As a shorty, Brooklyn’s Sha Stimuli was surrounded by rap royalty. His older brother, Lord Digga, would bring him around cats like Masta Ace and the late Biggie Smalls. They led by example and showed the young emcee you could make it in this rap game if you mastered the craft.
But when it seemed Sha’s time finally came, the blueprint had changed. A solid mixtape buzz and Source’s Unsigned Hype couldn’t save him from becoming another face in the crowd of mediocre rappers with brilliant marketing schemes. Plus, the label drama that seems to come with every contract didn’t help either.
Fast forward to 2009, a tenacious Sha Stimuli gets ready to follow up the slew of conceptual mixtapes from last year with the release of his debut album My Soul to Keep. HHLO caught up with him to discuss the new albums, his writing, the state of NY hip hop and why he continues to do it.
HHLO: What’s going on?
Sha: Hey ain’t nothing. I’m in Atlanta right now.
HHLO: What’s going on in Atlanta?
Sha: Not much. I got a spot out here. I don’t really like New York like that.
HHLO: Right right.
Sha: Yeah, I’m working on the album some more, finishing it up, so I been out here recording and taking care of a little business. But this is where I’m trying to ultimately be.
HHLO: True. So you’re still working on the album?
Sha: I’m pretty much done. Artwork is turned in but I’m just adding some finishing touches.
HHLO: You must be pretty excited. I mean, this is your debut but you’ve been in the game for quite awhile.
Sha: Yeah it’s been a long time man but you know. I’m excited. I’m a little nervous about people’s reception of it but what are you gonna do. Hopefully it catches.
HHLO: Most of your mixtapes are like albums because they have concepts and the sound quality is crisp. What are some of the differences between the album and your past mixtapes?
Sha: Well the main difference is the music. Like with the mixtapes, I’m getting beats from producers I’ve never met. Some of them I’ve met before. But I was knocking out like you know five, six, seven songs in one session. So you know, I get into a little groove and I just kind of go in and do what I do. [For the album] I like taking time to really get the music to that level of where I really want things. I like music. I don’t really like rap too much. Rap is cool but I’m a music fan so… I like instrumentation, I like change ups, all types of kooky things that make a song a song. And a lot of times on the mixtapes people don’t wanna hear about it, they just wanna hear me rap. I’m the type of dude that’s giving different concepts to let ‘em know I’m not your average typical, you know, just straight up rapper. So that’s where the main difference is… I’m trying to tell a story. Within the album I’m telling a lot of stories within a bigger story. And you know it’s really about evolution and me trying to get better as a person. It’s also about my quest to live forever ‘cause I get so paranoid. That’s the only reason I really rap cuz I’m scared of dying, man. I’m trying to live forever through this music stuff.
HHLO: You’re trying to leave a legacy…
Sha: Yeah yeah. So you know, I stole the album title from a book that I read, it was called My Soul to Keep. It was about immortality. There was a dude that was on the earth and was living forever. It’s a hot novel. I’m not really into novels but I read books that that you know say something like Tipping Point or Conversations with God. When it was recommended to me I checked it out and it was about a dude that had a family that didn’t have no clue that he’s been on earth since the days of Christ. You can link that to music, in a sense of, you take somebody like Michael Jackson who has saved so many lives with just his words and his entertainment and as much as we may not think that’s big – like, it’s a big thing to break down culturalization values cuz we’re so separate of humans. If I can do a fifth, an eighth, some of the people who’ve inspired me through and with music. I’ve lived a full life, you know. I don’t know if I’ve answered any of your questions. laughs
HHLO: laughs Yeah but that’s interesting stuff man. Pac and Big, it’s like they’re still alive.
Sha: Exactly. And a lot of people still aspire to reach what they’ve done. And these guys were like 25 and 26 years old, you know what I mean. They haven’t even really lived. They’ve done so much and reached so many people. So you know, the biggest difference with the mix tape of course is I’ve took more time with this. The concepts are a little more, I would say left field. I’m just trying to incorporate a lot of the things that I didn’t get to do before, I didn’t get to say on the Virgin album when I was signed before and that’s about it.
