Ohio is a hard sell. It’s not typically the first location that comes to mind when you think of rap, and, I would have to assume, not the easiest place for a career breakout. Caught between the classically synth-driven vigor of the West Coast, the ever-changing identity of the East and dirty funk of the South, the Midwest—apart from a few outliers (Minneapolis area, Chicago)—has largely been without a signature sound to carve a niche for itself.
Stalley, the MMG black sheep has elevated his name the past few years by being the only seemingly human signee on the label The Bawse built. His mixtapes and 2013’s Honest Cowboy EP were a strong showcase for what set him apart from the rest of the affluent roster; namely, his brand of “intelligent trunk music” and that he comes off as a genuinely good guy with hometown love. Repping Massillon, Ohio since 2008’s Goin Ape with fellow native Terry Urban, Stalley has shown a fierce loyalty to his city, and has done quite a bit to give it a particular aesthetic.
Ohio is Stalley’s first full-length album and his second commercial effort overall. Having been on record for the better part of a decade, Stalley often shines with earned wisdom; he’s an artist who seems too mature to be releasing a debut LP. Unfortunately. these glimpses of greatness are interspersed with too much filler to ever become a glowing triumph.
Produced almost exclusively by longtime collaborator and friend Rashad, Ohio maintains a continuously chill throb from front to back. Opener “Welcome to O.H.I.O.” has a simple, laid-back bounce that carries into lead single (and trunk anthem if there ever was one), “Jackin’ Chevs.” The following song, “Problems,” provides the darkest moments on the album and Stalley doesn’t miss a step. A first-person tale of a few violent and desperate moments, the track sees the rapper highlighting circumstances that led to them. He also shares his out-of-reach pipe-dreams. It’s at this point where Ohio starts to flop. The next few tracks lack any truly memorable moments, even with guest spots from Nipsey Hussle, Rick Ross and crooners August Alsina and Ty Dolla $ign.
By the “3:30pm” mark (pun), the album gets back on track with Stalley returning to form, sharpening his bars again for some of the best rapping of his career. “Chevelle” is crossover appeal done right, and “Free” featuring straight shit-talking over the albums jazziest, most effortlessly impressive beat. The album’s best song, closer “Navajo Rugs,” featuring (oddly enough) De La Soul may be the most out place. Channeling Outkast’s “Aquemini,” it’s slightly psychedelic with arguably the silliest/most profound concept ever: comparing rap with the making of a rug from the Navajo aboriginals. Yeah. Luckily Stalley brings enough charisma to hold it up, and being backed by one of hip-hop’s finest groups ever doesn’t hurt.
Ohio succeeds on the strength of Stalley’s character, a humble, blue-collar dude with a love for cars and the best beard since Freeway stopped shaving. Even when the music falls short, or the bars don’t knock you off your feet, you’re always able to fall back on his subtle but affable personality. For a guy signed onto a label called Maybach Music Group, and who shares a roster with guys like Meek Mill, that’s a substantial victory on it’s own.
3 out of 5
You can purchase Ohio on Amazon.