Mike Stud went from Major League Baseball prospect to the covet of major music labels in three years.
The Rhode Island native, who was formerly a star relief pitcher at Duke University, found music after a career-ending elbow injury derailed his professional sports dreams. The 25-year-old has rebounded with his new sophomore album Closer, the follow-up to his Relief LP which blends more clever raps with a touch of pop-leaning hooks and productions. The project has topped the Billboard Rap Chart with 15,000 first-week copies sold (a feat for an indie artist).
Mike Stud stopped by the VIBE HQs days after Closer’s release to speak about his deal with Kevin Liles and Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment, artists he’d like to work with, and just how long the narrative of America’s Favorite Sport will play out in his music. —John Kennedy
VIBE: So your new album, Closer, was released through your label Electric Feel Records and is distributed by 300 Entertainment. How’d that partnership come about?
Mike Stud: It’s pretty crazy, man. My manager, Austin Rosen, brought me to Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles. They heard the whole record and were just like, “Man, we want to be involved.” I was pretty straightforward, like “I understand what that machine behind you means, but I also want to see what I can do independently.” But after sitting with them I understand the value of proper distribution and using their internal marketing to potentially make that move to radio without a major. They hopped on real last minute but they’ve been really fucking with me behind the scenes.
That’s dope. Is there a reason you’re shying away from major labels at the moment?
I’m a super hands-on artist. I enjoy all the creative processes that go into everything. I also feel like I take a risk if I sign now, losing creative control in some situations. There’s still room to grow. This is the record where I’m establishing what I’m doing.
Tell me about the recording process for Closer. Was it any different than Relief?
We made the whole thing in three-and-a-half months. Most people would imagine taking longer, you know what I mean? Me and the producers—Louis Bell, he’s amazing—we just had great chemistry. We didn’t really make any wasted tracks. We made 16 records for it, and 14 made it. We just understood what we were doing and executed. It was a great creative process. Relief was probably [recorded] over a span of eight months. It was a lot less concentrated.
Is there any interesting anecdote or story behind like a song on Closer?
“Submarine.” The whole thing is a double entendre about addiction. But everyone thinks it’s about love, about a relationship. I have subliminal drug references in it that I don’t think anyone’s catching. I said: “One hit of you, we can go to the moon and back/I’m a lunatic.” Basically it was a reference to Molly. Obviously, it’s not about me, but I’m rapping to the drug in that sense. Just like believing all the lies that this drug tells you, tells your body and shit. It has that radio feel, especially with the chorus. I got inspired to write it from “Love The Way You Lie.”
What song are you most proud of?
It’s hard... People always ask me my favorite record. I really like “All Good.” It’s not the biggest but to me, it’s my listening style. We thought the album was done and I made it on one of the last nights. But I’m probably most proud of the “This One’s For You” record, it’s pretty much pop. I made it in, like, a fucking closet. It was my first night in L.A. and I made it to like a really poppy beat, and we redid it. The whole time, I was telling my manager like, “I think this is too pop. Maybe we should change it or something,” and he just kept pushing, pushing. I avoided writing the verses ’til the very end. Now him, Lyor, all those guys, it’s their favorite record, and it might be the one that goes to the radio. I’m proud of that. It’s different for me but I actually fuck with it.
On the next album, are you thinking about adding any features?
Yeah, I just wanted to take this project and just be like, “Oh, this is Mike. This is what he can do.” We avoided doing any big features. I’m definitely open. If I’m going to do a big feature I just want it to be organic. I want them to fuck with it. I don’t want to be like, “Yo, someone do a favor and do a verse.” That’s the biggest thing.
If you could pick like one artist on the come-up and someone established, who would you work with?
It’s funny; I was just with him last night: Ty Dolla $ign. Kevin Liles brought me over and we chilled last night. I think he’s so dope, and I fuck with his music heavy. We’re going to do a record. Established? Is it realistic? [laughs] It’s very far-fetched, but Jay Z and Kanye. I’m just a fan of everything they do.
Thus far, you’ve kept the baseball theme consistent in your music. Do you think that’s something that will continue throughout your career?
I think so. The sports references [have] just become an expectation. People want to hear that from me. But really, it’s just me. I just love sports; it’s been my whole life. I write all my music, so all the verses are just thoughts from me. That’s what my whole life revolved around for 20 years. Maybe as I get further and further away from those years in my life it’ll deteriorate, but I don’t think it’ll ever be like nonexistent. I’ll always throw lines in there. It happens naturally.
That’s similar to J. Cole. He came out with the whole sports/basketball theme: The Come Up, The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, The Sideline Story.
It’s incredible how important it is to my fans that love the baseball story. It’s unique because it’s baseball. Baseball and hip-hop don’t really… you know? A lot of people vibe and connect with the story: the injury, the rebound. People can draw like positive thoughts from that.