SOMEBODY UP THERE LOVES ME
It’s a quintessential Sunday afternoon. The calendar is open. The weather is pleasant and crisp. The whip is freshly waxed. All you need to do is find the proper soundtrack and the right co-pilot. In these days of digital abundance, there are millions of options but only a few perfect selections. The latest from Ohio’s blue collar beacon, Stalley, trunk-rattlingly fills that void.
Released on Mello Music Group, Somebody Up There Loves Me does everything but spark the blunt. It’s a laidback, soulful cruise full of hard-earned wisdom and street gospel. A testament to meticulous craftsmanship that balances tradition with a sense of timelessness. As the bearded and wavy one describes himself: “I’m somewhere between Gilbert Arenas and Gil-Scott.” A poet with a penchant for revolution, a fearless pacifist always ready for war, but hopeful the conscription will never come.
To understand Stalley’s achievements is to recognize his creative evolution. A singular voice raised in the rust belt town of Massillon, midway between Canton and Akron, he quickly developed a reputation as a ferocious spitter, releasing regionally renowned mixtapes and even traveling to Beijing as a featured MC in the Iron Mic competition. At the beginning of the last decade, Stalley signed to the other MMG, Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group, where he dropped countless star-making verses and revered mixtapes that cemented him as the working-class hero amongst a lavishly opulent crew. There were million-streaming collaborations with Scarface, Schoolboy Q, Ty Dolla Sign, Kendrick Lamar and Migos, but ultimately, Stalley opted to take the independent route, which led to this third and most impressive phase of his career.
It would be a misnomer to call this era a renaissance. In truth, Stalley has consistently released poignant (but still swangin’) rap tunes that never fail to hit you in your marrow. But upon the release of last year’s full-length collaboration with Apollo Brown, Blacklight, the Ohio lyricist kicked it into high gear. Pitchfork raved about its “sharp perspective” and declared it a “natural progression for both artists…Stalley understands the value of sticking to your guns. He embodies the kind of clever but restrained lifestyle raps that have fueled work by Curren$y and Dom Kennedy since the blog era.”
With his latest, Somebody Up There Loves Me, Stalley preaches the word without coming off preachy. He balls out without being bombastic. It’s a masterclass in rapping from the first bars of “Red Light.” He artfully shifts from a technical double-time to a conversational spill that makes you feel like you’re riding shotgun. With the passage of time, his voice has descended into a resounding gravelly boom that lends itself to his immutable parables of game. While riding solo in the wide body, he reminds you not to talk business over the phone, and then rhymes “Mick Jagger moves” with “jacking you dudes.”
With impeccable beat section from producers BAM, KFisha, Black Diamond, MadKeys, and MMG visionary Namir Blade, Stalley summons a sumptuous soul that feels warm and nostalgic without resorting to retromania. It offers a life-affirming gravity to his declaration that “God, family and morals” are everything that he stands on. Over the “Dilla Bap” orchestration that channels the late great Motown producer, Stalley drops lightning bolts of wisdom and dazzling rhyme schemes that concisely summarize the perils of the rap game:
“Hard times when you trying to be a rhymer/being a rapper puts you in the line of fire/Everything evil is what you most desire/being tough is what they must honor, until you’re fighting for your life in front of your honor/Then all that street shit and beef shit turn into karma,. All from trying to add on additional commas/I wish we listened to momma’s who tried to calm us.”
Somebody Up There Loves Me is a spiritual journey but never self-righteous. The result of blood, sweat, tears, and introspection that have allowed for Stalley to become a fully realized artist. At one point on “Bear Trap,” Stalley evokes a car ride bumping the Gorillaz and the Bobby Womack, and his latest feels like a perfect hip-hop middle ground between the two. He has refined a natural musical fluidity and developed a sense of comfort in who he is, where he’s traveled, and where he wants his passport to be stamped next. This an opus that crackles with love, warmth, and unremitting humanity. Over these past years, he’s been working on himself, and now, the droptop is open, the windows are rolled down, and the golden light is shining through.
releases December 6, 2022
Produced by B.A.M., KFisha, Black Diamond, MadKeys, and Namir Blade