The Massillon, Ohio native may not have an official debut album on the shelves yet, but it hardly matters. Stalley has quickly gained a fanbase over the last three years by releasing album-quality mixtapes with original production. His third entry, Honest Cowboy, continues in the footsteps of Lincoln Way Nights and Savage Journey to the American Dream. Honest Cowboy brings a familiar, laid-back Stalley over smooth production with heavy bass, perfect for showing off your sound system. The 2013 release has its own personal flavor, and differentiates itself from Stalley’s past releases thanks to its shortened length. It’s a very easy listen, at right around 40 minutes and 10 tracks (11 if you count the bonus track).
As Stalley continues to release music, he assuredly continues to improve as a rapper. He has always had a knack for balancing two sides of street and consciousness while always feeling genuine, and that’s exactly what you can expect from him here. Honest Cowboy displays all angles of Stalley, from the summer anthem “Swangin’” featuring Scarface to the introspective “Raise Your Weapons”. You’ll witness insight into Stalley’s life while also being invited to breathe in the atmosphere of the Midwest that bleeds out of Stalley’s music. Stalley isn’t a super lyrical rapper, but his lyrics are easy to relate to on at least some level. He’s got an unmistakable voice, which some may see as a flaw, but it certainly gives his music a unique feel.
Even if you can’t entirely buy into Stalley the rapper, you can always count on him for introducing you to some great production. On Honest Cowboy he once again brings in some great names that are fitting to his game. The Block Beataz and Rashad both return to supply Stalley with more heat, and others such as Soundtrakk and Terrace Martin also contribute their own beats. DJ Quik and Cardo even collaborated to produce the opening track, “Spaceships & Woodgrain”, and DJ Quik stuck around to mix the whole project. Despite the variety of producers, Honest Cowboy sounds completely cohesive throughout and creates its own style in the same way Lincoln Way Nights and Savage Journey to the American Dream did.
While he might just be known to some as “that other guy with a big beard in MMG” right now, if Stalley continues to release music at this high of a level it will only be a matter of time before he starts getting recognition from everyone. Honest Cowboy marks the third really good release from him in just a matter of years, fourth if you go back to the MadStalley mixtape. There aren’t many artists out who are making music in the same vein as Stalley. The closest comparison I could think of would be Curren$y, in that they both make mellowed-out music over great beats. Stalley administers a soundtrack for those days when you’re cruising around the city with the windows down, going five under the speed limit.
Honest Cowboy may just be another stepping stone, and if Stalley can continue to grow as an artist there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. It’s concise and it’s good, all 10 songs have something to offer (although the bonus track, “A-Wax” isn’t so impressive). As summer transitions to fall, Honest Cowboy is a fitting release to capture that mood. It admittedly doesn’t have as many high points as his previous two tapes, but Honest Cowboy is definitely consistent. If everything goes as planned, the next time we’re hearing from Stalley it will be on his major label debut album. However, if something comes up and we instead get another album-like mixtape with banging original production, well we probably wouldn’t complain too much.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.