Ever since Savage Journey To the American Dream dropped on March 30th, I’ve been walking around telling people about Stalley, the normal guy from Ohio who raps about being normal and driving around, who got picked up by the Maybach Music Group. This mixtape is his first full project post-Ross influence. It establishes a few important facts about the label.
- MMG doesn’t push artists into a specific mold. This is very much the same Stalley he ever was, and for all the problems Pill had with MMG he never was forced to sound any different while on the label.
- MMG gives you a refined sound, better R&B hooks, terrific and rich production.
Block Beattaz produces nearly all of it, and holds true to the trunk thumping audio-philosophy that has always been Stalley. Every beat reminds you a little of the last with important, slight variations. When Block Beattaz steps aside it’s on tracks like “Everything New” where Chad from the Neptunes creates an odd imitation of the “Super Thug” Noreaga beat. It’s one of the few head scratchers here. Stalley matches the bad beat with vapid lyrics not present anywhere else. Even on “Hells Angels” where he trades funny threatening insinuations about his beard with Rick Ross, somehow that makes more sense. Even the dreaded “Party Heart” from Ross’s Rich Forever mixtape is listenable because it knows it’s a joke.
Stalley is not a conscious rapper. He sums it up nicely in “Cold” “My new thing is write and not think a lot/ just jot off the inspiration.” Sometimes he will talk about being rich, but as a matter of fact run through of his life. It’s conversational so it never feels like bragging (outside of “Everything New”). On a track like “Island Hopping” which would seem like the perfect opportunity for braggadocio, Stalley side steps it nicely. “I was underground then still underground now difference is I’m under palm trees trying not to be found.” He thinks about swimming, remembers his struggles to get there, worries about the label playing him, and enjoys the good life…but only so much. Even the conscious content is directed in a conversational, not professorial tone. A great example comes on the tape’s best track “Live At Blossom where he raps “Temptation in this entertainment all for the love of being famous. The cool ones end up being the lamest.”
My concern is that this might not be the era for Stalley. This is an age where critical acclaim is heaped upon novelty acts like Lil B, Das Racist, and Action Bronson. Stalley is going to seem overly simple to someone in need of infinite contextual intrigue. He’s not. He is consciously reductive; it’s what makes his material so re-listenable. The beats will always be made for your trunk, the lyrics will always feel like a late night buzzed conversation; a moment with a friend where he just lays it out. Those of us that loved Hunter S. Thompson didn’t learn life from him, but bathed in the depth of his perspective. He finds a metaphorical connection with Thompson here using inserts from him all throughout. Stalley isn’t using the track to teach, but to live on – the way Thompson used the page. “It was simple when all I cared about was keeping my car clean, and my tank filled up so I can ride. No destination in mind just a clear highway…man I cleared my way.” he rhymes on “Route 21”. The introspection he offers is not presented as a Drake-like magic trick; it’s tossed off non-challantly. Sometimes he throws gun talk out there “throwing shells like Mario Cart” but far less than anyone else on his label. Most of the songs carry sweetness and personality effortlessly. It’s one thing for Hip Hop to have Rick Ross and Stalley, it’s another thing for these two very different artists to be able to co-exist on the same label, both unchanged. The mixtape isn’t really about the search for the American dream, it’s a question to the audience: now that I have this money what do you want me to do? When the Coyote caught the Road Runner he looked at us and asked what now? None of us knew. That confusion pounds through the speakers on nearly every track.
You can download Savage Journey To the American Dream at the address below.