Stalley charts music course after hoops

Stalley, known to his family and friends as Kyle Myricks, changed his name and cultivated a substantial crop of whiskers enroute to transformation from Ohio baller to Brooklyn rap artist.

Citing a lifelong fascination with music and Midwest and style, Stalley dropped hіѕ new free album, "Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music" that you can download here, in February. The record's first single, "Slapp" featuring Rashad Thomas, debuted to much fanfare on MTV in January and is driving high expectations for his future projects. We caught up with the 28-year-old for a phone interview in the days leading up to the album's release.

The Life: What are you up to in these days before your first album drops?

Stalley: I'm actually at my mom's house. I'm here in Massillon, Ohio, just hanging out. After this interview, I'm gonna go get a tattoo. My friend Jimmy is going to finish my sleeve.

The Life: Is that famed Cleveland tattoo artist, James Hayden, at Focused Tattoo, who does LeBron's ink and also designed his sneaker?

Stalley: Yeah, yeah, that's Jimmy. He did LeBron and a lot of the Cavs players, and Shaq, and Miami Heat guys, too.

The Life: You and Bron have some common threads.

Stalley: Yeah, we played against each other in high school, also. I seen him last year and we talked for a quick second after a game, but the Cavs had just lost and they were about to take off to another city that night, so it was real brief. But he was cordial. We talked about ball some. We know each other but not like I can call him and be like, "Hey LeBron, my man!" I have nothing but respect for him, he's a real good guy.

The Life: A real good guy? Really? No hard feelings on behalf of your great state of Ohio?

Stalley: Of course, but I can't be mad at him. You can't be mad at LeBron. I'm just mad that he made his decision the way he did and left us without a team. I'm disappointed he left us in Ohio hanging on him like that. But it's a business, and we all gotta do what we gotta do to be successful. He was successful in Ohio, he's successful now, and he'll continue to be successful. He'll always be an Ohio guy. We got the same area code. We're right down the street from each other, so it's all love.

The Life: You're always maxed out in Buckeye gear.

Stalley: I'm an Ohio guy always and forever.

The Life: You went from Michigan to Long Island, trying to play some college basketball but eventually left school. Was it difficult to decide to stay in New York?

Stalley: No. I mean, the same day I left school I knew I wasn't going back to Ohio. I just felt like I had to be in New York. I wanted to see where the ball bounced and fortunately, it stopped at music, just like I hoped for. I knew I was gonna make it, not necessarily in music, but in life. My work ethic is such that I wasn't not gonna make it. I made high school success happen, and I made the Michigan thing happen, I made the move to Brookyln happen. I was never LeBron James but I understood the formula. I knew the work you had to put in to get to where you want to be and I was willing to do that that from day one.

The Life: Your music fans probably wouldn't even recognize your college photos. Did you ever think that your beard would become such a trademark?

Stalley: I never, ever thought that it would be taken this far. I just started to grow my beard because I wanted to show my growth. I wanted a physical change to symbolize this new life of music and leaving the past behind. Before I had long hair, and blades, and no facial hair. Now I have no hair and this beard so it's very much like I morphed into a different person. As an MC sometimes you can't really see skill evolve and track the progress like you can when you are playing basketball, or something like that. I knew I was making progress, though, and I wanted something visual to stand for it. That's how the beard started. I wanted to be something different.

The Life: Something different, and now you look like every other artsy, 20-something hipster in Park Slope.

Stalley: [Laughs] I know, I know. Unless now they all look like me!

The Life: You're gonna get confused with Matisyahu when you're bundled on the streets of Brooklyn.

Stalley: Ha-ha. Everybody loves the beards. On Twitter, so many of the posts about my beard! I want a beard just like Stalley. It's crazy. I never thought it would be all over my T-shirts and stickers and everything.

The Life: Fans love your fashion, too. How'd you get your style?

Stalley: It's always been a passion of mine. Style is something I've always incorporated in my day-to-day life. I'm just really particular. That expression comes natural to me. Where basketball, for example, was something I always had to work at, expression is what I was always thinking about -- thinking about my next move and thinking about my approach.

The Life: Athletes typically don't think too much outside the paint. Did you fit in with basketball buddies?

Stalley: I was always different. That's the thing. That's what made the decision to go to music such an easy one for me. I knew I was always different. I was always myself. Nothing ever swayed my decisions, or the way I dressed. As you said, athletes, most of the time, they're not thinking about what they're gonna wear, they're just thinking about how they're gonna get those jump shots together. I would come around in certain clothes -- A.P.C., or like heritage brands, or something different -- and people would be thrown, like, "Man, what is that? What are you doing?"

The Life: Those fresh threads came from, Massillon, Ohio?

Stalley: Yeah! I credit all my style to Ohio because, where I'm from, it's real hardworking, blue-collar, everyday people. Style is something I was aware of and pursued, so I always knew how to find clothes and make something of how I presented myself.

The Life: How do you hope you present yourself in your very first album?

Stalley: The most important thing for me was creating my own sound. I wanted to bring the small town of Massillon, Ohio, to the world. I set out to show people who I am and where I'm from and what I represent. It's street-smart, it's determined, and where I'm from, there's a big car culture, everybody is into their systems, so that's why I call it "intelligent trunk music."

The Life: Early reactions to "Slapp" are really positive.

Stalley: I know, I'm so excited. I knew that this video would take off. I can only hope for the music to keep making the rounds and that brings more positive reactions. In this music thing, people can be brutal. Everybody's a critic. But I've heard so many good things about this record, and I'm so happy.

The Life: Does playing basketball help you take heat from fans and critics?

Stalley: In basketball it's sort of show and prove. But in music, it's different, and it's subjective. Everybody is up in your face. People try to pick apart every lyric and every beat. Everybody has something to say, but it's art, you know? One thing I did learn was from a basketball coach in high school who would say, "Just peel your ears back, go do what you do and don't listen to anybody." I have really carried that lesson with me, because the papers -- even in high school, especially in Ohio sports -- the critics talk about you like you're already a pro. So today, in music, I just do what I do. You either have to have thick skin or you just can't pay attention to it.

The Life: Why did you decide to release your album as a free download?

Stalley: Because I just want people to hear it. I know that if I give people this album for free, then anything else I put out, I can sell. After they hear this, I can sell shoestrings! If I'm giving away a free album that's this good, honestly, anything else I put out they should buy it. Even if it's me rappin' over trash cans, they should support me after they hear this! [Laughs] I pray that I just get a million downloads and everybody is ranting and raving about it. I'm just really excited about the project and the sound of this album. If it's heard and seen by the right people, I really believe it will be life-changing.

Mary Buckheit is a freelance writer based in San Diego. Reach her at MaryBuckheit@hotmail.com.