Today is the day Stalley has been dreaming of since he was a kid… the day his first album is released. The MMG signed emcee brings us Ohio, an experience packaged as an album, which allows listeners to delve into Stalley’s story. From his beginnings as a 14 year old hanging out with the hardened 25 year old men that would help shape his views on character and responsibility, to the hard working middle American grass roots culture he was raised by, Stalley opens the doors to his past and allows his fans to take a ride down memory lane with him. A mixture of club bangers and introspective, signature Stalley tracks, Ohio will make you feel like you’ve been riding with Stalley all along, through the highs and the lows of his life.
In the midst of a busy day of press, Stalley paused to chat with for HipHopDX via phone, satisfying our curiosities regarding his debut album. Answering the phone with a bit of Mid-western hospitality, Stalley shows little signs of being stressed, overwhelmed, or nervous. He’s excited to have birthed a creative project and to share it with the world. There’s little doubt, Stalley packed a lifetime in to Ohio but the question is, can he make people care about box Chevy’s and Lebron town enough to catapult him into the company he hopes to belong?
Stalley Reveals Who “Ohio” Is For & What Ohio Means To Him
HipHopDX: Your debut album Ohio dropped today. You’ve said with this, you plan on putting Ohio on the charts. You’ve also said this album is a full story, the story of you, where you’re from, and the Ohio sound, What do you hope people take away from listening?
Stalley: I think that people will take away that experience of, you know, Ohio isn’t a destination that most travel to, or even want to travel to. But we definitely have a lot culture, especially when it comes to music, and I just wanted to give that history, that sound, and I wanted them to know that we’re originators of a lot, a lot of sounds that have influenced Hip Hop, and I really wanted to incorporate that into my personal sound and give that to the world. And I definitely want people to take away knowing a little bit more about me as a man, as an artist, what I represent, what I stand for, and just what I bring to Hip Hop. What I bring to Hip Hop is that hard work ethic that was instilled in my being raised in a blue-collar town, and an original and great story. My life is a great story and I feel like people can take a lot from it and be inspired by it.
DX: You’ve created a sub-group under the label (MMG) called BCG or Blue Collar Gang, what does that mean to you?
Stalley: I come from a small town. Ohio is very blue collar, its very family oriented, a lot of mom and pop businesses starting out of there, very enriched in tradition when it comes to high school sports, and just that whole community type of vibe. That’s what I bring with Blue Collar Gang. I bring opportunities for like minded artists and people who represent the same ideas that I do, and want to carry on that tradition of Hip Hop and just have a voice, really, because so many people don’t the opportunity to have a voice on a large scale, or really even know how to do it when you come from a place that’s a hot bed for music. So that’s what Blue Collar Gang is and represents and what I’m trying to accomplish with it.
DX: So it sounds like you’re really putting an emphasis on your story, being a salt-of-the-earth American who began to rap and built their voice?
Stalley: Yeah! It’s for the everyday man or woman. There’re so many everyday men and women… and I guess in, you know, urban music we glorify all of the glamour and glitz and forget about the ones that are working to make ends meet with limited resources, who are doing what they need to do to get by. I really just want to highlight them and share their stories with the world because I feel like it’s just as important as the glamour and the glitz.
DX: Speaking of the everyday person, there’s a line in “System On Loud” where you say, “I don’t wanna be judged, I just wanna live / Just for the genius loners and all my stoner kids who wanna smoke and ride props behind dark tints.” What does that line mean to you?
Stalley: Man, that line is everything. I get chills just hearing you say it. That line is one of the most important lines on the album because I feel like it represents me, those who came before me, and those to come.
Everybody is so judgmental these days, and it’s like, “Yo, we want to just listen to our music, we wanna chill and be ourselves, be artistic, and not be judged for being that way.” Not be judged for being different, having different ideas, or going through different experiences. There are so many of those kids who are loners, or true geniuses and they get talked about and put down for being that way. Sometimes they lose themselves trying to fit in and be cool because they don’t feel comfortable being themselves. So that’s what that’s really about. I was always the oddball out of the family, out of the group. It’s just me. I was naturally just being myself and naturally liking what I liked, and you know, sometimes you get blasted for that.
Stalley Explains Why He’s Got “Greatness” On His Mind
DX: Last November, you favorited your first tweet. It was one of your own and read, “I got greatness on my mind”. Today, as you drop your album, what’s on your mind?
Stalley: Still that. One thing that I want to do is I want to be great and looked at as someone who put out positive energy and great things for the world and helped many, I want to become a household name. I hope that the music reaches millions, or many, and that it inspires and it keeps growing and growing.
DX: You also tweeted, “The understanding of your purpose will help you to achieve success.” Do you feel like you’ve found your purpose?
Stalley: Yeah. I do. I do. And that’s why I said that… that’s why I tweeted that. I feel like I finally did really find my purpose and found my voice and got comfortable with who I am and what I represent. I’m a great storyteller… I paint pictures… and I think that’s one of my many attributes that helped me realize my calling so to speak. I’m not here to dance and do crazy things. I’m just here to be me and to get my point across, tell my story, and tell other stories too. I think that one Ohio line gave, I mean I gave, a lot of the history of how I saw Ohio growing up. I was one of those kids who was 14 hanging around 24, 25 year olds, so I was given a lot of game and I was just trying to put that out in the album as well.
