After bearing his soul on his last album, Stevie Stone was spent. The veteran Strange Music artist knew that he wanted to shake things up sonically and thematically on the follow-up to 2015’s Malta Bend.
“Malta Bend was so serious and so deep about my roots,” Stevie Stone reveals. “It was like therapy for me and I just wanted to have fun with this project. I went out to California and started recording with Scott Storch, The Mekanix and Dem Jointz. I was 10 songs in before I named it and the reason I named it Level Up is because everything had leveled up as far as production, concepts, lyrics. I stepped the whole style up.”
The Scott Storch (Beyonce, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent) produced single “Whippin’ Up” is a prime example of Stevie Stone’s statement. The energetic keys and crisp drums provide a plush sonic tapestry that matches Stevie Stone’s braggadocio lyrics about balling out and experiencing life at the highest level as he lives his dreams.
Equally arresting is the high energy “Options.” Rapping over a sinister club-ready beat from Purps of 808 Mafia (Migos), Steve Stone’s signature raspy voice blends into an intoxicating hook. He let the beat speak to him and dictate the direction of the song, something he did while crafting Level Up.
“I didn’t second-guess anything on this album,” he says. “I just wrote whatever felt good. The first thing that was coming to me, I would just go ahead and do it. All my previous albums, I may have sat on it for a second, gave it some thought. This one, I was just like, let’s go. Let’s come out swinging for every record, but let’s have fun in the same sense.”
Even though the subject matter was more serious on “Paradise,” Stevie Stone still had fun while crafting the Dem Jointz (Dr. Dre, Rihanna, Brandy) and Fred Wreck (Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Brittney Spears, The Doors) produced cut. Here, Stevie flexes his storytelling abilities while exploring the highs and lows of life in the music industry.
“My first verse is like everything’s glitz and glamour,” the rapper recounts. “The second one is like the opposite. Someone’s paradise could be somebody’s hell when you get caught in the smoke and mirrors. Is your soul secure in this? That’s one thing about this music game. Don’t lose yourself, ‘cause you can if you allow yourself to. That’s why I always try to keep a lot of grounded people, Day 1s, around me, not any Yes Men. You want people that are going to be honest with you.”
Elsewhere, Stone gets nostalgic on the lively “Old School.” Here, Stevie Stone weaves several classic film and music references into his rhymes about his gangster sensibilities. He switches gears on the sensuous “All Yours,” a scintillating collaboration with crooner Adrian Truth and Strange Music impresario Tech N9ne. Once Stevie Stone got the “All Yours” beat from Michael “Seven” Summers, he knew that Tech N9ne would bring an exciting element to the track.
“Me and Tech always do some type of love song or freaking song for the ladies,” Stevie Stone says. “Tech is a genius and he’s the best out there. He’s a great mentor and a hell of a writer, in terms of a lyricist. He’s big bro. Working with him is always dope.”
Although Stevie Stone has a longstanding relationship with Tech N9ne, he found that approaching Level Up in a different way than he had his other projects changed his music. Leaving Missouri to record the project helped Stevie Stone find a new musical mindset.
“Now I have to do that every album,” he says. “Going out to L.A. was everything because I got inspired by the other writers I was working with. It was a whole different energy. They just knocked out records. I loved that. That’s something that I have to do on every record.”
Steady evolution has been a hallmark of Stevie Stone’s career. Prior to signing with Strange Music, he released his New Kid Comin album in 2009 on Ruthless Records, the label owned by late N.W.A. mastermind Eazy-E. It was his introduction to the music industry and he was excited by the opportunity.
Once he signed with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music, Stevie Stone dropped 2012’s Rollin’ Stone, a thematically diverse album that marked his evolution from an emerging act to one who was ready to make his mark nationally. Subsequent albums (2013’s 2 Birds 1 Stone and 2015’s Malta Bend) featured Stevie Stone growing into a well-rounded artist, one who was growing as a man, an artist and father. He has toured the United States several times and also journeyed to Australia and New Zealand, an opportunity that allowed him to expand his horizons and see how people lived in other parts of the world.
The new perspective had a profound affect on Stevie Stone. After living in several cities in Missouri, he recently relocated to Kansas City in order to be closer to Strange Music’s hub. He also severed ties with his former management and re-signed to Strange Music, deepening his bond with the No. 1 independent rap label in the music industry.
So, with the impending release of Level Up, Stevie Stone has undergone a rebirth on several levels. He’s in a great space creatively, is exploring new ways to express himself and is enjoying a level of comfort with his music and his life like never before.
“I’m understanding my lane even more,” Stevie Stone explains. “This is my fourth album on Strange. I understand what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m more in tune with myself now.”
One listen to Level Up makes that clear.