HHLO: I caught the promo for My Soul to Keep; it’s mostly about how people don’t know you yet. What are you trying to do differently in terms of, I guess marketing?
Sha: That’s the magic question man. If you think about marketing you’re talking about money man ‘cause I can come up with 80 million marketing strategies but it’s hard to implement them without anybody behind them… So I don’t know what I’d do differently because I’m not one of these guys you can’t put in a box so easily and I think that’s been my gift and curse. I think a lot of artists that people gravitate towards… they can put them in the hipster category or the hardcore category or the hustler category. It’s easy when you’re putting this dude on and you know what you’re getting. With me, the only category I can think of that people gonna put me in is lyricist, and that can go so many different ways. But with me being a human it’s tough to market that, you know? It’s tough to sit here and tell you there’s no package that I can sell with the music, you know? I always thought that was the company’s job and the artist can be an artist. Whatever the label is that signs them – they rack their brains and sit in the board meetings and come up with it. I always felt like everything I’ve done hasn’t really been broadcasted. The game is so saturated; it’s tough for the fans to pick out what’s good or what’s this in their face. I understand guys are sending out numerous email blogs about a mixtape coming out or the album’s coming out. I know you’re bombarded with 80,000 people that just started rapping two weeks ago and you don’t know what’s good and who has it. I been doing this since I was a kid and when I was a kid it wasn’t a lot of people rapping, you know. And in my warped mind, I’m still going off of that like I’m better than a lot of people, like that matters. But as you and I both know or else you wouldn’t have asked me that question, how the hell you gonna market this crap. I could be sitting on the most classic album ever, but if nobody knows or if nobody’s paying attention, it means nothing. So I don’t have an answer to your question. But I can tell you this. I wrote that commercial about three, four months ago. I was in Atlanta sitting at a party when I wrote that audio and I recorded it and I was just thinking of marketing without marketing, ‘you don’t know me, you don’t know my story, I don’t wanna become your favorite rapper overnight, but I do have things that I’m going through in my life that you may identify with’. So you talking about the average, everyday person going through some things, you know good, bad, whatever whatever. But to get to hear it on a song, or get to hear it on a record, or get to hear some music that you feel that you not only – you know, everything you can’t play in a club. Everything is not gonna wanna make you go spend money on bottles. Sometimes you just wanna hear something you just groove out to and you can feel. And to me, that’s what I like so I figure why not give them an album with that.
HHLO: Is “Follow the Leader” the single to Soul to Keep?
Sha: “Follow the Leader” started as a leak record, it turned into a ‘street single’, and I don’t know what a street single is but I guess that’s like the single that you put out where it’s not really your single in case it doesn’t do well. When Jay first rapped “DOA” there was so much buzz about the record and people was hitting me up. I was actually down here and I got the record like eight times from people emailing, talkin’ about it, talking about how it shut the city down and a lot of people were like “Yo you should freestyle to the same beat?” I was like nah, everybody’s gonna do that, I don’t wanna do that. Then, my man Will was like “Yo, you should do a record. Talkin’ about it because you already touched on this same topic before but nobody heard it. And now Jay killed Auto-Tune so it’s like what are you gonna do. And I’m like you know, alright I’ll think of something. So he sent me a couple beats and I came with ‘Follow the Leader.’ So I was inspired by that song. It put me in a mood, it’s a lot bigger than what I had intended before I even, you know, sent it to anybody. So once I sent it out and DJ’s started playing it… DJ Self who I actually shouted out on the record, who had never played my songs before, played it. Green Lantern’s hitting me like “yo I heard the record” and all of a sudden we got like all these spins in a week. You know things like that is organic. You can’t really plan that. So all of a sudden, the Koch, E1 people catch wind of it and they trackin’ the spins and now you have a street single you know? And the producer didn’t even know that we were doing it.
