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Made in Ohio: Stalley & Rashad on Ohio Culture and Music

Rashad and Stalley

Words by Paul Meara (@PaulMeara)

Ohio has long been a hotbed for musical talent. The birthplace of Rock & Roll and home of the genre’s hall of fame, everyone from Trent Reznor and The Black Keys to Marilyn Manson and David Grohl call the Buckeye State home. Ohio is also known for its funk roots. Bootsy Collins, Roger Troutman, Lakeside, and The Ohio Players all hail from the Dayton and Cincinnati area. It was the funk sound that laid the foundation for a lot of hip-hop, most of which would be founded far from its base. Compton natives Dr. Dre and DJ Quik, in particular, heavily sampled Ohio’s brand of funk and painted a sonic picture heavily influential in donning the G-Funk era. But what about Ohio?

Ohio’s hip-hop culture wouldn’t gain wide-scale exposure until Bone Thugs-n-Harmony hit the scene during the early to mid 1990s. It’s no surprise why Eazy-E had his eye on the Cleveland quintet. But even their style had its biters (or maybe they bit, you’d have to ask Three 6 Mafia). Regardless, many of those who had heard B.O.N.E. post 1994, even in Ohio, would have dubbed the group a band of Midwestern emcees with a West Coast sound. But it wasn’t West Coast. Ironically, it was a sound born right in their backyard.

As the years passed many who made names in hip-hop music from the country’s heart did so with a wide arrange of melodies. From Hi-Tek and RJD2 to even newer acts like King Chip and Kid Cudi no two artists bore the same sound wave. It’s still difficult to define Ohio’s tenor but in 2014, but a major label artist is attempting to tackle the feat. Massillon native and Maybach Music Group signee Stalley is determined to create his version of what he believes his home state’s sound is. It’s precisely the reason he titled his major label debut Ohio. His rust belt roots and Midwestern humility embody the personality of someone from his blue collar town.

Stalley believes he’s the one who can embody Ohio’s sound and has taken a vested interest making sure the world knows it. Teaming up with producer and Columbus native Rashad (the man behind his inaugural and ear-catching Lincoln Way Nights project), Stalley is out to make a name for himself and the state he hails from. Nah Right recently spoke with both Stalley and Rashad about Ohio and why putting on for those back home is more than just for their family and friends.

Stalley 4

Ohio, it’s finally here. First off, how excited are you to put this thing out there?

Stalley: Man I’m over excited. I can’t even explain the excitement and the feeling. I have all the emotions running through me but it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve been waiting my entire life for this moment and [I’ve been] working my ass off for this moment so for it to finally be here and for me to have such a great body of work as my debut album, I couldn’t want any more. I’m definitely blessed.

Rashad: I’m extremely excited bro. It’s my first official major label-produced album so I’m definitely excited man.

Was Ohio always going to be the name of this album and then you made the tracks fit that? Or did you just start creating and were like, “Man, this is Ohio!”

Stalley: I had my album cover envisioned before I even had any music done so I knew it was going to feel and sound like Ohio or how I feel Ohio’s sound feels like from my upbringing and coming up on music. It’s just growing up around my neighborhood and watching and observing how music affected not only myself but my friends and my family. So I knew that, like the sounds going to be there but I just didn’t know the title right away. I got two songs in and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to call it Ohio.” So yeah I kind of knew right away.

Stalley 2

How did you start this process of making this album when you both sat down together for the first time for it? What were the conversations you had?

Rashad: We had “Jackin’ Chevys” already but outside of that I don’t think there was anything else we had done. I guess the conversation started a couple years ago really or at least a year ago and we basically wanted to make sure it definitely had elements of Lincoln Way Nights and other projects but we wanted to make it a little broader and definitely make sure Ohio was represented. I had my own little things I wanted to do and make sure I did.

One thing Rashad told me in the past was that, “Above everything, a kid from Massillon, Ohio has a release date.” No matter how anything goes from here on out or what the critics and fans say, do you ever sit back and be like, “Yo, I’ve got a major label album dropping. Me, from a little Ohio town. I was chosen for this?”

