Grand Central, Miami
Friday, June 22, 2012
Stalley's concert poster bragged of "Special Invited Guests" Rick Ross, Meek Mill and Wale, although we didn't really expect to see them.
Rozay didn't show at Crossfade's bar mitzvah either. And that was back in his Slip-N-Slide Records days, long before he could fly private to Jamaica to smoke a bud the size of a malnourished orphan.
No, the man of the hour was Stalley. The hour in question was 3 a.m., four minutes after which Stalley finally took the stage to end an evening at Grand Central that officially began at 10 p.m. Unlike many attendees, Stalley must have squeezed in an afternoon nap, because his energy level was peaking, just as eyelids and levels in the Cîroc bottles drooped ever lower.
Yes, his long beard may have been a little longer by the time he took the stage than it would have been had the show started on time. But the wait paid off for the patient. Seeing him live in his Wahoo fitted and eager grin, Stalley's under-the-radar tracks all felt like huge radio hits.
There have been strong mixtapes from Gunplay and Meek Mill this summer. Not to mention, Meek's own album will be out soon, as will Rick Ross's, and the latest MMG Self Made compilation drops early next week. In part due to his track-stealing verses on Self Made, Vol. 2 and the acclaim for his latest mixtape, Savage Journey to the American Dream, there's a lot of attention on Stalley, even though he consciously avoids lyrical dazzle and big-name features. He does this in order to keep attention on his genre paintings of life in the depressed nowheres of Middle America.
Stalley avoids cursing, objectifying women, and he generally keeps the references to past crimes and violence vague and cloaked in a certain kind of shame. He raps about cars, but as a gearhead, not a status seeker. MMG's kick-ass Blowin' Money Fast widescreen rap seems to have shaken thinking man's rappers like Wale (MMG) and Kendrick Lamar (frequent guest) in their efforts to fit the aesthetic. So far, Stalley seems to be holding his own.
He's not a Ross-sized star yet and though he's brimming with charisma, he doesn't act as though he's dozing in the Miami sands, waiting for the tide of adulation to come to him. Early in the show, Stalley addressed the anemic crowd, which filled maybe a third of the venue.
"I'm going to take you down 'Lover's Lane' one time. So ladies, make some noise."
[Quite literally, some noise.]
"Hmmm. There aren't enough ladies in here," he shrugged with a laugh.
It didn't matter. Stalley still belted it like he was playing to a packed arena without sacrificing any intimacy. He looked right into the eyes of the crowd and swung his arms around as though trying to huddle everyone closer for a group photo.
It's a different approach than that favored by the Maybach Family, the name given to the ever-shifting cast of MMG MCs who performed before Stalley. These are the guys who don't get included on the big releases, but on whose mixtapes, you can usually expect a Ross or Meek Mill verse. They are largely Miami rappers and they are being groomed by Ross for possible stardom.
On Friday night, this included Young Breed of Maybach's Triple Cs group, Quise (one half of Deuce Pound), Scotty Boi and Dudus, whose MMG mixtape Str8 2 The Source Volume 1 was liberally spread over nearly every flat surface in Grand Central.
All four are capable MCs with a certain spark. Quise emphasized the importance of financial responsibility when he rapped, "If you owe me money, you better pay that shit." Young Breed offered a plea for refined civility in his song about receiving oral sex, encouraging others to do as he does when "I sip coffee while you teabagging me." Scotty Boi's "Lawyer Fees" came down in favor of working with the law rather than outside it.
But how do you know when you've made it above the ranks to top-tier Maybach? Well, for starters, Stalley gets bottles of water put out for him by the stage crew. (They looked to be Zephyrhills ... 813, baby!) In general, though, it seems that the big Maybach guys are not made but acquired; Meek Mill made his name in Philadelphia battles, Wale turned heads with his Seinfeld-inspired Mixtape About Nothing, and Stalley had three killer mixtapes before Ross brought him on board.
