Nas is making his claim as one of the hottest, rising music executives in the business with his label Mass Appeal Records. The imprint has drafted a strong list of MCs who are carrying Nas’ legacy of sharp lyrics and vivid storytelling. Fresh off signing Atlanta-bred MC Cantrell, Mass Appeal has added another promising wordsmith to the team. With a new deal stamped on his résumé, Stro is making his reintroduction into hip-hop with his Mass Appeal debut Nice 2 Meet You, Again.
The eight-track EP is a representation of Stro entering a new chapter in his life. “Nice 2 Meet You, Again represents a new me and a new beginning,” Stro tells Billboard. “There was a lot of ups and downs creating this project, but through the grace of God I’m able to say I got it done.”
If you’re unfamiliar with the Brooklyn MC, Stro first garnered attention as a 14-year-old contestant on the American edition of The X Factor. After being eliminated from the show, Stro released a bevy of singles and dropped several projects, including his 2017 album, Grade A Frequencies. Beyond the tireless work ethic with his music, Stro took a step into the acting realm as he appeared in the films Earth to Echo and A Walk Among the Tombstones, and the Fox TV series Red Band Society.
After gaining notoriety in the roles he’s played on TV and film, music is Stro’s sole focus moving forward. “I felt like I had a responsibility to make the best music that I could possibly make,” says Stro. With Nice 2 Meet You, Again, Stro is bringing his day one fans and a wave of new listeners from his Mass Appeal signing into a world that blends the essence of ’90s hip-hop with the fiery spirit that’s found in so many of the younger members of the beloved culture.
Stro sat with Billboard as he spoke about the new deal with Mass Appeal, meeting Nas, his journey from The X Factor to Mass Appeal, the meaning behind Nice 2 Meet You, Again, and the transition he made from music to acting. Check it out below.
How did the deal with Mass Appeal come together?
It was funny because I was working on a lot of music at the time. I didn’t have management or anything so I was really on my indy grind. I played my music for a lot of different people whose opinion I trust and just finding out what they think about the music. I played it for one of my homies who then played it for this dude named Ali. Ali knew Peter who’s the big dog and one of the owners at Mass Appeal. Peter was rocking with the music and ever since then I kept going to the office and just building with the staff. We’re just catching the vibe and we all just felt like it would be a dope decision to add me to the team.
What’s it like to be a part of a label like Mass Appeal?
Being a part of them is fire just because they’re so authentic. One thing about labels, or any corporate structure in New York, you go into the office and it feels real siddity and real Hollywood. That’s the business and I expect that but sometimes it could throw off the vibe. With Mass Appeal, just being in that office, you can tell those people genuinely enjoy their job. They’ll sit with you and build with you and ask you questions. They’re truly fans of the music just like I am so I think it works for all of us.
Have you gotten the chance to meet with Nas and what advice has he given you?
I actually met Nas two times in life but once since being signed to the label. I met him when I was a young MC signed to another label at the time. I was working with No I.D. and we made like four or five songs and I ended up playing them for Nas. I remember sitting in the studio with him. He had the white shell toe Adidas on and he was just cooling, listening to the music. He told me I was a real MC and hearing that was crazy because I went there just to play him shit. I didn’t understand how impactful it was at the moment because I was so young but that shit changed my life. It’s crazy how things come back full circle with me being signed to his label now. For Nas to know who you are is one thing but for him to be confident as he’s been in my music is fucking crazy.
As for what I learned, I was explaining my plan on releasing music to him. I don’t have a lot of dumb down records but I do have radio-friendly records. I’m not the biggest fan of the radio but I’m considerate of it because I know not everyone wants to sit there and decipher bars all the time. I remember explaining that to him saying I didn’t want to release too much lyrical shit because I was afraid it would be too much for people but he told me nah people want to hear that. So basically staying true to myself is what I learned.
You’re a huge supporter of lyricism in hip-hop. Do you feel it’s harder for an artist who focuses on lyrics to be successful since hip-hop has been focusing less and less on lyrics?
