MMG is a powerhouse in hip-hop right now, with Wale’s The Gifted topping the Billboard charts and Meek Mill & Rick Ross shelling out bangers all summer. However, one particular Maybach Music Group member has been waiting in the wings for his opportunity to shine. Stalley signed with MMG back in 2011 when he was known for his beard and a pair of early mixtapes, and the signing was received with mixed emotions from fans; here was another talented artist and another win for the roster, but an uncertain fit with what Ross was building with the Maybach brand.

The Blue Collar Gang head honcho already established a name for himself before MMG, creating a niche for his “Intelligent Trunk Music” and building a following. Since the signing the Ohio native has appeared on Self Made Vols. 1 & 2 and dropped another mixtape, Savage Journey To The American Dream, but things have been relatively quiet for the past two years. That's not to say any time has been wasted—Stalley has his mixtape Honest Cowboy slated to drop on August 8th, with his debut album on deck and an appearance on MMG’s Self Made Vol. 3 set for September. Stalley swung by the XXL offices this week to speak about the impact of his father on his projects, why he signed to MMG and his quest for knowledge. —Emmanuel C.M. (@ECM_LP)


On The Concept Behind Honest Cowboy

"Honest Cowboy came to me really, on a deeper meaning, in search of my father. My father was a cowboy, he was someone who was from Ohio, like myself, and he kinda left his family because of some trouble and things like that and being in drugs. He went down to San Antonio and started working on ranches and farms, moving cows and working with horses on people's farms. I was just so infatuated by my father and just the fact that he was a cowboy, but I still was confused on why he left his family and things like that. And I understood that it's hard being a young black male with a family, especially in those times when drugs was crazy and stuff like that. I was really just trying to put that together and understand more of not only myself but of him, and see if I could find myself through searching for why I feel like he left us or why he wasn't around, if that makes sense. The honesty comes from that; just means spilling out that honesty and that side of me through music. Also, cowboys are some of the most honest people—they'll tell you how it is, not caring how you feel or what you think about them or think about what they do. They're very family-oriented at the same time, they do a lot for their family and to provide for family, and I feel like that's where the parallel with the rapper and the cowboy comes. And that's why I call myself the 'honest cowboy.'

"I knew that I wanted to put together a project that was very honest and open, more than my other music has been, so I can let the fans in a little deeper because of me also being someone who was always isolated as an individual. It's hard for me to really be personal and let those different sides out, so I knew I wanted to do that with the music. I started wondering and tracing back on my father—I mean, he passed away, but what was he doing and why did he do certain things and situations like that, and that's where Honest Cowboy kinda came together.

"[I'm] speaking more about my family, my kids, myself. So you're gonna hear a lot of that, and I'm saving some for the album, so this is kinda like the album before the album, just to give the fans something to hold off on. You'll definitely hear more about my mother, more about my father, more about my upbringing, a lot of opinions. I'm a strongly opinionated person, so definitely a lot of my opinions and how I feel about topics that's going on in the community, what's going on in hip-hop, what’s going on with myself, the things I battle daily with being an artist and trying to stay true to myself, being with Maybach [Music] and the struggle of being with Maybach and being a different artist that I am, it's a lot of that. And I think people want to hear that. I know they question, 'Damn, he's so different,' and I want people to understand that we're alike, but we're not. I think people group you with that, and then you don't sound like them and people think, 'Oh, that person's wack,' 'cause I don't sound like Meek or Ross and them. Maybach is known for a certain brand, a certain type of music, so when I'm the oddball, they're like, 'Get him outta here!'"

On What To Expect From New Projects

"I got Keri Hilson [on Honest Cowboy], I got Schoolboy Q, I got Scarface on 'Swangin.' I got a few I ain't gon' let out. [Laughs] I’ve got Cardo, DJ Quik, the Block Beattaz, Rashad, Soundtrack, Terrance Martin, there’s some good stuff on there.

"When you hear the intro, it's so—it's magical, man. To me, it just set the mood, and that journey that you'll take going into the project. I'm excited really, and that's why I wanted to do this. I got probably three albums worth of material, so that's why I begged Atlantic and the label, lemme just put a mixtape out! I think they just need one more project. So I'm really excited, and like I said the intro is crazy; it's produced by Cardo and DJ Quik together and it's just, it's just dope. It's a dope opener.

"For the past year, year and a half it’s been nothing but grinding, making music. I’ve got, sitting on my laptop, damn near a hundred records. And that’s why some of the music I wanted to get out because some of the music I did a year ago. Like 'Raise Your Weapons,' it was really sparked by the Trayvon Martin trial and stuff like that, but I did that record a year ago. So some of the music that I have is kind of like—we as artists are kind of like a journalist, someone who writes, you’re writing about the current topics and what’s going on. So some of the stuff I just wanted to put our right away because there’s no need to sit on that, because that’s how I was feeling at that time and that’s what was going on at that time, so let’s just put it out. So that’s what we’re doing.

"I’ve got the best song on Self Made Vol. III, a solo record and it's dope. I ain’t even heard everything, but I know I’ve got the best song on there. But there’s going to be a lot of great verses on there from everybody on the team and whoever’s featured. Ross, when he puts those together—because that’s usually something that he does—he gets a lot of the features together and things like that. He’s strategic with it, and it’s going to be a great project. But it gets better and better each time, so I’m excited about it."


