Gang all the way, releasing a mixtape last month entitled Savage Journey To The American Dream. SOTC talked to him about the response to his latest offering, his roots, his label, and why he’ll never share the same fate as Pill. Come along for the savage journey…
Tell us about your hometown.
I’m from Massillon, Ohio. It’s about 45 minutes outside of Cleveland. There’s not much to it. Basically built on the tradition of high school sports, the railroad industry and a lot of factories in general. Car parts.
What was growing up like?
I guess it was a typical Midwestern boyhood. I was into sports heavy because my family and friends pushed me into it. That’s really all we knew—like I said, the town was big on high school basketball and football. I played both, but I stayed with basketball, as I got older. I was fortunate enough to go to college and play some ball, but injuries cut that real short.
So how did a kid like that end up in NYC?
Injuries prevented me from being on the court much in Michigan, so I ended up at LIU in Brooklyn. Eventually I stepped away from school and sports but I stayed in Brooklyn. New York is where the music dream was birthed for me. Before that it was about playing ball and the dream of playing ball [professionally].
Were you into music at all before you moved to NYC?
I loved it. My mother always was playing some jazz or soul. My sister put me onto J. Dilla and Tribe because where I’m from we would only listen to a lot of E-40, C-Bo, Mac Dre…
Heavy on the Bay influence, huh?
Yeah where I grew up the car culture is similar. Everyone is into muscle cars and old schools and I know that’s a big thing out there. But we also liked Scarface, and Outkast was huge in my town. Back then I would write a little bit, but I didn’t know song structure and I didn’t get into a studio until New York.
Stalley feat. Rick Ross, “Party Heart”
How did your NYC experiences shape your music?
Well, working at Alife shaped me because of I had access to a lot of tastemaker types that come through those doors. A lot of brands I work with, like Nike, I met through Alife. I wouldn’t have been able to mix into that culture and meet the right people if it wasn’t for Alife. It was also one of the first places in New York that embraced me, so them being tastemakers it opened up doors for me. It was much more beneficial in that way than Uniqlo, where I also worked.
Where did Ross come into the picture?
Me, Wiz and Curren$y had done a CMJ showcase at BB King’s, so we stayed cool. When Dame Dash opened DD172, we got a chance to work together. One day Curren$y hit me up like, “Rick Ross is looking for you. Mind if I give him your number?” So I’m like “OK,” and I kind of forget about it.
One day Ross calls me up and told me what a fan he was—he’d been watching me and he sees I’ve been doing my thing and he wanted to meet. So I flew down to Dallas for the first leg of the I Am Music Tour and we met. I was shocked because he knew my lyrics, he knew my videos, he knew the artwork on my mixtapes. He told me he wanted me to be a part of the Maybach team that he is building. I felt like it fit. Since then it’s been like family.
How do you feel about Pill’s situation with MMG, and how it applies to you? [Pill claimed that Maybach Music Group “[didn’t] do shit” for his career.]
I had just come to MMG and prior to talking to Ross about it, I had heard rumors of Pill getting dropped. When I got to talk to Ross, he said it was Warner who had basically given him Pill. So Ross said he tried to work out an opportunity, but it didn’t work out. Again, I was new then, but it seemed like everyone was given the same opportunity—it just didn’t work out for some.
I don’t think it applies to me. I’m just using this as a platform to be heard and seen by an audience that I may not have been able to reach before.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 21, 2012