Mike Stud has one of the more unique journeys in hip-hop. After being named the Gatorade High School Baseball Player of the Year in Rhode Island in 2006, he was offered an athletic scholarship to play baseball at Duke University. Following a stellar All-American Freshman year, he underwent Tommy John surgery in order to repair elbow ligaments, which resulted in a nearly year-and-a-half-long rehabilitation process. It was during that time that Stud took up rapping. In 2010, he released a music video titled “College Humor,” which went viral, with over a million views on YouTube. He followed that song up with several other viral videos, including a remix to Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend," and his first mixtape A Toast To Tommy, released in October 2011 as an ode to the surgery which curtailed his baseball career.

Since then, Mike has been hard at work, releasing three projects, going on nationwide tours and consistently growing his fan base. His debut album, Relief, topped the iTunes Hip-Hop chart on its release in 2013, while his his most recent effort, Closer, came in at both No. 1 and No. 10 (explicit and clean) on the same tally last week, and at No. 1 on the store's overall chart. XXL caught up with Mike to speak with him about his journey to hip-hop, how he feels about his critics and being pigeonholed as another white, collegiate frat rapper. —Marvin Jules


On His Athletic Background Impacting His Music:
I feel like my athletic background has impacted my music completely. In a lot ways, I think the success that I've being able to create is from my background in athletics. The notion of hard work, and all the things that I've learned growing up playing baseball and having to excel in sports, I take that work ethic and apply it to music.

I didn't really know how to do music when I started; I kind of had to learn in front of people, because people were paying attention. And I really feel that just recently the music has caught up to the story. In the beginning the music wasn't as good, and it wasn't ready, but people were into the story. And I think that through a lot of hard work my music is up to par now, and I'm really finding myself. It's been a lot of long nights trying to get better at what I'm doing, and I think a lot of that stems from my background in athletics.

Also, there's a huge [number of] sports references and influences in a ton of my songs, and I write all of my songs myself. People ask if I do it on purpose, but it's just me. I'm such a sports fan, and I grew up playing sports, so sports will always be a part of my music and the type of things I write about.


On The Biggest Challenges He's Encountered Since Coming Into The Music Industry:
I feel like the way a lot of people were introduced to me, when I first came into the game, was as a gimmicky, "college boy, white-people rap," so I feel like the biggest challenge would have to be people seeing the bigger picture and seeing that it's actually real records, real music, real melodies, you know? Showing people that there's really something going on here. The challenge is constant, so I have to continuously get better and make better records, and do it often. A lot of people come across my music and they might already have a negative connotation because of how it was introduced to them or how I first started. So if I had to pick the biggest challenge, it would definitely be that.


On Criticisms As A “White Rapper”:
To be honest, I get it. I'm not mad at the challenges. I get why people would assume certain things, why people would have certain qualms. I don't concern myself with what people try to categorize me as. I'm going to have to prove to them that I deserve their attention. I don't look at it as a negative thing. I look at it as a motivational thing, to keep making dope records in order for me to earn their respect. If it takes a year, two years, or however many albums, it's just cool to see the fan base growing, to show people that there's really something going.


On The Biggest Surprises Of The Music Industry:
Honestly, I would say the success I'm having has been a bit surprising. As much as that might sound like a weak-minded answer, it's an honest answer. People really don't understand how much of a long shot this whole thing is. I didn't have plans for this. The fact that I'm on a tour bus and we're going from city to city and people are lining up to come listen to watch us play... It's surprising. [Laughs] Nothing else that's happened has surprised me. Once I got into music, I understood the challenges, what people would think. I think I learned a lot really quickly. But the success and people supporting it will never be taken for granted on my end. So I think that would be one of the biggest surprises, seeing how big this has gotten.


On His New Album, Closer:
I made this album in one room, with one other dude, Louis Bell, who's an unbelievably talented dude. This album is me. This is my best project, hands down, with the direction my music is going. It's very melody-heavy on choruses. I'm not worried about fans saying, "Oh, you need to rap more," or, "You need to sing more." It's kind of a balance of both sides of what I do. If you listen and you don't like the album, then I think you just don't like this style of music, because the album is fucking strong. I'm so proud of the way it came out.

It's sonically next level for anyone who has been listening to Mike Stud along the way. I think all of the fans we've encountered, and all of the people in my corner, have said that it's sonically just better. I'm super proud of it. I try to be a very balanced artist in the sense of what I'm talking about. If you listen front to back, you'll hear meaningful songs, party songs; so there's a good balance of what I'm talking about. So if you like this style of music, this is a record you're going to fuck with. It's my first time ever being the No. 1 overall album on iTunes, so it's great to see people taking a liking to what we did on it.


On His Biggest Musical Influences:
My answer is probably a lot different than a lot of hip-hop guys. I was a hip-hop fan, but I didn't listen to guys growing up and being like, "Man, I want to rap like them," because I never thought I was going to rap. So the answer would be all the dudes in the now. I think Jay Z is my biggest influence as a person, and what he's done in the music industry. I try to imitate the type of things he's done on the business side, and hopefully I could turn my brand into what he's done.

I'm a big J Cole fan, Big Sean, Drake, Kendrick. I love all the new guys because that's what I listen to now, and they've influenced the way I write music because I'm fans of them. I'm also a big fan of Ty Dolla $ign; we play a lot of him on the tour bus. That West Coast style of music is something I'm drawing from, you'll hear a little bit of that on the album.


On Where He Sees His Career Progressing:
I'm just taking this on a day by day basis right now. It all feels so fresh and new. I'm just going to keep building. I think it's safe to say that I'm going to sign with a major label. It could be extremely soon, it could be in a little while. I'm just one of those artists that is holding on for creative control, and I think we're getting pretty close. Obviously when signing with a major label, things change a bit. I do hope to cross over to mainstream, have records on the radio. I'm not one of those artists looking to stay underground or stay independent forever. It's not necessarily how I look at it. I do see the bigger picture. A lot of things can change, but I'm really excited to keep building my brand. We have some big plans ahead, so hopefully we can execute, and take that next step.


On Having Regrets:
Honestly, I don't have any regrets. I have a fresh outlook on life after what's happened, from baseball to music. No matter what happens, my outlook on it is that everything happens for a reason. Whatever happens, it's giving you another opportunity to be better. It sounds kind of weird, but it's kind of the way I look at everything. Even if something awful happens, something better is going to come from that if you approach it the right way. It makes life easier for me, and it makes it a lot easier to take everything day by day and enjoy what's going on and not look ahead too much, not dwell on the past too much. And that's what my whole situation with baseball taught me.