Numerous trailblazers call Ohio home. The state boasts a musical lineage that includes artists as diverse as The O’Jays, Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, Heatwave, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and Kid Cudi, most recently. Hailing from the tiny Ohio town of Massillon, Stalley proudly upholds that tradition of artistic innovation on his aptly titled full-length debut, Ohio. [Maybach Music Group/Atlantic Records.
Growing up in a city of 30,000, the rapper gravitated towards music at a very young age, immersing himself in multiple genres. His grandmother would clean the house to country songs playing on Massillon’s sole radio station, while he would spin everything from Nas and Outkast to Bruce Springsteen and Travis Tritt in his bedroom. As a result of those diverse influences, he developed an inimitable style.
“It’s Intelligent Trunk Music,” he proclaims. “It’s got those big hooks and sounds that you can vibe to, but it’s also very conceptual and lyrical. You can enjoy it in the car, in the club, or in your headphones. At the same time, I wanted to tell you a story and show you my life.”
Stalley began independently releasing mixtapes in 2008 with Goin’ Ape and its 2009 follow-up MadStalley: The Autobiography, but his breakout tape was Lincoln Way Nights. From there, he personally touched down at hot spots all over the world including the 2010 Iron Mic Competition in Beijing, serving as a featured MC. BET named him a Music Matters artist, while his videos hit rotation on MTV Jams and106&Park. As buzz grew, Rick Ross personally reached out, inviting him to join the [Maybach Music Group/Atlantic Records].
“Ross had been watching me the whole time,” he recalls. “He saw me putting in work throughout the mixtape and online circuits. He told me he wanted me to be a part of the team. It’s been incredible working with him. Ross always says, ‘Believe in yourself and no one or nothing can stop you. Be who you are.’ That means a lot to me.”
Embracing his own individuality, Stalley made show-stopping turns on all three installments of Maybach Music Group’s chart-dominating Self Made compilation series. Moreover, his 2013 Honest Cowboy mixtape earned a nomination for “Best Mixtape” at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards, while garnering a coveted “XL” rating fromXXL and countless other enthusiastic reviews. However, in January 2014, he holed up in Rick Ross’s Atlanta home and began work on what would become Ohio. The album’s title speaks to the vision he aimed to achieve.
“Everything we do in Ohio is original from the funk to the soul in the area. I want to do the same thing with hip-hop. The goal was to create something you couldn’t hear anywhere else.”
That’s precisely what he does on the album’s buzz record “Jackin’ Chevys.” Produced by Rashad, Stalley struts through a rhythmic beat punctuated by chanting and samples, while delivering a cinematic narrative with his smooth flow. Its unforgettable video first premiered on Spin in September 2014 and instantly turned heads.
“It references the passion we have in Ohio for muscle cars and that car culture in general,” he goes on. “It’s a metaphor though, and it’s not meant to be taken literally. It just shows our passion is so strong we’re liable to do anything for these cars!”
“One More Shot” [featuring Rick Ross and August Alsina] goes straight to the club with its irresistible hook from August Alsina and muscular rhymes courtesy of both Stalley and the Maybach Music Group C.E.O.
“I was actually in Miami, and I got in the studio with DJ Khaled,” he explains. “He played me this beat from 1985, and I wrote to it immediately. It was a great record for a collaboration to happen on. It’s one for the ladies. It shows a different and fun side of me.” At the same time, he gets real on the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted “Always Into Something.” It’s where his narrative honesty truly shines brightly.
“That’s how I observed life growing up,” Stalley admits. “The homies would be out on the block posted up whether they were just hustling or hanging. They’d school the youth and try to keep them out of trouble. It deals with the loss and everything that would pop up in our neighborhood. We were always going to get into something.”
Ultimately, what Stalley’s getting into now is the big leagues. He’s going to do his hometown proud with Ohio.
“I’m trying to paint a picture,” he leaves off. “I want to give them more than songs. I want to give them a lifestyle. I want to give those dreamers out there the ability to feel like they can make it out of wherever they’re from because I did.”