DX: To educate the masses?
Stalley: Exactly. Exactly.
DX: If you had to sum up what your purpose is in one sentence, what would you say?
Stalley: I would say… to make music for the loner and the stoner kid and to inspire, you know, those who are doubtful.
DX: Respect. You said “I put pressure on myself to make sure my debut album is everything I dreamed it would be. Since a kid I’ve been wanting this moment to come. I don’t get that back”. Today is the day you’ve been dreaming of since you were a kid?
Stalley: [Laughs] Yes!
DX: Is it everything you dreamed of?
Stalley: Yeah… it’s surreal! I haven’t really got to sit and really, really, soak it in and take it in because I’ve been 100 miles and runnin’, always into something [laughs]. It’s crazy. But nah, it’s everything I’ve dreamed of. It’s beautiful to see the response from the fans and people who have supported me, and even people who were curious about Stalley, or who may not have known much about Stalley, or even those who may not have liked my music. I see so many people now supporting, you know, the fans of the music and the movement. And it’s just a beautiful thing. It’s everything you would want your first album to do, and that’s to impress and to exceed expectations, and so far it’s been doing that.
DX: You’re perceived as the most introspective or spiritual member of MMG. Do you feel like that’s put you in a box?
Stalley: Yeah, I mean it has, but that comes with the territory… that comes with being an artist. Everybody wants to put you in a box or put a label on you because that’s how we categorize things, as a people. So… it doesn’t bother me, but it just shows that I have to continue to show people that there’s more than what meets the eye than what people perceive me to be. And I think I do a good job. I think I always surprise people, you know, with every project, with every song, I feel like there’s progression, I feel like I can show the world those different abilities.
DX: When you were making Ohio did you feel pressure to stay in that box, or did you feel pressure to get out of that?
Stalley: One thing I wanted to do when I was making Ohio, I was like, I’m not gunna be nothing but myself on this. I’m not gunna try to write the craziest bars, I’m not going to try to pick the most commercialized beats, or whatever. I was just like, I’m just going to be me, tell my story, and give you a vibe and a feel that you’ve never had before. I wanted you to get an experience that you’ve never received once you’ve listened to a debut album or any album for that fact. And I think that’s what really relaxed me throughout the whole project, too. I was like, you know what? I’m going to give you me, I’m going to give you Ohio. At least how I see Ohio… Not everybody sees it the same way as me. How I see it, how I hear it, how I grew up on it, how I lived it. That’s what you get on this album.
Stalley Talks Streaming Culture, The Future Of Music & Polish Boys
DX: You chose to release your album via streaming before you dropped it. What do you see as the benefit of doing that?
Stalley: I was confident in the music and I really wanted people to get a sneak peak of it. Even though, like I said, some people may have been on the fence, I’ve seen people be like man, “I’m buying this!” And, you know, you wanna limit piracy. It’s kinda inevitable today so you might as well just be like here, Imma share this with you. I hoped that they’d take it, listen to it, feel good about it, and purchase it.
DX: You’ve given a lot of work away for free and this is your first project your fans have to buy if they want to hear it. Were you afraid you had spoiled your fans before you put Ohio out?
Stalley: Yeah… that was one of the things that I did worry a little bit about. You know, how to, I guess, keep up with that. I didn’t want to make them feel obligated to support it, but I think once you have a fan base like mine where they want to feel like they’re a part of it and actually help the cause, I think they don’t feel obligated, but feel like, you know what? This guy has been giving us quality for years, and they just really wanted to support it.
DX: So you’re saying you just really had faith in your fan base?
Stalley: Yeah, exactly. That’s what it was. I really did. From day one.
DX: Speaking of album sales, no albums have gone platinum this year… Do you think we’re in a post platinum album era?
Stalley: Yeah, unfortunately. I feel like it’s leaning towards the streaming. The streaming like with Pandora, Spotify, stuff like that. You know, I was telling family and friends recently about that and I was like you know, music and stuff like that will eventually be like cable. Where you subscribe to a service, almost like cable, and that’s how you get your music. Like a Netflix almost. That’s just how I see it.
DX: So you took that vision of how you think things will be in the future, and decided you’d stream Ohio?
Stalley: Absolutely. And I hoped they would purchase it. Music is just so assessable. I wanted to make it that way for my fans.
DX: Ok, switching gears. I’m curious about a few things. At the very beginning of the “Always Into Something” video with Ty Dolla Sign, you show a sandwich with fries on it smothered in gravy. I was really into it. What is that? Is that an Ohio staple?
Stalley: That was a Polish Boy.
DX: A Polish Boy?
Stalley: Yeah, Cleveland, Ohio is famous for Polish Boys, which are Italian sausages, covered in fries and gravy. So that’s what you see in the video. Also, corned beef sandwiches are big in Cleveland too.
DX: Your birthday is the 30th. What are you doing to celebrate?
Stalley: I’m going to watch the Cavs home opener against the Knicks, so I’ll be at that. I’ll be in Ohio. Then after that I’ll be at a club having a birthday party. So I’ll be in Ohio, I get to celebrate my birthday in Ohio this
DX: We’re genuinely excited for you, Stalley!
Stalley: I appreciate it! Tell the world! Play Ohio loud! Don’t get a speeding ticket though.