While he declares in the online commercial for his long-delayed debut album, My Soul To Keep, that “most of you have no clue who I am,” one of Brooklyn’s more respect emcees does in fact have many fans that know exactly who Sha Stimuli [click to read] is. A few years back the gifted emcee born Sherod Khaalis seemed to have many more eyes on him, that is until, as his provocative comment in the aforementioned commercial noted, “My career got halted by some unforeseen circumstances. What up Hov.”
“It wasn’t really Jay-Z’s [click to read] fault,” Sha recently revealed exclusively to HipHopDX when asked about his Hov “shoutout.” “It was just the circumstance. In essence I have to blame myself for what I went through.”
What Sha Stimuli has gone through for roughly the last six years has been a series of career struggles that have forced a superior spitter to become a self-proclaimed underdog fighting for shelf space amongst Hip Hop’s current crop of arguably less skilled, blog-hyped new jacks.
Beginning in 2003 with the release of his first mixtape, Let Me Show You The Way (and continuing with its ’04 follow-up mix, Follow My Lead), Sha’s furious flow garnered industry-wide acclaim (including a blazing-hot spotlight on the newcomer courtesy of The Source magazine’s then-coveted “Unsigned Hype” column), which led to a near deafening buzz level by 2005 when Sha unleashed his third standout mixtape, the CD/DVD combo Switch Sides, in anticipation of his Virgin Records debut full-length, Thee Emotion Picture.
But that album would never make it to market. Just as Sha and the staff at Virgin were gearing up for his album release, the newly appointed President of Def Jam Records, Jay-Z [click to read], reached out to Sha’s A&R at Virgin, Lenny Santiago, who was a former Roc-A-Fella staffer (and who many may know more recently as a co-host of the popular online show The Round Table on Rock Me TV). Jigga asked that Lenny leave his post at Virgin to reunite with Jay at Def Jam. Lenny obliged. Sha’s A&R subsequently pledged to bring his artist with him to the historic Hip Hop label. Sha then waited…and waited for his trade from the label equivalent of the Royals to a powerhouse on par with the Yankees. Unfortunately, that deal between Virgin and Def Jam never got done, leaving Sha in label limbo. And just as the lawyer who signed him to his Virgin deal along with other label staffers started giving Sha the cold shoulder for attempting to jump ship, the urban department at Virgin, headed at the time by Jermaine Dupri, was subsequently dismantled. By 2007 Sha was without a recording home and watching his buzz rapidly fade as XXL’s “Freshmen 10” and a whole new crop of Internet-driven artists bumped Sha from his once secure place atop Hip Hop’s hot up-and-comers list.
“I can’t really blame anybody else,” Sha reiterated regarding his career misfortunes. “People might say it’s my A&R’s fault, Lenny S. Or, Jay telling me one thing and then doing another.”
“I’m seeing Jay myself [at that time],” he continued. “And I think that’s where the ‘What up Hov’ comes from, because I saw him four to five times and we had conversation. So, that part of the game kinda scorned me a little bit, because he coulda easily told me, ‘Just do what you do over there [at Virgin],’ and that woulda been fine. I asked him, as a man, we was out at a club and I looked him in his eyes and I said, ‘Yo man, thanks for bringing me over [to Def Jam].’ He was like, ‘No doubt. You don’t fuck with Jermaine?’ I’m like, ‘Well I don’t really know Jermaine like that, but if you want me to stay over there I’ll stay.’ [He was like], ‘Nah! You good.’ And every other time I’d see him [after that] the story would just change. And I’m like this guy has the power to do whatever the hell he wants and I’m sitting here like a peasant asking for a handout when I had a record deal [already with Virgin]. Like, I was good! I achieved my childhood dream, I was going, and it got shaken up, and who can I blame but myself. Like, it ain’t nobody’s fault.”
Even though his former A&R either wasn’t willing or wasn’t able to honor his pledge to bring his talented spitter to Def Jam, Sha is still on good terms with Lenny S and insists that he blames no one but himself for his current standing in the game. However, apparent animosity towards Jay-Z seemed to surface in Sha’s summer buzz single “Follow The Leader” [click to listen]. Although in the introduction to his critique of industry insiders only joining in the “Death Of Auto-Tune” crusade once Jay-Z made it mainstream to do so Sha makes a point of noting that “This is not a diss record,” his subsequent acknowledgement of Jay’s persuasive power over the public was punctuated by what seemed to be a shot: “Dudes gave away they X5’s and throwbacks / Maybe they can stop the made a million off coke raps.”
