Stalley falls somewhere between the consciousness-oriented backpack rap of the late '90s and the hardcore-hustler-turned-decadent-don narratives of contemporary hip-hop. Though those two approaches might seem to come from completely separate ends of the MC spectrum, the Massilon, Ohio rapper has consistently invoked both the soft-spoken, positive hip-hop of the Black Star era and modern-day trap-rap extravagance.
One may assume that Stalley's ability to pair these somewhat contradictory aesthetics is the product of receiving his tutelage, at least in part, from two ideologically opposed totems of rap: the serious and sensitive Mos Def and none other than the Teflon Don himself, Rick Ross. Way back in 2008, Stalley caught the attention of Dante Terrell Smith (AKA Mos Def) with his buzzworthy mixtape, Goin' Ape. And soon, Smith offered the Midwestern spitter an opening slot. Then after a few years' worth of critical acclaim from the blogosphere, the young rapper hooked up with Ross, who signed the bearded yet baby-faced Stalley to Maybach Music while positioning him as though he were the label's Jiminy Cricket.
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Tracks such as "Lincoln Way Nights," whose remix features the Boss himself, is marked by the kind of boastful machismo that's almost essential to rap music. But there is also a perceptible, self-conscious melancholy that comes out, even in the track's video. And while Ross stuffs his face with shellfish, you can't help but think his protégé feels a little guilty.