Stalley Talks New EP 'Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil,' Departure From Rick Ross' MMG Imprint & Why This Is His 'MVP Year'
"Freedom!" Stalley exclaimed on a frigid day at Billboard's New York offices. Despite the city's blistering cold temperatures, the Ohio MC is now sheltered by the warm thoughts of liberation after he was held captive by Atlantic Records over the last several years.
Despite being touted as a precocious lyricist on Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group imprint, Stalley failed to maximize on his ceiling while at the label. In 2014, he dropped his adroit debut album, Ohio, but due to minimal promotion, suffered lackluster sales and debuted at No. 35 on the Billboard 200. Hungry to remove the stain of being labeled a bust, Stalley detached himself from MMG and Atlantic Records to test the waters on the independent circuit.
With a cleansed mind and spirit, and a new address -- Stalley now resides in Atlanta -- the "One More Shot" star is back with his first EP of 2017 titled, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. With his steely bars bruising the EP's trap-laden beats, Stalley's swagger gleams throughout the seven-track offering.
"It's aggressive," he tells Billboard. "It's very confident, but it's also informative of what's been happening the last few months and over the year from being on Atlantic to now, [and] from me being a signed artist to an independent artist and having my own label Blue Collared Gang."
As the year winds down, Stalley is laying out his blueprint to conquer 2018, with his label Blue Collared Gang getting his back. He sat down with Billboard to speak about his departure from MMG and Atlantic Records, his new EP Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, his thoughts on Meek Mill's jail sentence, and why this chapter of his life is his "James Harden run."
Billboard: What happened, man? It seemed as if you and Ross had a great relationship at Maybach Music Group. Why did you leave?
Stalley: It's still there. There's no love lost, but you know, as a man, [it was just about] separating myself and wanting to go in my own path. You know, I tell people, everybody thinks that MMG was a boy band. Like we were *NSYNC or something. But I was a solo artist before that and I had a vision before that. I felt like I brought a vision over there with an opportunity that was great for me, but my vision wasn't able to get all the way through. In order for me to be great and to provide for my fanbase like I want to, I have to step out and do it myself.
I thought Ohio was a great album. Do you think that the album didn't get the push that it deserved?
It didn't. I mean, the only push it got was through social media. I got some tweets and some Instagram posts from Ross and that was really it.
What more were you looking for?
I felt like I had some radio records on there.
Like the "One More Shot" record with August Alsina and Ross.
Yeah, I felt like that was a great record. I felt like there wasn't being a budget allowed for videos, and they just didn't set me up to be able to win in that situation. I still did a great job. I still did decent numbers. I had Nipsey [Hussle] on there, I had Ross on there, the production was amazing. That was a frustrating moment for me too, being a brand new artist and for my debut album, all we're going to do is a social media push? It was like a smack in the face.
What was the conversation with Ross like when you decided that you wanted to part ways with MMG?
At first, I felt like there was a little bit of tension, then I think there was some understanding to it. I'm strong-willed, I'm strong-minded and I always have been, and he knows that. It's like, me doing me is natural. So, I feel like he's looking like, "Well, I see that," because when I'm moving within a unit, I'm still moving as a solo artist. I'm still representing Stalley and the brand of BCG. It's been that way before [MMG] and it's going to be that until the end. I feel like he knows, respects it and honors that. Because why wouldn't he?
He's someone who kind of did the same thing from Slip-N-Slide to now, if you look at his history and what he built with his empire at MMG. I just want to be able to take total control of what I got going on, and I always want to be responsible for anything good or bad, wins or failure, so I can sit back and say, 'That was all me.'
Do you feel like there was a sense of favoritism at MMG considering you had Wale and Meek also on the same label with you?
I don't know if I'd say so much from Ross, but I would say from Atlantic.
As far as priority?
Yup. You definitely wasn't going to get the same push or recognition. There's some things that you might ask for that somebody else might ask for and get or vice versa, but yeah definitely.
