Stalley is from Massillon, Ohio.
If you know what to listen for, you can hear the small town talking in Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music), his latest mixtape: There’s the hollow clanging of the wooden wind chimes on the front porch in “Assassin,” the bittersweet letter to his hometown/girlfriend in “Milq n’ Honey,” and the marching band halftime show’s mid-tempo number in “Hard” (which also sounds as if it might flourish into Toto’s “Africa” at any moment, too).
Massillon’s chattering as loudly as the town gossip, actually. Lincoln Way, for example, is a main drag that people cruise and turn into a makeshift car show weekend nights during the summer. The influence of the Massillon Tiger Swing Band, known as “the greatest show in high school football,” is in the horns and snare drums on a big handful of tracks. And the concern of a boy who’s been raised right—“I just wanna take care of the lady that made me,” he says in “The Sound of Silence”—is a prominent theme.
Rappers from the Midwest are earning the region the distinction of producing some of the most brutally honest lyricists in hip hop. Count Common, Kanye, and Lupe in, of course, but add Gary, Indiana’s Freddie Gibbs and the group that first put the Midwest on the map, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony (look no further than the exuberance of “1st of tha Month” for proof), to the list of rappers telling the story of the bulk of Americans straight.
Though much of what Stalley says has already been noted, he continues to build solidly on that foundation. Echoing Kanye West’s “All Falls Down,” he raps, “My mama called, tell me they done turned the gas off/And I just spent five hundred in a shopping mall so I can look good for y’all,” in “Tell Montez I Love Her.” Or his Lupe Fiasco-like take (“Dumb it Down”) on his peers in the industry, in “Monkey Ish”: “Rappin’ ‘bout clown ish, and Ima be the one to lift the ground up … bunch of followers, lost in clouds of smoke, and you wonder why the white folks call us joke.”
But there’s that “trunk music” tag in the title, too. Rashad Thomas, who produced the entire tape, shaped its songs to sound good even if you couldn’t care less about the lyrics. “Slapp” flips between a warbly ‘70s synth cut with claps and a concert crowd’s chorus, crafting a track custom-made for a slow cruise. And beef up your system before the triple threat of “Pound,” “The Sound of Silence,” and “She Hates the Bass.”
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