HHLO: Do you see any new trends that are coming into style that you ain’t fuckin’ with? Like skinny jeans?
Sha: Laughs. I touched on that before, the whole skinny jeans thing. I mean, that’s not my style. Yeah my jeans, they’re not as baggy as they used to be. I will say that. But I don’t wear the skinny jeans like; you know that’s not my thing. What are other people doing nowadays?
HHLO: You know what I see a lot, everybody talking about going outer space. It’s like everybody got a record about that.
Sha: Nobody wants to be an earthling anymore.
HHLO: (laughs) Yeah.
Sha: I swear to you I heard about four R&B, if you wanna call it that, records with the Auto-Tune voice where the people are in space. Mars and Jupiter and I think Trey Songz got a Jupiter song. I think Wayne started something with that whole space thing. You gonna see that a lot, man. Hip hop has always been about settin’ trends. I mean, that’s nothing new. The problem that we got over the last seven or eight years is that artists who wanna get on so bad that they’re afraid to do something out of the norm. It’s like labels are telling you, “Yo, that’s the formula, you need the formula.” Another reason that I call my album Soul to Keep is because I intended to keep my soul. Like, I said “you know what? No matter what people say, I’m gonna just do what I feel like doing.” I have no labels on my back, nobody tellin’ me we need a commercial record. Some records might offend some people you know what I’m saying. I’m cursing God in the record, I’m talkin’ bout the church, I’m talking about women’s hygiene like, it’s a lot of different things on here people gonna be like “Are you sure you wanna put this out?” I’m like; to me I’m saying what I wanna say. I still get to this day, “Yo what’s your single, what’s gonna be your commercial single” and for people to still say those things, it’s annoying sometimes. We just trying to be, and contribute to the game. I don’t wanna have to sit here and think about which record is gonna get the most spins and what I gotta do to sound like, you know, this person. Or who I gotta get on this record. It totally changed from the 90’s in a way that the business is takin’ over a little bit too much. I’m thankful that the internet is there, we can reach the world with the click of a button, but it’s so many rappers and not enough fans that the game is totally saturated by people that don’t care about it. I know you probably hear this over and over and over but everybody talks about how bad the game is. The lack of record sales – which I’m hoping makes people discouraged to wanna do it. I’m really praying that happens. People just say “You know what? It ain’t money in it.” It’s just like you know the ‘80s and ‘90s when you doin’ it, you have the level where you have to be good, ‘cause maybe people gonna step away and be like, “you know what, this ain’t for me.”
HHLO: Yeah I mean, if people wanna become famous they should make sex tapes or something.
Sha: Yeah. You got reality shows; they can find ways to really get fame man. I swear to you, the people that hit me on the social networks or even email, that I’m thinking, you know – sometimes it’s a congratulations or a big up, and then ten seconds later or two emails later it’s the “Yo, check out my video” or “how can we do a song together?” And they don’t be good. And I mean not good like no concept of anything, like what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who you are as an artist. I’m not one to sit here and judge and critique somebody’s art form –
HHLO: Nah you definitely can…
Sha: Yeah it’s just obvious it’s not your passion. I’ma just say that. A lot of times it’s just not their passion. So that’s what that commercial to me represented. It was for me to separate myself from a lot of people that aren’t passionate about this shit. You know. I was Unsigned Hype in 2003, I was on Masta Ace’s album when I was like 12, 13 years old, doing intros and shit. Hanging around the Juice Crew. A lot of these people have no clue what a Juice Crew is. And that’s fine. But I’m just telling people. This has been my dream for a long time and I’m not playing around with it.
HHLO: I saw on your MySpace that the Emotion Picture is still coming out. It looks like it’s gonna be your sophomore album but it was recorded before Soul to Keep right?
Sha: Yeah, I started on it. I borrowed some records from there, some records that I paid for. I have a Just Blaze joint, a couple of other concepts that I thought hit right now. Yeah but most likely it’ll be the sophomore because the story I was working on doesn’t fit this timeline. I think what I was going through then is different than what I’m going through now.
