How did your new mixtape Lincoln Way Nights come together?
Lincoln Way Nights basically came together with me, I’m no producer or nothing or that inclined with the production, and for a year or two, I had all these sounds and these visions and these thoughts that I had in my head but I didn’t have a producer to help me create the sound. And then meeting Rashad, who is from Ohio, when I shot him over my ideas and my sounds and what I wanted to mesh and this particular sound that was in my head, he got it right away. And then it was a double bonus with him being from Ohio. I think that helped. Even though we’re not from the same part of Ohio, we have a similar background and all the O.G.s are similar where they kind of put the younger guys onto game.
We grew up listening to the same kind of music and being influenced by East Coast lyricism and the trunk rattling of DJ Magic Mike or the Bay Area artists like C-Bo and Brotha Lynch Hung, Mac Dre and Andre Nickatina and then you got Outkast and we were heavily influenced by the whole Dungeon Family. Being from the Midwest, you could get in the car and hear anything. To me, that’s what’s amazing about being from the Midwest and being from the middle of the map, because we get a little bit of everything. With my sound, I wanted to just draw from all of those inspirations that I got and create my own sound and I think we did that with Lincoln Way Nights.
It has a very musical feel to it. How important was that?
To me, that’s what it was and that’s all I wanted. I just love all music. I’m a big fan of anyone from Thelonious Monk to Marvin Gaye to Bruce Springsteen to Travis Trent to Nas. And my high school band, I wasn’t in the band, I played sports, but my high school band, when I was a real little kid, six years-old, seven years-old, I was always amazed. My high school band is always one of the top high school bands in the nation. For numerous years, they’ve been the best high school swing band in the country. That’s a fact.
You know, just coming from a musically inclined town…I had three uncles who are musically inclined also. That was it. That was the challenging part but I knew it could be done and Ohio, we’re known for that funk. We’re known for the bands like Ohio Players and Parliament. We kind of created that g-funk. And Rashad, he knows that and he gets that so he was able to make it real musical and mix in and fuse jazz and funk and the hard 808s and 909s. That’s what I wanted, was intelligent trunk music and this is the genre of music that I wanted to create for myself because that’s what I am. I’m very lyrical and I have ill concepts but I still need that boom-bap. But I wanted it to be done smart but I still need that boom-bap so bad. I needed the boom-bap so the people who might not be into what I’m into can still enjoy it, kind of trick them into listening to it, if you know what I mean. (laughs)
In “See the Milq in my Chevy,” you say, “My raps tell about where I’ve been, where I came from, what I’ve been through, where I’m going to.” Is that what drives all your music?
Yeah. Definitely. I’m glad you touched on that because that’s one of my favorite songs on the project. That line sums it up. When I did see the milq in my Chevrolet, that’s the beginning of the album and I wanted you to feel like I was pulling up to your house and I honked the horn, you get inside and we take this journey. I’m going to show you where I’ve been to, where I’m going to and where I’m from and I think that’s what I did. That’s what I did for the whole project and that’s what motivates the music. When I created this Lincoln Way Nights also, it was to bring people into my world and help them get an idea of who I am as a person and where I come from.
Some artists say they don’t want to give too much of themselves on projects for free download. I didn’t get that sense with you. How important is to you to give your stories even if it’s on a free download?
To me, artists who say that they’re trying to hold back for their album and not give themselves to the listeners and fans, they lose. No matter if you’re giving it away for free or you’re an up-and-coming artist or whatever, people are attracted to you and they want to learn about who you are through your music. I’m still fighting with that every day too. That’s something that I personally battle with like “Tell Montez I Love Her,” for me, was a tough song to put out. It was easy to write, but it was tough to put out because I didn’t know if I wanted people to know that side of me. But any great writer is able to reflect on their situations and what they’ve seen and to me, that’s how I feel a great writer helps other people through their life, by sharing their stories. People can relate because they’ve been through that and they’ve seen that.
Are you getting the response you wanted with Lincoln Way Nights?
Yeah, definitely. I feel like they’re reacting the way I wanted them to. It’s growing every day. I see it. I don’t put everything on Twitter because I’m not a fan of social networks, but I see my Twitter growing with followers daily. I see the response growing daily. People share in the music and that’s what I wanted. That’s another thing that I wanted to do with the project. I wanted to get in people’s cars and the streets and I wanted the word of mouth to carry it. I’m sick of everything depending on the blogs and the internet. I want people to be out there talking and passing along the CD and that’s what’s been going on and I can’t ask nothing more than that. I know that people are passionate about the music and the project because I hear people say, “You ain’t check out Stalley? You’re losing!” And then I hear people say, “I’m hearing so much, let me check this out.” And then they say, “Why was I sleeping? Why did I take so long to check it out? Why did I wait so long to get hip to the style?” I couldn’t ask for no more.