Talk about this creative freedom you have now. You have three EPs, you plan to drop with the first one already out. What made you go that route?
Like you said, I've been away for a bit, but I haven't been away. I've been traveling, I've been doing shows and I've just buried myself in the studio. I got so much music and I've been putting so much heart and soul into everything that I've been doing thus far in this whole process. I just wanted to update the fans on what I've been doing, and what I got going on. I have so much music that I had to break it up into three parts because I really want people to sit with certain records and really feel and understand the story.
I didn't wanna just pack it all in one and you might miss something. There's steps, there's stages to it. Phase one, there's a lot of aggression and there's a lot of me getting things off my chest.
You moved to Atlanta awhile ago. How has that city influenced you musically, especially since you linked up with Migos for "My Line?"
One big thing that I took from it was production.
You're rapping over trap beats?
[Laughs] A little bit. I wouldn't call it trap, though. I would say that it's an elevation almost an extension of what I already had going on. I guess for a big record, so to say is more understood in Atlanta. They have some of the best producers, some of the greatest engineers out there. Another thing that I got was not writing. Just going into the booth and just freestyling.
It's a different type of freedom. It's comfortable. Now I'm a songwriter. Everybody knows I can rap, everybody knows I have my lyrics, but now it's about putting together songs and making you feel what I'm doing. I think it's been easier for me not writing with a pen and pad.
How did you make sure that the new sound you discovered in Atlanta didn't drown out your signature sound? Because you do have a cult fan-base.
I think just being me and always sticking to my guns. I feel like just naturally, whether I write it pen or pad or just freestyle, there's going to be content. There's going to be lyrics. That's just who I am. I'm someone who's a deep thinker. I'm someone who's aware of socially issues and what's going on in the world. You're always going to have that commentary in the music naturally. So I think that's what keeps me me. I don't think the production will ever drown me out or turn me into a different artist.
I think it will amplify and give you a different feeling. That's what I also want the fans to understand. When they hear the project, the natural [reaction] might be, "Oh Stalley wildin'," because it isn't the soul samples, it isn't the boom-bap. But when you listen, the content is still the same.
How did the "My Line" record with you and Migos come about?
My homie Reecey. She's down in Atlanta. She was running around with them, and she was like, "Man. You guys would be dope [together] on a record." So, she brought them to the studio and when they came, I had a record in mind, which was the record we did. They all were like, "Let's do it!" They're some hard-working, tedious, meticulous dudes. They get in and get out. I loved it because that energy was just so natural. I think you hear it on the record. When people first see Stalley and Migos, they might be like, "Nah, that's crazy," but when you hear it, it's a [different story].
What's your thoughts on Meek's sentencing?
It's sad, it's unfortunate and it's unjust. It's just a terrible situation for a man to be on probation for 11 years and you did something at 18? You was a child. You were 18 and you're still being picked on about it. That just shows what's going on in our communities. I see so many of my friends and so many people that look like me, black and brown people who get caught up in the judicial system and in probation. [The system] is just trying to keep a line on you. They're trying to tame you in a sense.
It's a sad situation, but I know he's strong. I know that there's a lot of people behind him. The hip-hop community spoken, the rally was amazing, and I just hope that our voices are heard and that something happens so that not only for him, but for other people in his situation get a better chance at life after a mistake.
I know you're a basketball guy, so if you could give us your NBA comparison, who would it be and why?
I'd say James Harden -- and it's not even because of the beard situation. I'll break it down like this. If MMG was OKC, and Ross is KD [Kevin Durant], Meek is Russ [Russell Westbrook], and Wale is [Serge Ibaka], that's the starting five. Then you have someone like James Harden, who was coming off the bench. We knew he was a star and won Sixth Man of the Year. That's the comparison for me because I feel like it's my MVP year. It's time to put in big numbers.
He averaged 26 points a game for Houston right out the gate.
Off top. And this is what we're doing with Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. This is going to be my James Harden run.