On Working With MMG

"Initially it was, just because of MMG. Like when you think of MMG you think of Ross, you think of the brand, you think of the music, and you’re like “Man, where do I fit in?” But after having a conversation with Ross, I totally fit in, because he’s all about self-made, all about individuality and being yourself and creating your own brand. I came in with MadStalley and Lincoln Way Nights, and the BCG brand, the Blue Collar Gang movement. And he loved it. He was like, 'Man, you’ve got your own brand, you’ve been overseas, you’ve been in XXL, you was on BET, MTV, like all these things before signing.' He was like man, you’re a star, and I want to help you get there. And that was what really motivated me to go that way, or I guess swayed me to go that way, because it was like, he’s going to allow me to be me.

"But it also give me the opportunity to get a wider audience. And I knew it would be times, and it would be kind of difficult being that I’m so different and I make the music that doesn’t really, when people think of that brand, it isn’t really Stalley. So I knew it was going to be trying, but it’s been good. It’s been working out great for me, and it’s only been getting better. Every time I put out something new, or every time I do something new with those guys, I gain more and more fans. People respect it more because it’s just takes a while sometimes for people to open up to new things. It’s like Kanye when he was at Roc-A-Fella—not to compare me and Kanye, but it was hard at first because people was used to Siegel and Freeway and all these dudes, and then you get Kanye up there with a book bag. It’s kind of the same thing.

"Man, [Ross'] biggest thing is just that his work ethic is crazy. He’s just constantly working in the studio, and I kind of learned that you’ve just got to work smart and continue to always work and just put yourself out there. And not listen to anything. Ross is one of the most scrutinized, criticized artists maybe ever, and he always just peels his ears back and just goes out. And I learned that that’s important, especially again being someone like I am. So you’ve got to just concentrate, because people, they get it after a while. People used to call J. Cole boring and now look, he’s got the number one selling album in the country, so it just takes a while for people to get used to it. But one thing I learned about Ross is just really not paying attention to anything or anybody. Because one of the first things he told me too was, 'Nobody or nothing can stop what God has for you.' So that’s that, in a nutshell."


On His Biggest Influences

"I’m always reading, whether it’s a XXL, whether it’s a Hunter S. Thompson book, a newspaper, or maybe I’m reading Huffington Post, it’s always something. I’m always trying to stay up on current events. I watch a lot of ESPN and CNN, I’m just always trying to educate myself. That’s why I got on my hands tattooed, I got 'Know More.' Because I’m always in the pursuit of knowledge, I always want to know more. And I’ve been like that since I was a kid, like a sponge just soaking up information. Just learning inspires me. Having this conversation inspires me, or having a conversation with Ross, or my mother, or some dudes I grew up with on the block. It’s just always something you can gain some type of knowledge or information from someone.

"My mom had a big influence on me. My mom is somebody who would go to the library every weekend, take out three books and read them in a week. I don’t know how she did it, but she was like, zoom. And then one thing that my mom let me do, and this why I feel like I am the way I am too, she would take me to the library with her and then be like, go ahead and do what you do. And then she would let me pick out any book I wanted. So If I got a Mario Puzo book, or if I got the Koran, or I got like the [Autobiography] of Malcolm X—if I got any type of book she was like, okay, check it out. As long as I was reading. I think my mom really influenced that and helped that."

"Especially in Columbus, you’ve got Lone Catalysts from there, you’ve got Hi-Tek is from up the street—hip-hop has really been big in Ohio, and like real hip-hop. Those guys that used to be with Hi-Tek, they did some stuff with Talib Kweli. Of course you’ve got Bone, and Ray Cash, and Cudi, Chip, so it’s a lot of hip-hop. And then Wu-Tang used to be out in Steubenville. So it’s a big hip-hop community. We used to have Scribble Jam, it was this big festival that had rap battles and DJ battles, it was a big thing down in Cincinnati. Of course people like the ratchetness, but there’s been a lot of deep roots as far as hip-hop goes."


On Blending Lyricism With A Blue Collar Work Ethic

"It’s just that hard work mentality, and then a hip-hop head to the core. I was someone who listened to Company Flow, just craziness, and then people would be like, what are you listening to? I just wanted to blend in lyricism and hard work. I also wanted music that jam, that you can ride to. Like that Trunk Muzik. Because whenever I think of those musical experiences, or some of the influences I got from music or the experience I had was always in a car or around a car. You could be outside throwing the football with your homies and somebody could ride by playing some Scarface, and you’d be like 'Oh, what’s that?' I wanted to create that. And everybody makes music for the radio or the club. I just want to make music for cars, get people back enjoying that music in their car.

"Me not always speaking about cars or sneakers in my music is like Wiz not talking about smoking weed. It’s just something that I really have a passion about, and I’ve always had it. I collect cars, I restore cars, and same with sneakers and fashion, I’m real big on that. Sports has been a big part of my life growing up, so I just try to incorporate those things into the music.

"Especially in Ohio, football is everything. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, California, Texas, the biggest high school football states in the country. It’s one of the places where if you played a sport, you was in the newspaper, and walked in the mall they’d treat you like a star. So some of that stuff has helped me transition over into music because I’m used to, I guess, the popularity, and how to conduct myself in the public eye or whatever, because it’s been like that since high school. But sports has definitely played a part in the music as far as just the hard work that got put into it, the dedication, and just being a team player, too. That’s how I’m able to be so patient with MMG, because most people would be like, 'Put my album out!' I understand the roles, I understand the things you have to go through, and the things you have to put in to get to where you need to go."

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