One of the more entertaining songs on Lincoln Way Nights was “She Hates the Bass.” Do you get in trouble for your system?
(laughs) It’s true and it’s not. You know, growing up, we always was kind of rowdy and young and playing music loud, so there is times when you maybe pull up, and it doesn’t have to be a girl. It can be a friend’s house. But you pull up to meet somebody but the neighbors are coming out and the parents are saying to tell him not to play the music so loud and make sure he’s respectable. And you have girls and they just want to ride in the car and I guess be kind of low-key and peaceful and enjoy the ride, but you want to enjoy your music and ride out. I do that personally. I say it in the song, like, “It’s not my personality but something’s gotta speak it.” You know? It’s not, but it is my personality. If I’m going to be loud and obnoxious, I might not do it verbally but I’m going to do it through my car or through the music I’m putting out. That’s expression.
When do you know when you’re system’s just right versus too much?
The signs you can look for if your system is good or not is how crispy it is and if the speakers kind of just kick out at you. You can watch the speakers and see the kind of impact it’s getting. Some speakers might rattle or they might do a little too much vibrating but when you see a speaker just kind of punching out at you, that means it’s hitting right. You want the balance. You want the knock and be able to feel it in your chest but you want to hear everything crispy. You have to have the right 6 x 9’s and the right woofer. But I think the best way to tell is to play the song and feel it in your chest but you can still hear the words. It has to be a good balance.
Even in “See the Milq in my Chevy.” It’s funny but Rashad found a clip on YouTube and it was someone asking him the same question and he said, “We spend days and we spend weeks trying to figure out the right thing. We leave the studio, bring it back in the car, go back in the studio and bring it back to the car until we have that perfect sound.” That’s what we would do. We would record songs, take them out to the car, tweak them, go back to the car, tweak it some more and maybe add something. We did the same thing because it has to be right. It has to be perfect, especially if you’re going to call it trunk music.
What was it like working with Rashad?
I mean, it was great. It was our first time meeting each other and it was our first time getting together and flipping ideas and me and him both, I believe, especially me, I spend days and nights, just long hours, thinking of ideas and when I come up with any idea, it can be a sentence, a book, a clip from YouTube or a clip from a movie, anything that’s inspiring to me, I would just send it to him because he’s in Ohio and I’m in New York. I’ll tell him it’s something that touched me and I want to bring it into the project.
I’m also a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson and Hemingway and Jack Kerouac and all these great American writers. I would just read and read and read and they would inspire me about what is the American dream? That is incorporated into my project. It’s not as big because it’s not in the title but that’s why I have the flag on the cover and in “Tell Montez I Love Her” and “Sounds of Silence,” where I say, “I’m blasting out old tunes/Trying to match the music with my new views/Looking at the world different lately/I just want to take care of the lady that made me.” That’s part of my American dream, being able to retire my mother and take care of my mother. Even “Milq and Honey” is a part of my American dream. I had to leave and go to New York to be the artist that I wanted to be.
Certain things, I was able to touch on them with Rashad and be open with him and share these ideas with him and he just got it. And as far as recording, I flew there and out of my ideas, I would come to the studio and he would have beats done for me and all I would have to do is write the hook and write the verses to it. “She Hates the Bass” came to me as an idea because growing up, my girl hated my bass and she hated my car and how loud it was and how much attention it got. I was just giving him the idea and he said it sounds like “She Hates the Bass” and we did it. It was great. I worked with him one-on-one in his studio in Columbus. It took us about six weeks to write and record the whole project.
In Lincoln Way Nights you talk about how your hometown is very blue collar and that’s the music you want to make. That was refreshing to hear that.
That affects everything I do because that town shaped me into the man I am today and no matter where I am on this earth, I put it into the world what I learned there. It’s a blue collar town, hard-working, a lot of self-made individuals and a lot of family-owned businesses. They’re people who don’t cry or ask for much. They just get out there and do it, whether they’re working in the steel factory or laying down railroads. Nobody’s complaining. We have big high school sports and everybody supports everybody. We have car shows on Lincoln Way. That’s why it’s called Lincoln Way Nights. Every Friday night people load up their cars and just cruise. And then Saturdays, everybody’s lined up with old school muscle cars and it’s everybody out there. You’ll catch an 80 year-old guy out there with is Chevy and you’ll catch a 21 year-old with his Chevy and they’ll converse and it’s beautiful, man. That’s why I do the music that I do and that’s why I love putting on for my city and for every small city like that. People get confused. It’s not just New York or L.A. or Atlanta or Chicago. These small towns like mine are what make America run. I just try to let people know that and I also want to encourage people who come from similar areas or backgrounds like myself that you can be you and you do what you do and talk about what you’ve been through and still be successful.