Stalley: Yeah definitely. Often. Any time I get any type of ill will or I start to get stressed out or worried that’s what I think about. I think, “Man, I’m from Massillon.” There’s not a lot of success stories that come from Massillon and really Ohio in general. We’ve had a lot of success and great people from the state but not many get the opportunity to do what I’m doing, especially with hip-hop so just for me to have an album in stores that’s scanable, that can be on the charts that’s big man and it’s a blessing above anything else. I agree with Rashad, I could sell 50 records or 50,000 or 50 million, no matter what I have album in stores and it’s an accomplishment that nobody can ever take. And it’s an amazing album too at that.

Sonically how did you want to approach this album? Was sticking to the success you had on Lincoln Way Nights something that was in the back of your mind?

Rashad: To be honest my production goes in cycles so Stalley kind of got the wave I was on right now. I wish I could say it was done on purpose. It was kind of like The Measure, [L.e for the Uncool] kind of got the horns or just that certain sound. And then there was Museum, so it’s kind of where I’m at musically and I am just testing myself on what I want to do. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted to do. You can kind of hear the West Coast influences, definitely more keyboard and musical elements than you would normally hear. It wasn’t as thought out as I would have liked it to have been. It was more like, “Aight, what am I on today?” Because I don’t usually like to do something twice and if I do I want to switch it up a little bit. I would say “Navajo Rugs” is the closest to the signature sound that people are used to from me.

Rashad and Stalley 2

I remember when you announced the name of the album and I thought it was really dope, especially since I’m from here and still live here. But do you in anyway feel that since you called it Ohio you bare this pressure because it’s almost like, “Okay, this is what Ohio sounds like and me on my platform, I’m representing and showing the world that?”

Stalley: Yeah I mean it’s not pressure but it’s what I want to do. I want to give Ohio a sound. I want to give Ohio an identity when it comes to music and I feel like we haven’t had one. I feel that the sound I’ve created through out the years with the help of Rashad’s production I think that’s the most Ohio sound being defined ever. It’s through all the artists that have come out of there and I mean hip-hop. There have been a lot of greats and a lot of great producers that have come from our area. I feel like this is Ohio’s sound.

There’s no pressure, it’s more of a, “No, I’m giving you a sound and I’m telling you what it is and this is what Ohio is.” I don’t think anyone has had the balls or the guts to be able to do that. I remember when I told Rashad what I was going to name my album. He looked at me, and we was in the studio together, and as soon as I said it, he looked at me and was like, “You the only person who can do that.” And he said it just like that, “That’s dope, I love it. Nobody else can name their album Ohio because nobody represents Ohio like you represent it in the history of Ohio.” Like no matter where I’m at, whether it’s 106 & Park or MTV, radio, no matter where I’m at [I represent Ohio]. Even when I’m doing drops I’m like, “This is Stalley, 3-3-0, Massillon, Ohio.” Everything is Ohio represented so if anybody can do it and be the forefather of that sound or whatever you want to say, it’s me.

stalley-ohio Cover

Rashad: When Stalley brought that up, the first thing I said was, “We need an acronym, come up with what that means, what Ohio means.” And I think we threw around a couple things. My homie PA [Flex] finally came up with “Over Here I’m Original,” which is the title of the opening track. I don’t even think it’s that obvious of what that means. We didn’t really promote that aspect of it but yeah “Over Here I’m Original” is what we were playing off of. It’s kind of like making sure that everything is unique and that we’re proud to be from Ohio-type of vibe.

You mentioned Massillon. I want to talk about that and the 330 a little bit. Ohio has a lot of different elements and I think there’s a special difference between places like Cincinnati or Columbus and places like Massillon, Canton or Youngstown in that those rust belt-type cities are harder struck, the crime per capita is higher, teen pregnancy is rampant. You have a lot of people very consumed with their surroundings and everyone knows everyone. I know you saw a lot of that stuff growing up and had a lot of hardships of your own. Does that still stick with you? When you make music and put it out, do you think about those people and that area?

Stalley: Yeah, that’s what I think about a lot and that’s part of the reason I named my album Ohio. It’s to give hope, to let people see that somebody from their community, somebody from a community where teen pregnancy is high and a lot of people don’t get to go to the next city over let alone to see the world.

I’ve seen so much and I’ve always carried Ohio, Massillon and the 330–where I’m from on my back. I scream it in Czech Republic the same way I scream it in Massillon. I scream it in Paris the same way I do in New York. It’s definitely what I think about and it weighs heavy on my mind because I want people to see that somebody’s out there representing us in a way that is honorable. Another reason why I named Ohio, Ohio is hopefully we’ll see that on the charts, we’ll see that on iTunes and Billboard charts.

