Rising Rapper Stalley Talks About His 'Loner, Stoner' Past and Collaborating With De La Soul on His Debut Album, 'Ohio'

Jonathan Mannion

It hasn't been an easy year to put out a rap album on a major label: Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne, for example, keep pushing back their due dates. But the rapper Stalley recently released his major-label debut album, Ohio, through Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group imprint. (Ross shows up on Ohio's third single, "One More Shot.") Stalley talked with Billboard about his evolution from mixtapes and collaborating with hip-hop pioneers De La Soul and rising R&B stars like Ty Dolla $ign.

How does it feel to have the album out? It's been a tough year for rap albums.

Man, it feels great. I can't explain it. It's my debut album, it's just good to have it out here, to give it to the world. The response has been amazing -- a lot of people are loving it, and I couldn't be more happy now. This has been an amazing week for me. It was my birthday, and then with the album coming out its been like that little cherry on top.

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You've put out a bunch of mixtapes before this. Does your mindset change when you're working on an album versus a mixtape?

A little bit. I think you want to get a little bit more personal. And you want everything to increase as far as sound, as far as concepts, lyrics -- I think it's about taking everything up like ten notches. You want to just develop on the sound you already developed, show the progression and the growth throughout the year.

When did the first songs start coming together for the album?

It started to come together around January of this year. At the top of the year I really started to dig into the music and start writing this album. I was writing and writing and writing. I probably had two albums' worth of material before I even came to the 12 I had on the debut. It was about writing and figuring things out and developing that sound.

What do you look for when you're picking beats?

I just look for something that fits my story. I have my own sound that I title "Intelligent Trunk Music," because it’s a mixture of that low end and that bass, but it's also very musical -- and very funk- and soul-driven, being that I'm from Ohio. This is a sound that I developed back in 2011 with my mixtape Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music). I wanted to increase and progress from that initial sound. I listened to everything growing up -- from Nas to Bruce Springsteen to Scarface to John Mayer to Stevie Ray Vaughn to NWA. I try to put all the elements of music that I like -- whether it's funk, country, pop, jazz, rock, soul -- into my music. The horns -- those trumpets and tubas and all that brass you that you hear -- that's a staple for the Stalley sound.

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What's the inspiration for "System on Loud"?

I had the beat -- I have a producer that's under my label, his name is Black Diamond. He produced it and sent it to me. I remember just listening to it in the studio and I was just kind of zoned out. I'm like, "Man, what do I do? I have to use this beat." I just kind of zoned out, and it gave me that feeling of when I was one of those loner, stoner kids, and you just kind of want to be alone and not be judged and vibe out a little bit. I actually kind of blacked out, went into the booth, turned out the lights, and told the engineer just to play the beat over and over again. I kept hearing that, "boom boom bang bang system on loud." And then I just freestyled melodies and lyrics all through it.

How did the De La Soul track, "Navajo Rugs," come together?

Just being a fan of De La Soul -- Stakes Is High is one of my favorite albums of all time -- I actually had the privilege of doing a show with them over in the Czech Republic. We did a festival together. When I got off stage, Posdnuos stopped me and he was like, "Keep on carrying the tradition." After that, we bumped into each other again at SXSW. That was around the time I was working on my album. I ran into them backstage -- they were actually about to go on with Gorillaz at the Fader Fort. We were talking and I was like, "Man, I'm working on the album right now." He was like, "Send me something if you want us to get on something." "Navajo Rugs" was the perfect record for them to jump on. That to me is like a classic hip-hop record. You don't hear much of that these days in 2014. I just really wanted one of those posse cut type of tracks where everybody's just displaying their lyricism.

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Were you always planning to collaborate with Ty Dolla $ign?

I actually did the record and it was complete and I just heard him on it. And I was like, "Man, who can I get to sing this hook and make it complete?" And the first person that popped in my mind was Ty -- just with his history and his father [Tyrone Griffin, who played in the funk band Lakeside] and him having the L.A. roots and all that. He's a friend of mine, so I just shot him the record and was like, "Man, would you get on this thing?" He heard it. Right away he hit me back, he was like, "Boy, this is crazy! I'm about to do this right now. Thank you for sending this joint!" And he killed it. Like, killed it. I was like, "Man, this is even better than I expected."

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of Billboard.