Ever since leaving Maybach Music Group and making a dive into the independent market in 2017, Stalley has been peeling back the layers and giving listeners access into his life and thoughts through his music.
Fans got their first taste of Stalley’s personal life post-MMG with his noteworthy three-volume EP series Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil. Through this series, Stalley updated listeners on his well-being and voiced his feelings about the trials and tribulations of the music industry. Last January, Stalley continued to flirt with vulnerability with his EP Human. On that project, the Ohio lyricist looked beyond the flashy rapper lifestyle and showed his listeners that he’s human just like the rest of us.
This month, Stalley is making his return to the music scene with his latest musical effort Reflection of Self: The Head Trip. The nine-track EP is Stalley’s most eye-opening project yet. Teaming up with producer Jansport J, Stalley again invites listeners into his closeted life, this time revealing the inner workings of his mind. “This project came from me doing a self-reflection of myself and kind of figuring out where I was in my headspace,” Stalley tells VIBE. “I’m taking you all on a trip through my head and the random thoughts and ideas that come through my head. You guys have never heard me like this before.”
VIBE chopped it up with Stalley some more to talk about Reflection of Self: The Head Trip, his favorite tracks off the project, opening up and being vulnerable in his music, how writing his rhymes helped elevate his lyrics, and more.
VIBE: What was the inspiration behind Reflection of Self: The Head Trip?
The first part, Reflection of Self, is me reflecting on where I’ve been and what I’ve been going through. The Head Trip is me taking you on a trip through my head as a listener and just getting you to bend those corners and every avenue and crevice of my mind to kind of see where it all comes and plays out. It’s present Stalley. I think a lot of my music I’ve touched on the past. Now it’s very current and emotional and what I’ve been going through and what I’ve been seeing musically as a man, as a father, just observing the world and itself. Not just sinking myself into music but just really observing the world and what’s going on and putting it into the music.
After opening up on Human, what did you do differently on this project to bring listeners into a journey through your mind?
I think with this I tapped more into my emotional side. I dug deep and I’m a very closed off person sometimes and I don’t really open up, not even to friends and family. I kind of pushed myself and pushed those limits to really talk about some things that have been bothering me whether it’s been mental health, whether it’s been my relationship with God, whether it’s been my relationship with music, and how I want people to listen and perceive and grab my music. I want to be able to teach, and help people to grow, and help people to learn and to do things that the music did for me when I was growing up.
What was the hardest topic for you to talk about on Reflection of Self?
I think it was just the whole fact of people not seeing me sometimes. People don’t see me posting on social media or speaking. I touched on it on the second verse on “All So New.” I said “I kept it inside I was barely outdoors,” and that was real. There was a time where I would only go to the gym and back home. I would be in the studio or whatever but I was really closing myself off to the world and a lot of friends and family.
Upon listening to the album the production sounds like it was heavily influenced by early 90s rap. Were there any projects or producers from that era that you listened to as a source of inspiration for this project?
No, it was really just conversations Jansport and I would have when creating this project of just bringing ourselves with that kind of essence but making it current and making it about us. We definitely are fans of the Pete Rocks and MadLibs and the Dillas and people like that. We wanted to make our own version of that and make it current. I think we succeeded and did a great job. But I didn’t really listen to anything in particular. I really wanted to close myself off, especially musically, and just really dive into my own head. I didn’t want any influences. I wanted to speak from my heart and my soul. I think that Jansport was able to give me the perfect soundtrack to that and with that, it came out that sound.
How’d you link with Jansport?
I linked with him actually through Twitter. We chopped it up on there and followed each other. We spoke and talked about building and doing some music together. We exchanged information, got on the phone, and really just built. It took us a couple of months to really get where we got but it was awesome.
What are some of your favorite tracks off the project?
A couple of my favorite tracks are “Peppermints and Water,” “Hold It Up,” and “Bad Ass Kids.” “Bad Ass Kids” that’s a record that it kind of brought me back to when I was a kid and then to observing even my children and the kids that I’ve seen and been around and just really wanting to protect them. I want to be that person that they can come to for knowledge and grow with. I think that we lost that sense of community and the OGs and the older people really giving morals to the kids and that’s what “Bad Ass Kids” was for me.
“Peppermints and Water” was just me reflecting. In the studio, I always have peppermints and water and I just kind of reflected over that. Some people reflect through weed or through a drink or whatever but that was something that I reflected on. “Hold It Up” you know everybody in hip-hop says you have to hold it down and stay this way, but I feel people say it but don’t really hold it down. So I’m like instead of holding it down I’m trying to hold it up. I’m trying to uplift, build, inspire, and help people grow mentally and spiritually. Whatever it is I just want people to be better people. I’m trying to be a better person so we’re working together on that.
These are some of the sharpest bars you ever spit. What did you do to elevate them this go around?
I went back to writing. I got out of my head and I let my soul talk. I let my spirit talk and guide me. I think before I was more into my head like I gotta say this a certain way or just putting unnecessary pressure on myself. But literally, the music is more spiritual for me. I tell people if the music doesn’t move me to move you I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it. So with this, it’s just straight spiritual and letting my spirit, soul, and God guide my pen. I’m so proud of the writing. This is some of my best writing if not my best writing by far. I’m proud of myself for always continuing to get better and pushing myself to try to help and inspire.
Did writing your verses down help you get all your thoughts out in a concise manner?
Yes, I do. I think that I was able to guide myself a little better. People like to say “guide your pen” but I really was able to guide myself and my thoughts. I was able to structure it a little bit instead of it being me regurgitating s**t out. It flowed more like poetry and like a book. I like to look at my projects as a good book. I want to write you a chapter or a book of my life and just give you myself. I think I was able to do that by picking up the pen and putting words to paper again.
Did you have any fear that writing would take away from the raw emotion of rapping from the head instead?
Yeah sometimes because I think that the freeness comes when you have the cadences and you say things a certain way. Sometimes you don’t want to feel like you’re reading off of a paper or you don’t want to be reading your thoughts because then it becomes more of a spoken word type feel. But I think that my flow was immaculate on this even then because I think from previously not writing and having that experience of just going off the top of my head I’m able to be more comfortable in my pocket when it comes to writing.
Do you see yourself continuing to be vulnerable throughout your music in the future?
Yeah, I think I need to for myself and my fans. I think that I haven’t been vulnerable enough. I haven’t given my fans enough of me. I haven’t given the world enough of me. Again like I said earlier I have been very closed off and secluded in my own thoughts and in myself because maybe it’s my upbringing or maybe that’s just my star sign. (laughs) I don’t know where it comes from but it’s just me. I really want to be more personable. I really want to help. I keep bringing up the word help because I know there are people who are like me who go through things that I go through and I want to speak more current and I want to speak more present. I think that this project is the most current and present that I’ve been in my music.
After a project like this, what other stories or what else do you feel you have to tell people about yourself?
I think that with timing and growth it will show. There are a lot of things that fans or even myself need answers to, but I think it’s going to take a little bit of time for me to do a little bit more reflecting and growing. I always try to push myself to the limit and I’m going to do that even more with this now that I have started to open up, I really want to crack that shell and truly open up.