Sha Stimuli Jumps “In the Mix” [DJBooth Interview Exclusive]
Last week, we jumped "In the Mix" with Dude N Nem, the Chi-town duo who brought us reader-approved single "Sounds Sexy." For the 13th installment of our exclusive interview series, we're giving readers an up-close and personal look at Sha Stimuli, a Brooklyn rapper who introduced himself to the Booth with exclusive freestyle "Balboa," and recently dropped his critically-acclaimed debut album, My Soul to Keep.
Sha entered the music industry in '97, as a college student interning for Roc-A-Fella Records, but it was the combined effect of his father's terminal illness and the untimely death of Biggie Smalls that moved him to devote his full energy to pursuing immortality as a rap artist. Shortly after appearing in an '03 edition of Source's "Unsigned Hype" column on the strength of a series of mixtapes released the previous year, Stimuli inked a deal with Virgin Records. The emcee's plans for his freshman full-length, however, were derailed by political and legal conflicts between Virgin and Def Jam, and in '08 Sha walked away from his label home. On Oct. 27, under his new indie deal with Chambermusik Records/E1, the rapper was finally able to release My Soul to Keep, an album hailed by our own Nathan S. as "a work that’s simultaneously proof of [Sha's] remarkable talent and evidence of why mainstream radio won’t come near him."
In this exclusive, five-question interview, Sha Stimuli gives Booth readers the inside scoop on his musical influences, the pros and cons of the indie approach, and what it will take for him to consider his debut album a success.
Most listeners have never heard a flow quite like yours before. Who do you count as some of your biggest influences?
Sha Stimuli: Big Daddy Kane was my earliest influence as an emcee. He made me believe that I could rap. He was witty, he paid attention to the females and he wasn't too hard or soft. I also was down with Masta Ace back in the days, so his flow and honesty always made me a fan. Then it was Biggie and Lauryn Hill that made me really study the craft as far as painting pictures with words and coming up with different flows and ways to approach beats.
You new single My Back features Freeway. How did that collaboration come about?
Sha Stimuli: It's been a work in progress. I've been cool with Free since around 2004, he told me he was a fan of what I do and we always remained peoples. He cosigned me on my Switch Sides DVD five years ago, so when I had my debut LP I had to get him on there. He's one of my favorite emcees, his flow is ever-changing and his albums are always about something.
After being caught up in some major label politics between Virgin and Def Jam you're now working without the help of a major label. What are the biggest differences between the major label and more independent music making experience?
Sha Stimuli: The biggest difference is obviously the money. It's tough to get your music in stores, on radio, on tv networks, magazines, you gotta love that though. The beauty is the creative control, I pretty much did the album I wanted to do without worrying about singles or commercial stuff, we just did what we felt and that is incomparable. I didn't have to get anything approved and I remained true to myself. Anyone that sees this grind has to respect it because they know we did what we did on our own.
Your new album My Soul to Keep was recently released to largely positive reviews. What will it take for you to consider the album a success?
Sha Stimuli: The day I turned it in it was a success. I don't think people really know that I was a little kid looking at Unsigned Hype in The Source magazine dreaming of putting an album out in stores. I'm not saying if it's not well-received or if it doesn't sell any copies that I wouldn't be disappointed, but it says a whole lot that I got to this point and people still care. Any time someone hits me and says they felt a song or I touched them or captured what they were going through then I'm literally happy about what I've done. And I sincerely mean that, I could have been doing anything to put money in my pockets. This album isn't just for me.
Sha Stimuli: I would like to tell people that if you appreciate good music then demand Stimuli when you go to your record store because I am out in all stores and I would like to open the door for artists like myself to break down certain barriers.
I would like to shout out all those that helped me get to this point, anyone that ever believed or even closed a door in my face. Chambermusik for helping me put this out, The Carnegie Group, Dj Victorious, Bugz, Mr. Fame, Big Will, my mother and brother and every fan or friend that supported me along the way. This is a journey that is still ongoing and I cannot overlook any step that has made me who I am today. Thank you for letting me speak to people.