Ohio native Stalley has flown under the radar for the last couple years while under contract with Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. While artists like Wale, Meek Mill, and even Gunplay have flourished under the MMG umbrella, Stalley has struggled to find his place, releasing just one mixtape as a solo artist since inking his deal. With his future uncertain and a release date for his debut solo album nowhere in sight, Stalley has dropped a new mixtape, Honest Cowboy, presumably in hopes of resuscitating his career.
There’s no denying the production on this project. The tape starts at a high level with the woozy opening number, “Spaceships & Woodgrain.” The duo of West Coast legend DJ Quik and Cardo craft a masterpiece that begins with the sprinkling of piano keys before the bass line kicks in as Stalley spits his first verse. Quik and Cardo add an extra layer of sophistication during Stalley’s second verse as a spacey synth and a warped guitar part drop in, giving the song a chill, laid back vibe. It’s an easy-going but intriguing start to the project.
While frequent Stalley collaborators Block Beattaz are behind five of the 11 tracks on the project, the tape also features excellent contributions from producers like Rashad, Terrace Martin and S1. The Rashad-produced “Samson” is a standout selection, using fiery church organs and a sinister, humming vocal sample to build a sense of creeping doom. Martin’s work on the ScHoolboy Q-assisted “NineteenEighty7″ is equally impressive, combining dark piano loops, a jazzy horn section and strings. Towards the end of the tape, S1 offers a nostalgic, reflective instrumental for Stalley to vent about his past on “Gettin’ By,” while Soundtrakk’s guitar riffs on “Long Way Down” provide the right canvas for Stalley to attack the plight of the “jungle” that he grew up in.
With instrumentals that serve as ideal cruising music, Stalley uses Honest Cowboy as an opportunity to showcase his growth and ingenuity as a lyricist. Tracks like “The Highest” display Stalley’s clever wit as he serenades his recreational drug of choice—marijuana—and personifies “her” as he details an intimate relationship. On “Raise Your Weapons,” Stalley calls on society to fight social injustice, attacking crooked politicians and even challenging the fallacies of organized religion. “The pastor said because I’m Muslim I’ll burn eternally,” he raps. “And my sheik said because of my tattoos, Heaven I’ll never see.”
Stalley’s ability to craft concept-heavy records over rich production allows him to mask his occasional lyrical shortcomings. By no stretch of the imagination is Stalley a weak lyricist, but at times his delivery sounds uninspired and plodding, such as on “Feel The Bass.” Occasionally the technical aspects of rhyming are toned down significantly in favor of pure storytelling, which doesn’t always engage the listener, like on “Cup Inside A Cup.” But despite these limitations, Honest Cowboy is a revealing look into Stalley’s psyche and has enough quality material on it to bring him back into prominence within the MMG circle. – Dharmic X (@DharmicX)