There aren’t too many small town stories in hip-hop anymore.
Yeah. You know, for a minute people would introduce me as someone from Cleveland and when I would get on the stage, I would tell people that I know he just said I was from Cleveland but I’m from Massillon. I could have claimed Cleveland or Akron easily. Akron is right next door and that’s where Lebron is from and we have the same 330 area code. But it’s not like that. Where I’m from is very prideful. We put on for our city. My high school has 22 state championships and that’s the most in Ohio. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s about the work and the effort that you put in.
You’ve also been able to work with a lot of great producers, from Ski Beatz to J.Rawls and many more. How do you approach working with some of the best producers out right now?
I just learned that if you stay true and real to yourself then it’ll happen. I’m honored that those people would let me spew on a beat because they’ve made classics for people like Mos Def, Jay-Z, Lil’ Kim and Fat Joe. They’ve produced for a ton of people and for them to look at an artist like myself when I’ve only been doing music for a few years and they tell me that I’m next and they want to do tracks with me, I couldn’t ask for more. It’s been a blessing.
You also honed your skills before you started releasing music. Do you think that helped?
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s something that I’ve definitely focused on because I’m a fan first and I would never want to disrespect the culture. I would never want to disrespect hip-hop. I know when to be a fan and when to be an artist and some people don’t. Some people are such big fans and they want to be a part of the music so they rap. If you can’t rap, you can still be a part of the music if you go and try to be an A&R or a manager or work at a label. But me, I definitely just took time and made sure that it was something that I really wanted to do or I felt I could do and people took the time. People see my hard work too, from Ski to Dame to everybody like Mos Def. They all tell me I work hard and I got bars. They say I can really rap too. And I work hard. There’s skill behind it too.
How do you want to follow up Lincoln Way Nights?
Right now, I’m just kind of focusing on letting it grow. It’s got a lot of legs still. I’m going to ride it until the wheels fall off, literally. I’m going to keep doing as many visuals and videos for it as possible. I'm going to do as many visuals and as many shows because there’s still a lot of people that it hasn’t reached yet. There’s tons and tons of people that still need to hear this project so I’m just going to promote it and make sure I do as many shows and get in front of as many people as I can and just sort of spread the gospel, so to say. And at the same time I’m going to be working on new music and I think the videos will bring more life to the project. I’ll probably drop some songs here and there. I have some songs that didn’t make the project that I can release and I definitely want to bring attention back to the project because I don’t want to overshadow this. If I have to wait another year, I’ll do that but I feel there’s still a lot of people who need to hear this project, so there’s no rush. But the next one I put out is going to smash this one. Trust me.
Besides making dope music, you also do a lot of other things to keep your name out there. What are the other things you do?
I look at myself as a business and a brand and I try to align myself with brands that make sense so they can help me build my brand and they can help me build my brand. I’ve had people like Nike and ESPN reach out to me to do projects. I’ve done campaigns for Nike. I did a ten track theme music soundtrack for ESPN to use in their networks. And these people reach out to me. They see my brand and they feel it aligns with them. It’s clean, it’s blue collar and it’s hard work. It just makes sense. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to be into anything that makes sense with my brand. I’m into sneakers and sports and fashion and if a clothing brand is down for me to do something, I’ll do that. If Nike wants me to model their spring collection, I’ll do that because it keeps my name out and it keeps my face out and it reaches avenues that I couldn’t reach. By doing something for Nike or ESPN, now my music can reach the ears of execs who don’t care to check for music or check a blog. Every little step counts.
Download Lincoln Way Nights: http://mishkanyc.bandcamp.com/album/presents-stalley-lincoln-way-nights-intelligent-trunk-music
Stalley Homepage: www.stalley330.com
Stalley Twitter: www.twitter.com/Stalley
Stalley MySpace: www.myspace.com/madstalley
Stalley BandCamp: http://stalley330.bandcamp.com/
The Milq at Creative Control:
Stalley's Blog at HighSnobiety:
Stalley's Blog at Slam Online:
Stalley Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/stalleymusic