HHLO: Word, usually the next album shows growth. So I wondered if you were concerned with almost going backwards.
Sha: Yeah, a little bit. I can still work it. ‘Cause a lot of the stuff I was talking about have to deal with the major label situation and being new to fame. When I got signed, I had hit another tax bracket kind of quick, like a lot of things were happening fast. So I saw a lot of people around me changing. I’m also incorporating the story of my life from the beginning. So I have the beginning and I have what I was going through then.
HHLO: Yeah and those things don’t really change.
Sha: With this album it’s like it’s somewhere in between because I went from having to not having. And still maintaining, and still being here and still having things to say so… if I get around to that album, we’ll see what happens.
HHLO: A lot of dudes that were doing the mix tapes like in the early 2000s were very skilled and showed a lot of promise. But the game switched and it’s like you, cats like Saigon, Grafh are part of a whole generation right there that almost got left behind.
Sha: It was a whole class of us. It was me, Papoose, Saigon, Grafh, Gravy; even Main-o got signed. A lot of us got signed around the same time. There was like this whole next class of underground that made it to the majors. Everybody wanted to see who was gonna emerge. And all of a sudden it was like – I don’t even know how to explain it. There was a real shift in things where it seemed like the old heads just put a shut down on everybody. Like you know what, none of ya’ll are coming out. It’s like nobody’s gonna break through the door. I don’t know what happened. Everybody’s situation is so different. Everybody kinda got a shot but not really, you know what I’m saying. That’s why it was such a big deal when Main-o was able to drop an album because with all the obstacles in his way he kept coming out with records and kept getting radio stays and was able to put it out on Atlantic Records and that was a blessing man and I salute him.
HHLO: And between you guys I feel like there’s also camaraderie and like, they say New York is so split but in that generation at least you guys seem to be cool with each other.
Sha: Yeah, everybody’s cool. To me, we don’t band together enough. Because I feel like in other regions, those guys jump on each other’s tracks, they show up at video shoots, they go hard and rep each other. I think here, we’re kind of afraid to push the next person a little further. It’s like crabs in a barrel without saying it. I do see that XXL freshmen class tend to feel connected and tend to link together and do tours and stuff like that. I kinda wish more magazines did things like that to kinda say it’s okay to piggyback off of each other and it’s okay to get on each other’s tracks and nobody’s gonna get outshined and stuff like that but… Saigon big me up in interviews, I big him up, I tell you Grafh is one of the best rappers I’ve ever heard. We all talk about each other but I still think we could go further.
HHLO: You guys should definitely do like a tour or a group project or something.
Sha: Yeah I talked to my boys about that all the time because I wanna see everybody win. I think even the Slaughterhouse thing is a testament to the stuff that I’ve talked about years ago. Just seeing lyricists from across the country that people respect get together and do the album. Even if you’re not a fan of one of the guys on the album, you’d pick it up just to hear the rhymes.
HHLO: One example I’ve seen of unification is a lot of ya’ll got together for Mr. Mecca’s “Over Here” video. How that come about?
Sha: Mecca’s a funny dude man. He says to all of us one day, what was better “Off the Books” by the Beatnuts or “Flava in ya Ear remix”. So everybody was like ‘yeah, it’s the remix’. Then, he sent the instrumental (laughs). It was funny man. He told me I was Craig Mack; I was like ‘C’mon man… you can’t stick me with that’.
HHLO: (laughs) Yeah I was actually going to ask about that. If you picked it or…
Sha: Yeah, they stuck me with that.
HHLO: Who would you rather have played?
Sha: I don’t know, looking at it now, everybody did their thing. I think Craig was one of the biggest challenges and I pulled it off. Trust me, I had no idea a video, a release party, and a big push for the record was coming. I just thought it was for the mixtape. It was cool, the video was fun. I had my flipcam shooting everything. Had Sara Jay the porn star come through, Mr. Mecca had a bunch of models.
HHLO: Did anybody get with Sara Jay at the end?