Stalley Cleveland

What does Ohio sound like to you?

Rashad: I definitely think it’s the funk you hear from Hi-Tek. You got to think what’s from the 70s is one thing but then you bump up to a Hi-Tek and that’s kind of the cloth I come from and you can even throw J Dilla in there and make it more of a Midwestern sound because in the Midwest, we’re East Coast boom bap guys but we’re not afraid to play instruments because we’re musicians too so when you listen to Dilla’s stuff, you heard a healthy dose of West Coast and East Coast sounds.

Same thing with Hi-Tek, it’s crazy how he seamlessly went over to the West Coast between working with 50 [Cent] and Dr. Dre and didn’t change his style. It was the same vibe. And Snoop [Dogg] and G-Unit was hopping on his tracks. I definitely think it’s something there man. I just think it’s the funk and instruments and synthesizers and a funky bassline or something. I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure it out [laughs].

What was your favorite element of recording the album?

Stalley: It was really digging back into my childhood and that’s the reason the album feels like it feels because I really dig back into the emotions I got when I first heard rap or I first heard certain songs, and I was in certain places growing up. I really put that into the music. I think that reflection of my childhood and growing up is the best element to this music because you can really hear it heavy in records like “Problems” or records like “Boomin’” and records like “3:30PM,” it takes you to a certain place. Even “System On Loud” really takes you and gives you a certain feeling and that’s just digging deep into my family past and my home.

It’s like when people say soul food, your grandma really put her soul into it. I really went in and put that dirt and rocks and grass and every element of Massillon and Ohio and really put that into the music.

Stalley and Rashad

Rashad: It’s definitely the writing process, me and Stalley putting our heads together and just creating. It’s like when I’ve got the track and we’re trying to come up with ideas–what the song should be about. It’s always fun to do that: think about where we could go and what we want to say and it was definitely fun doing that this time around.

You really have genuine pride for Ohio, not just in the album but you know about the history, etc. And making sure that everyone knows where the West Coast got its sound whether it be Bootsy Collins, Ohio Players, The Isley Brothers, or Roger Troutman. Tell me about that.

Stalley: Yeah man [laughs] it’s all about educating. I’m a music head and a historian when it comes to not just the roots of hip-hop but all music. I really just wanted to educate people because again, it’s about creating an identity, creating a sound and the Midwest really hasn’t had one. We have had one it’s just that [Dr. Dre] and those guys were brilliant enough to notice that that sound came from Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is like Massillon. Greats come from Dayton like heat waves: Roger Troutman, Ohio Players, all the music comes from that one area and it was made popular by Dre and that West Coast sound and people need to know that that’s Ohio originally.

Even James Brown is one of the most sampled artists ever in hip-hop and his bass player was Bootsy Collins so a lot of that bassline and stuff, all of that is from Ohio if people notice. So when you hear a “Jackin’ Chevys” or when you hear a “Always Into Something,” that’s not a West Coast sound, that’s an Ohio-rooted sound and I feel it’s important that we let people know because we are such originators. It’s frustrating to me. That’s why I named the album Ohio, that’s why I’m giving you a sound. That’s why I’m bringing you to Ohio to let you know that listen, we’ve been here for a while, we’ve been creative, we’ve been bringing something to the table and Ohio, with Bootsy and those guys, and Motown and all that stuff and all that that was poppin’ and they came with that funk music and sound that nobody has ever heard. That’s what it is now with all that music that’s trap music that’s sounding the same, I’m coming with Ohio and a sound and a feel in hip-hop music that hasn’t been heard or done before.

Stalley and Ross

Rick Ross has really been behind the promotion of this album whether it be through videos, social media, even being low key on the street team and holding your signs for it. Tell us about his involvement.

Stalley: Man he’s been doing an amazing job and he really believes in me and believing in the music and the album. I don’t like to self title things or things like that but it definitely has all the elements that could make it critically acclaimed or crafted [album]. He sees my element and my vision, he’s seen my vision from day one and he believes in it and he really wants the world to hear what I have to offer.

