Mint Condition's Stokley Talks Prince, Touring With The Revolution & Taking His Career to the Next 'Level'

Margaux Rodrigues
Stokley

Between crisscrossing the country on tour with Prince’s The Revolution, Stokley released his first solo album, Introducing Stokley. So who is Stokley?

For the uninitiated, Stokley (full name: Stokley Williams) is the lead singer for another equally long-running R&B band from Prince’s Twin Cities stomping ground: Mint Condition. Having fronted such '‘90s hits as “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes),” “What Kind of Man Would I Be” and “U Send Me Swingin’,” as well as the more recent “Not My Daddy” featuring Kelly Price, Stokley is now savoring his own first top five single with “Level.” His midtempo tribute to a significant other rises No. 5 to 4 on Billboard’s Adult R&B tally for the week of July 22.

Watch the "Level" video below:

“Level” is among the 15 tracks featured on Introducing Stokely. A further evolution of Mint Condition’s multi-genre versatility, the album’s progressive take on R&B/soul is aided by special guests Robert Glasper (“Art in Motion”), Estelle (“U & I”), Wale (“Way Up”) and Omi (“Wheels Up”).

“I don’t like doing the obvious,” he tells Billboard. “But I also don’t want to be too contrived. … Just enough to where it speaks to me artistically.”

He also makes clear that his solo outing doesn’t mean Mint Condition is finished. “We’re still rocking together,” says the Grammy-nominated artist. “We’re just all doing our own different projects right now.”

For Stokely, that also includes his current tour with the reunited Revolution. Although Mint Condition played with Prince during the latter’s 2010 Welcome 2 America tour, Stokley describes this particular experience as both “cool and surreal.”

“Onstage, I’ve had flashes of the first time I viewed Purple Rain as a teenager. and it’s like. wow," he says. "This is the music; these are the guys. There have been several tribute bands, but this is the one. For the audience, it’s their first time getting the chance to see The Revolution and say an official goodbye. So it’s healing and a celebration.”

After wrapping a two-night stand in San Francisco on Wednesday evening (July 12), The Revolution will play July dates in Reno, Seattle and Minneapolis before returning to Los Angeles (Sept. 4). And in between, starting July 28 in Houston, Stokley will perform solo dates in Dallas, Chicago and other markets through September. Below are more Stokley interview highlight, as he chats about...

Going solo: It was just a natural progression. I didn’t want to do the obvious early in my career. There were a million freaking solo artists out then, but not many bands. Mint Condition is something very special that needed to happen first. We’ve defied so many odds over the last 25-30 years. Now I want to dive into other areas of my life musically. It was also an opportunity to collaborate with more people. As I’ve told others, I get tired sometimes of my own voice literally and sometimes as a producer. It’s always good to tap into different energy.

Working for the first time with production duo Carvin & Ivan (Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, Ledisi): They remind me of a younger Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis [who initially signed Mint Condition to their Perspective label] of the East Coast. They’re very musical with very thought- provoking lyrics.

Revealing more of himself musically: There are a lot of nuances that I wanted to expand on. I grew up playing West Indian music, soca and reggae. There are also traces of hip-hop, jazz and syncopated rhythms. This isn’t something where I went vocally crazy because I feel like people have already gotten that from me. I wanted this to be a good representation of songwriting, and production … the many different facets of who I am. It’s like a world view of me.

Why “Level” is resonating: It’s a feel-good, sunshiny song, one of those things where when the music hits you, it’s the truth. The message is universal enough: We’re only as strong as each other. It sounds corny, but that’s what it is. Simply truthful.

Being indie for 12 years before it was fashionable: It’s kind of the wild west out there now. Everybody is trying to figure out what’s going on, including the record companies. They don’t really know where the business is because it’s a moving target. You can’t really pin it down. The best thing one can do is develop your own little corner store as best you can, get your fans, and have them follow wherever you may go.

His favorite memories of Prince: Prince loved what Mint Condition does. He and I had conversations about the future of the band and my future as a solo artist. I’ll miss those chats as well as the random times when he’d come down to a club I was playing at when Mint Condition wasn’t on the road. I’d be playing drums and he’s throwing $100 bills at my head. And I’m like, “What the hell is he doing?” [Laughs]