Stalley: Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music)

Stalley, member of the ever-rising DD172/Creative Control/BluRoc squadron, releases his first LP for free on Bandcamp, produced entirely by Ohio native Rashad.


Lincoln Way Nights (Intelligent Trunk Music)

Label: Mishka New York
US Release Date: 2011-02-08
UK Release Date: Import

The only way I can compel myself to start this review is by starting where the album starts. As the album progresses, we'll find that Rashad is the star -- his use of 808s is particularly masterful, like that prolonged thump near the end of the intro -- but for two tracks, Stalley definitely appears to be the star of his own show. Rashad is every bit his equal even in these moments, though. The way he works horns and samples into "Slapp" is one of the most basically joyous moments hip-hop has given us in 2011. But it's also these two tracks that most totally live up to the album's subtitle, Intelligent Trunk Music. The beats bang, and on the surface, it feels like Stalley is just rapping about his sound system and cars.

In fact, a lot of the songs on here will give you that feeling. But it's a sort of interesting thing Stalley does here, in that the emphasis always seems to be on his trunk, yet it's most often actually on something else. "She Hates the Bass", for example, is, on its surface, a song about women disliking automobile sub-woofers, but on a thematic level, it speaks more to the fact Stalley is now in a position where he doesn't need to cater to women to satisfy them. He has the stability and confidence to be his own man, regardless of their requests. The right woman will come to him.

Maybe it's because a lot of the most publicized rap records these days reach for grander statements -- see Rick Ross, Lil' Wayne, Jay-Z, and Kanye. among others -- but Lincoln Way Nights is refreshing in its modesty, similar to Curren$y's first Pilot Talk installment. Essentially, the reasons some folks deride the work coming out of Damon Dash's dojo and the Creative Control group are the same reasons I'm drawn to them. On a skills level, they consistently, subtly approach bigger life concepts through mere descriptions of their hobbies and day-to-day activities. In doing this, they not only seem to be more relatable and real than a Notorious B.I.G., Nas, or Jay, but they also seem to be more guarded from the typical expectations of a hip-hop release.

Not once on Lincoln Way Nights, not even the weaker second half, does Stalley feel like a guy that's trying to live up to a mentor or supposed standard of rap. He is just doing him with his homie super-producer Rashad, spitting that Ohio-loving goodness about his subs and the positive things they inspire him to do with his life. Sometimes he'll veer off the thematic conceit without any real warning, though, like "Assassin" or "The Sound of Silence". On these tracks, he essentially performs the role of Generic But Very Relatable, Understandable, and Enjoyable Rapper, with the latter featuring a somewhat perplexing appearance from John Mayer.

I will agree with a growing mass of detractors, though, when it comes to the notion that Stalley may not be able to carry a full LP for himself. He starts the album with a lot of verses that won't light a fire under your ass but won't come close to boring either. But once it eclipses the obvious spotlight moment of "She Hates the Bass", Stalley delivers a string of tracks that feel repetitive before "Monkey Ish" storms on the scene to do some typical but satisfying berating of whack-ass MCs. It's this second half that reminds me of MadStalley, his mixtape of raps over Madlib's jazz compositions and Blue Note remixes. On that tape, despite the universally strong production, Stalley was unable to capture attention for more than bars at a time, and the struggles once again creep up throughout the second half of this LP.

It's a shame because if one were to judge him solely on his verse from Curren$y's "Address", one might assume Stalley is one of New York's most promising up-and-coming bearded MCs. But after giving Lincoln Way Nights some thorough listens, it's hard to say how much farther he goes from here. No doubt Stalley is a good rapper, and his connections are going to be carrying him for at least a few years. But whether he can convince someone to care about him -- and only him -- for an entire longplayer remains to be seen. For now, thank God he has Rashad, Ski, and Damon Dash's rolodex on his side.


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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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