So if it is holding a sign or if it is tweeting or Instagraming or being in the video, doing records, whatever it is he wants to put a spotlight on it because people get blinded by everything that’s in front of them and we don’t have people that do that, that do research on what sound is popping or crafting something that sounds like everyone else. We don’t do that, we’re just trying to do it the old school way, word of mouth, putting things in front of people. Ross has been a very major part in this whole process in putting out this album and I can’t thank him enough for everything that he’s done. What we can’t do is take everyone to the store and make them purchase the album but he’s doing everything else.

One of your singles is “Jackin’ Chevys.” You aren’t jacking them anymore but if you could cop one, any one, what would it be?

Stalley: You know what I would get? I would get an El Camino. I don’t have one, I haven’t had one. And I would like to get a box Caprice. I don’t have one of those either so those are two cars that are classic when it comes to the Chevy culture and the ones that I love and don’t have.

What decade are we talking? 60s? 70s? 80s?

Stalley: I would say… 70s, late 70s for the El Camino. As far as the box–I would say 80s.

You’ve always big about bringing it back here to Ohio and showing the world what we have. Why is that so important to you?

Rashad: I think that’s the really big thing about naming this thing “Ohio.” We’re trying to represent an unheard part of the world. People have heard it but no one has heard it all at once. I think we represent Cleveland, Cincinnati. We’ve had our little spots here and there but it’s given us some sort of togetherness and I don’t know if Stalley will get the credit when it does all take off but you got to think about that, man. How many years has hip-hop been around and you’ve never had a major album called “Ohio?” Nobody has thought to do that so you have to give him credit.

Looking back on your career, when you started rapping years ago, did you ever think this is where you would be in 2014?

Stalley: I definitely did. Since I was a child I definitely knew I had a voice and I had something to say. I’ve dreamed about this but I’ve also seen this before and it’s beautiful to be here. 2014 is a lot different from the early 2000s when I was putting those dreams in my head, especially as far as the album process goes. It’s different, a lot of people don’t buy albums anymore, everything is on streaming or online these days but I’m here, I’m putting out an album and I’ve never doubted that I wouldn’t get this far at this point in my life and in my career.

Stalley 3

I’m definitely very humbled by it and it’s a blessing. I’m a kid from Massillon [laughs]. A kid from Massillon, Ohio got a debut album on a major label, one of the hottest labels in the game–Maybach and Atlantic Records. It’s truly a blessing man and I just want the world to hear the music. I really feel like it’s something for everybody and if people actually take the time to listen I know they’re going to enjoy this album because it’s from the heart and it’s great music and it’s something that can’t be denied.

What’s next for you in the immediate future aside from the album release?

Stalley: Right now I’ve been on the road doing promo, hitting up the radio stations from city to city. We’ll be out for a few more weeks. I’ve got some shows coming up. I got the show at the Grog Shop on the 29th in Cleveland. Being that I love Ohio so much I took the price down to the area code of Cleveland so it’s only $2.16 for a ticket. [I’m] just giving back to the home state and the community.

After everything is done as far as that goes and the album release, we’re going to be gearing up to hit the road and do some touring so I’ll be announcing dates and cities soon and really just getting the BCG brand off the ground and possibly putting out music with some of the artists and people who have been down and represented me for a minute now. I’m really focusing on getting that brand out there. I’ve got some cool things in the works, a lot of videos coming out so it’s a lot more work. October 27 is really the start of everything so it’s going to be a lot of work to put in.

Rashad: I’ll be continuing to work with Stalley. [We’ve] got some new stuff coming down the pipeline. I’ve got a new solo project coming out. I’m producing the 3RD Power Attack of the DRUM project coming out, which is a trilogy project and the first part is going to be coming out soon. Also look out for Hodgie Street with his American Dreamin’ project and I’ve got some major label stuff in the works too, with some other artists coming down the pipeline but I don’t want to jinx myself [laughs]. I don’t want this to be the last. It won’t be the last of Ohio opening them doors, we’re just trying to keep it moving man.

Photos via Stalley’s Instagram, Rashad’s Instagram

Videos via YouTube

Related: Stalley – Ohio (Album Stream) | Video: Stalley ft. Ty Dolla $ign – Always Into Something

Previously: Happy 75th Birthday Queensbridge: The 75 Greatest QB Rap Songs

Catch up on all NahRight interviews and features HERE.

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