Things were getting pretty wild within a few minutes after "Lover's Lane". The crowd thickened around the stage and hooted and cheered through each song or side remark. And for those of you looking to rap music for social cues, file this under things you should say before doing just about anything remotely awesome:
"I'm going to have to tuck my chain for this next one."
--Stalley, before throwing himself into "BCGMMG"
His mixtapes are put together with an extradinary attention to detail; they are presented as unified wholes in which tracks reference each other and work towards a common ethos. Live, however, Stalley is the kind of shadowboxing party starter who can drop covert references to Yeats in one breath and then bellow, "If you got a hater, say, 'Fuck you, hater!'"
"Fuck you, hater!"
Though his DJ worked as an ersatz hypeman, it was mostly Stalley on the stage alone. This was partially a necessity, as there only seemed to be two microphones in the building, which made for some awkward baton passes when Young Breed, Dudus and Quise were rapping together. But also, Stalley generally keeps away from features on his own tracks, avoiding the common live rap problem of having to cut songs short after a verse or ambling stupidly while a recorded verse plays out and the MC of the night has nothing to do.
On "Party Heart," Stalley showed early signs of succumbing to a common live rap illness, in which the amount MCs rap becomes inversely proportional to the success of a given song. Generally, Stalley seemed hungry. And even playing to a distant, small, and initially resentful crowd, he strung together his words with the freshness of a freestyle.
Stalley's the real deal and it will be fun to see if he can ascend towards the ranks of Miami's other big-ticket acquisition from Ohio.
Personal Bias: Other than the Bawse himself, I think Stalley is the most exciting member of the Maybach Music Group right now. He gives MMG a whole new dimension I didn't realize it was lacking.
The Crowd: It was a pretty sedate and sparse crowd. Folks seemed a bit miffed to have their reasonable expectations about the show's start time dashed, what with the 10 p.m. door time and Stalley's 3:04 a.m. start. As such, enthusiasm was hard to muster for anyone except mad Stalley himself. Befitting Stalley, it was a fairly nattily dressed hip-hop crowd who'd thrown on their Cons and fresh fabrics for the occasion. Not very many attempts at Stalley-esque beards, though.
Fun Live Variation: On "Party Heart," Stalley's DJ let the Rick Ross verse play until it reached, "Me and Stalley need the same pick," at which point "pick, pick, pick" kept repeating as a smiling Stalley picked out his beard with his fingers.
Ray Da Great came from Birmingham, Alabama, to preach positivity. A lot of his songs seemed to be about drinking and smoking weed, and he seemed to be having a nice time. This in spite of hostess Mimi the Dreamer's puzzling introduction in which she forgave him for the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham. Given that he is not an elderly Klan member -- it seems unlikely that Ray Da Great had any kind of involvement. He was gracious all the same, a key personality trait of anyone who hopes to achieve da greatness.
Steven A. Clark plays the kind of music that even in a room half-filled with strangers, causes a person to ask, "Should I be making sweaty love right now? I think I should be making sweaty love right now." Clark sings dark, sinuous R&B that drifts at times towards a rap bark. Though backed by his usual DJ and guitarist, Clarke bounced around the stage a little more than we've seen him do previously. His voice was a little raspier than normal and he had his settings on party mode, rather than his usual "brash and defiant." The latter mostly was limited to introducing his last song with, "I'm Steven A. Clarke and you're going to love this." He was, we did.
Past 2 a.m.,
J. Nics did pretty well with a crowd that was beginning to fade. Mimi the Dreamer asked the crowd, "You look so tired. What happened?" Time happened, Mimi. It comes for us all. She then plugged the DJs availability for baby showers and birthday parties. This is what J. Nics walked into and the self-described Polar Bear Mack rapped a bit about polar bears and porches. His set came most alive during his song, "Where Dem Dollars At?" which asks the musical question, "Where dem dollars at, bitch?" Take it up with Grand Central, J.; six of them went to a bottle of water. Young Breed features on that track and joined J. Nics for it live.
-"Hammers & Vogues"
-"Home to You"
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-"MMG The World is Ours"