“That wasn’t [aimed] directly at him,” said Sha when asked specifically about the aforementioned line. “That would be the people after him… I think what happens in Hip Hop is that people, they take something that somebody else does, and they see that it works so they run with it. So when Jay came with the ‘I’m not a rapper I’m a hustler’ thing everybody [followed] that… And what it did was it spawned a whole generation of these rappers that were proclaiming themselves as drug dealers that got money off of the [drug] game and they don’t need Rap music. So it kind of took the wonderment out of the lyricism. Like now these people are saying I don’t have to be nice to rap I just have to be paid… And, I took it a step further [on ‘Follow The Leader’] and said let’s get rid of the N-word as well [in addition to Auto-Tune]. Why not do that? Why not make a change for something that’s gonna help our people? I was watching Jay’s interview on Oprah, and now he’s saying to keep the N-word, and we just took the power out of it. So now I’m like, ‘Damn, people are really gonna think I’m obsessed with this guy.’ [Laughs]”
“You know, what can I do,” he continued. “I used to intern at Roc-A-Fella. I watched the rise of that company. I was always around. It’s not that much of a bad thing to be inspired – I dunno.”
The former Roc-A-Fella intern is clearly still inspired by the sound that drove the Roc to prominence, as can be heard via “Move Back.”
The jump-off joint from My Soul To Keep featuring former Roc star Freeway and produced by longtime label go-to-guy Just Blaze came about originally as a result of Just contributing some tracks for Sha’s Virgin project. Sha decided to dust one off and use the still very fresh-sounding production for his first single.
“The album is…it has some depth,” said Sha of his first formal collection of songs and the pain that is audible in his voice throughout the album. “[The track for ‘Move Back’] I felt was one that I could use to pretty much continue [in the same vein for] the people that liked the ‘Follow The Leader,’ that hard feel, that street feel. And I wanted to get somebody on it that I respect a lot. And me and Free go way back…”
With rhymes light on today’s requisite pointless punchlines but heavy on heartfelt personal documentations of his career challenges and daily struggles in life and love, Sha has done the seemingly impossible in this era of Hip Hop and crafted a collection that is mature without alienating the culture’s perpetual 21-and-under core.
His grown-man style shines maybe most bright on the string-laden storytelling track about a tragically lost love, “Good Day.” Sha also shows his appreciation as a grown-man for his grown-women on the radio smash-in-the-waiting “My Girl” (a track on-par with the stellar selections from Sha’s nearly flawless female-dedicated Love Jones mixtape from last year).
With a title like My Soul To Keep it’s not surprising that Sha’s debut album boasts mostly soul-powered soundscapes (including the break from the album’s heavier topics via the Phoebe from Friends inspired lament on some female’s hygiene, “The Smelly Cat Song”). That Soul music is heard when Sha gets spiritual (on the organ-driven dissection of organized religion, “I Believe”), laments the struggles of the nine-to-five grind (the saxophone blessed “Do It For The Doe”), addresses an absentee father, the stigma assigned to those who choose to not get involved in illicit activities, and many other topics that aren’t normally found on a 2009 Rap release.
But Sha revealed to DX that he may have some regrets about not including any “I’m-the-shit” songs on his debut offering.
“That was my biggest issue [in putting this album together], because I know people are used to that,” he said. “And I was kinda worried, but then I figured like, ‘It’s called My Soul To Keep, maybe people will understand that when you pick it up that I’m kinda over me telling you I’m the dopest rapper ever’… However, I did so much mixtapes [with] braggadocious raps and freestyles like, if you don’t get it then a song about it [on the album] ain’t gon’ really change much.”
After his unprecedented unleashing of 12 mixtapes in the 12 months of 2008 (released in conjunction with DJ Victorious), no one should be questioning Sha Stimuli’s skills on the mic. And at this point in his career Sha shouldn’t have to discuss his previous interactions with Jay-Z just to get attention to his consistently impressive music.
“It’s just dumb, man. I don’t even know why I do it,” said Sha of his mentions in previous interviews of the affect Jay-Z had on his career, in addition to his current eyebrow-raising “shoutout” to Hov. “You know what it is? It’s a mixture of people telling me, ‘Yo, you need to tell the story,’ and me believing that at the second that I say stuff. But then I’m like, ‘You know what, people don’t really care.’ You know what it is? It’s so much that goes on around about stuff that has nothing to do with music, so you get caught into it thinking like, ‘If I tell people everything outside of the music and me being nice, like maybe that might generate some type of buzz about what’s going on [with me].’ But, it’s senseless.”
My Soul To Keep is in stores and online now from ChamberMusik/E1 Entertainment.