The stakes are higher now when you’re creating and presenting your art. I think back in the 90s you could be that. You could just be nice on the mic and everybody was bugging out. Now it’s like we seen somebody that was nice before so what are you bringing to the table that’s new. It’s a little bit harder now because you can’t just be lyrical and expect to take off because if that’s the case there’s n—as that I grew up with that I think are the greatest rappers on Earth.
There are so many people trying to do it now and be a part of hip-hop that it’s hard. It was hard back then too but now there are so many different factors you need to be successful. Anyone can be a hip-hop artist these days. But this shit isn’t going to last forever. I think we’re coming into a time where kids my age who love hip-hop are bringing some of the stuff from the 90s back. They love that stuff, they just don’t like being told they’re supposed to like it.
How would you describe the journey that started with The X Factor and has brought you this point here with Mass Appeal?
It was a very vibrant, poetic journey. It was a lot of ups and downs, a lot of soul-searching, mistakes, and just putting myself through the grinder. This past year was really my first year working on my own. Before Mass Appeal, I told you, I didn’t have a team or anything. I was feeding content to my day ones, my supporters, and people that were tuned in. That’s why it’s dope to be at Mass Appeal now because I can put a whole new world of people on to the music. For the people that follow me and witnessed that whole journey, it’s a celebratory moment for all of us. Like any other journey when you’re trying to be great there are obstacles. There were hard times and times where it was really fucked up, but there are also times where it was really great. Times like you have no money but you’re in the studio playing your mixtape for DJ Premier and he’s telling you you’re shit is dope.
You’ve said before that every album you’ve released was made from the perspective of a kid trying to be the best rapper. Do you feel now you’ve achieved that status with this EP?
I’m always going to think that I’m the best but I like to let the listeners say shit like that. I know what I am. I feel like I’ve been the best rapper but I’m coming into the game real humble. I rather let the music speak for itself. All that best rapper shit is relative, it depends on what you’re looking for. I just know for me, I make the music I want to hear. When I put my music on I fuck with that guy on some out of body experience shit. Especially now, I feel like my music is music that I feel has been missing for a while. I feel like I’m the change I want to see.
Were there any challenges you faced going into this project?
I faced a lot of challenges making this project. This past year was probably the hardest year of my life. Dealing with finances, the industry politics, just a lot of shit. Like we talked about before on my older projects I was trying to be the best rapper. I didn’t have to deal with real life shit when I was making those other projects. This time I’m older and I’m signed to a label. I have rent to pay and I have a gift that God gave me and fans that want to hear from me.
What’s the meaning behind the title?
Nice 2 Meet You, Again is pretty self-explanatory. It’s funny meeting everyone now because I’ve been in the industry for so long. A lot of people are meeting me again. I was in the industry and fell off for a bit but came back with a mustache so it’s really nice to see everyone again [laughs]. It represents the reintroduction of Stro really. This project is the first project I made that I listen to all day. The other projects I have my favorite moments but it’s nothing like this EP. The whole aesthetic is different now, I’m grown now and wanted people to know that off rip.
When did the idea for this project come together?
It’s funny because I have so much music that I recorded. I have a whole other album that’s coming out right after this one and I have a project with Statik Selektah that’s done. When I went to Mass Appeal I was playing them my album and I already knew they were going to do something to get people prepared for this project. This EP was recorded mostly after everything was done. It’s all fresh, the oldest record on the EP is like a year old.
With the music and acting skills added to your résumé was it difficult making that transition into acting?
No, it wasn’t difficult. I was blessed to do some acting. It’s what kind of helped me stay afloat financially. It was always something that I felt like I had to do. I was never in a position where I didn’t want to do it at all. It was like “I got a job? Ok, cool.” Acting is cool it takes you to so many different parts of the world. You meet and work with all different types of people. I’m a person that delivers 100% in anything that I do so when it came to acting I was just trying to be the best me on set. In the studio I’m trying to make the best music I can make. I never try to blend the two worlds, it’s more so when I’m here, I’m here, when I’m there, I’m there.