Review: Stalley & Apollo Brown, ‘Blacklight’

Two of the Midwest’s most prominent artists join forces to deliver a stunning collaboration which sonically pays homage to their region’s musical roots.

Ohio emcee, Stalley, is the latest addition to the illustrious roster of artists on the Mello Music Group label. Detaching from the grand Maybach Music Group in 2016 to go fully independent and push his own imprint, Blue Collar Gang, the partnership was made official on March 4, 2021 by Billboard, where he would then go on to say: “Partnering with Mello Music Group at this stage of my career is a blessing; As a label, they let you be yourself and let you be an artist; while also helping you expand internationally.” What better way to kick off a debut label record than by connecting with a producer who shares the same regional roots: Apollo Brown.

Stalley & Apollo Brown’s Blacklight provides listeners the perfect crash course on the musical and cultural landscape of the Midwest, from past and present.

Stalley & Apollo Brown work together to provide 15 tracks over a lengthy run time of 54 minutes. Though the album’s time span may seem a bit intimidating for today’s standards, Blacklight maintains a cohesive state, flawlessly flowing from track to track with its soulful sound palette and sentimental subject matter.

The title of the project, Blacklight, refers to the hidden two-faced nature of those reacting to the success of an individual. The common denominator that Stalley draws within each track is the betrayal felt when an ally opposes his partner’s success due to their dissatisfaction towards their own situation. This concept is perfectly expressed through the gratifying “Love Me, Love Me Not” chorus, where Stalley rhymes: (“One day I’m the man and they giving props / Seen so many of my friends turn into the opps”).

On this project, Stalley’s lyricism displays maturity, taking time to pace his rhymes and fit in gems for listeners. In accord with the concept, Stalley laces each track with lessons and experiences that coincide with the topic of each song. For example, the sentimental “Lost Angels” explains the consequences hood politics have on neighborhoods while the inspiring “No Monsters” finds Stalley venting about his rough come up in Ohio. Though the album seems emotionally heavy, Stalley still finds a way to deliver witty, braggadocio rap sprinkled in between lines, well demonstrated on the lead singles “We Outside” and “Humble Wins.”

The approach to production that Apollo Brown takes on Blacklight shares reminiscing moments of the Midwest’s musical roots. Prior to the establishment of hip-hop, the Midwest played a vital role in producing the success of techno music throughout the country. The synthetic cords and heavy bass lines present in techno are factors that Apollo incorporates in the production, rooting this project in the region’s signature sound. The combination of soul-sampled beats and bass-heavy trunk knockers provides a fresh palette for the album’s production.

Returning to the core notion of the project, Blacklight represents the exposing of duplicitous actions from those who were once your allies. The album starts off with this idea emphasized through a skit for the album’s intro, then transitions into the project’s title track. The track, “Blacklight”, further explores the notion and how it exists in Stalley’s successful career, more notably through the lines: (“We fighting the system and diseases, hope that God protect us / And they wanna talk about me reckless”). After years of enduring industry relations, this project serves as a fresh start for Stalley while allowing him to vent about the deceiving behavior that fans don’t always get to see.

Blacklight is an electrifying record that draws inspiration from the struggles every artist endures when they experience success. The soul-infused, bass-heavy project covers all stages in the entertainment industry’s circle of life with each track. From celebrating every victory on the triumphant “Humble Wins” to weeding out unnecessary associates on the passionate “Love Me, Love Me Not”, Stalley pours his pain & pleasure in creating a cohesive body of work that resonates universally, regardless of the situation.

Over the past few years, Mello Music Group has done a phenomenal job stabilizing artists and allowing them to fully create what they desire. Stalley joining the stacked roster of amazing artists strengthens the label’s catalog as his underground roots perfectly fit-in with the index of outliers. Having a close collaborator like Apollo Brown fully produce his debut on the label is among one of the many reasons why Stalley’s Blacklight is worth tapping into. Though many claimed he was done after splitting ways with Maybach Music Group, Blacklight gives Stalley a breath of fresh air as he finds a new home in a different MMG.

8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Love Me, Love Me Not”, “Humble Wins”, “We Outside”, “No Monsters”, “Bobby Bonilla”, “Lost Angels”

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