Sha: Even if he didn’t, I’m gonna throw him under the bus and say that he did, why not? Everybody else is married or something. I interviewed Sara Jay and she’s real cool. I told her I would jump into one of her films that she’s producing. I’ll do a cameo, I probably wouldn’t show anything. Matter fact that’s my promo for the album, I’m just gonna hold my CD while I’m uh… getting oral sex or something.
HHLO: (laughs) You also got a blog “Is It Me?”, how are people responding to that?
Sha: I don’t know man. I don’t read comments too much or I try not to. When I put it on Facebook, a lot of people hit me up and tell me I should write a book. I started doing “Is It Me?” because, again, I’m a human being that people probably don’t know. The homie Brian was sayin ‘I think a lot of people don’t know that you’re funny, you’re an asshole, and you’re sarcastic’. So I thought, let me give the people a little more. Instead of doing blogs on my next show, my next mixtape, I decided to do something outside the box. It’s just me opening up man. I’m doing a book that’s why I kind of slowed down. A lot of people keep laughing and telling me I’m brightening their day so we’re putting this shit in stores.
HHLO: Yeah I was gonna ask if you’re trying to become a writer in the more traditional sense of the word?
Sha: Yeah, I’m working on the book.
HHLO: Do you have any publishers in mind?
Sha: I’ve had a few people approach me early. But I haven’t decided on the genre yet, to me, its humor. Somebody alerted me that it’s satire. So I’m still doing research. It’ll probably be next year though. I stopped writing in the blogs while I was working on the album because I didn’t want to be in that funny guy mode. So it’ll probably be November where I’ll get back to writing.
HHLO: You ever think about putting out the album with the book?
Sha: I thought about that too actually, if I finish it? I’ll release them both. I just don’t know if people can identify with because on the album I’m on some deep shit and on the book, you get this crazy left-field observations out of nowhere, but it’s all the same human.
HHLO: Your brother Lord Digga is also rapping right?
Sha: You know what, I don’t know what that guy’s doing. He’ll play me some records and then I don’t hear nothing for months and then he’ll play me some beats and then I don’t hear nothing. Then, we go to Sean Price session a couple months ago and he’s on Sean Price’s mixtape, rapping. He still got that flow, I didn’t get him on the album because I don’t know if.. I have no clue. He has the intro beat on the album. Had to make sure I got him on there because that’s just something I wanted to happen.
HHLO: Word, you gotta show that respect right?
Sha: Yeah this is the guy that introduced me to everything. I would have never even looked at rap like it was something that could be a career. I gotta thank him, because he didn’t have to take me places man. Granted, I wasn’t a jerky little brother, I was quiet. A lot of the people I was around from Redman, Big Daddy Kane, Mister Cee, Gangstarr, Biggie, I didn’t say shit until they spoke to me. It was just a lot of gathering info and thinking about my time. I don’t know, I’ll have to ask him.
HHLO: Who’s better?
Sha: Between me and him? (laughs) He’ll tell you that he’s better, but then again, he might not. He won’t say it to me but he might tell other people that I’m better. If you ask me, I’m like the evolved version of what he used to do. The on-beat off-beat flow, the rap metaphors, I took that and did something else with it. I don’t know if you can compare it.
HHLO: Anything you want to say to the fans?
I want to let them know that if they have ideas to get me or even the next artist that they feel is deserving to get on the next level, I welcome all of that. They can hit me on MySpace and twitter, everything is /shastimuli. I’m not opposed to anything right now because this album, it’s not about me. It’s about me, but I think the messages on there need to be heard. I got a record about absentee fathers in the hood called “Have You Seen Him?” and that’s across the country. I got a record called “What’s Wrong with That?” about kids thinking street cred and going to prison is more important than college and being yourself. I think I’m one of the few artists that are combining entertainment and education and still making it potent. If you’re out there and you’re satisfied with the music you’re hearing, let’s see what we can do to reach out to more people. My Soul to Keep, October 27th.