Instead, Stimuli launched the Rent Tape Series, which entailed writing, producing and releasing a mixtape each month throughout the year. From month to month, mixtape to mixtape, Stimuli leapt from topic to topic: He explored his relationships with women (The Old Me: How I Met Your Baby Mother) and how those changed (The New Me: Sherrod Khaalis). He self-evaluated himself as a rapper, at the year's start (The Calling) and more than halfway through 2012 (The Savior). Fittingly, he also broke down his money issues, from The Chills (Broke at 30) to perhaps his biggest fear, The 9.2.5.
Stimuli has moved on from picking random beats (featured producers include J. Cole and Clams Casino) and recording at home, to posting up at Salem Psalms Library and forging a producer-emcee relationship with Focus. More importantly though, while the Rent Tape Series started as a test of endurance, it's evolved into a meaningful ritual of figuring out his strengths and weaknesses as a rapper and otherwise, granting Stimuli some much-needed sanity.
Stimuli, a former CL contributor, caught up with CL about how leveled with his listeners via the Rent Tape Series.
On why he wanted to release 12 mixtapes in 2012:
When I did it before [Stimuli collaborated with DJ Victorious to release 12 mixtapes in 2008], I realized that I got a bunch of fans who didn't know I existed before. I didn't see me doing anything, other than an another album, that would get that same type of love. ... The last time I did mixtapes they were lengthy, like 14 tracks. I was kind of winging it. This time I decided to have more of a strategy: release EPs that were shorter, and sell it. I attacked this like this might be the last time I do the whole mixtape thing, like this might be the end of my - I don't want to call it underground, but just the whole time where I'm giving music away or attacking on this level. I think after this, if I don't do a major album, I might just walk away, so I wanted to get all of this music out.
Doing the Rent Tape Series was really to pay rent. I wanted to show people that you didn't have to go to iTunes and try to get a buzz, and that you can just tell people, "I need some rent."
On his approach:
Well at the beginning I didn't even have a place to record, so I was kind of winging it. I had a couple of concepts that I wanted do do, but my only game plan was to not write any months ahead. January I focused on January, February I focused on February. I would gather on beats, and then I would pick out a time that I would think about writing, a week to write some stuff. I would make records at the crib before I ran into Amond Jackson, the guy who did the audio for the Change in the Game documentary. He told me that I could work in Salem Psalms Library, so that was a blessing in disguise. I was knocking a whole tape in one or two sessions as far as recording, and then we would come back and mix. Sometimes we got down to the wire; maybe the last day in the month, we would be mixing songs and I would be putting in in the interludes, just get the whole thing right. As time went on, we got into more of a groove and got better at managing time, because a lot of times we were definitely there the 30th, 31st.
On why he did a song like "Sallie Mae":
I still feel like not enough artists tell you what they're going through. I speak to artists all the time, and they're doing all right, but everyone's always looking to go for that next level. So I felt that as a hip-hop artist it was important for me to embrace my reality and let people in the next generation know that it's okay.
When I was signed, it was all about drugs, guns, money. You had to portray this image, and it threw me off because I wasn't living that life. Today you can have the Kendrick Lamars, the J. Coles. I think Kanye set off that legion of rappers, and still when you're a signed, major-label artist, it comes with the perception that you have money. ... But the point where I'm at now, I'm going through the things that the everyday person is going through. Not only that, but I can be a voice for that person who isn't the rapper.
A lot of people got Sallie Mae calling them. A lot of people are afraid of hitting 30 and not being so sure of themselves. I just got a text message this morning like, "Yo, 'Two Weeks Notice' got me through something," and a different person tweeted the same song. I don't know if someone like French Montana is giving those same types of messages. Not to say that his music doesn't touch people, but I'm just using him as an example of somebody different.
On how much rent was covered by The Rent Tape Series:
Certain months it was different, but I was able to get about 75 percent of it every month. It's a true blessing.
On mixtapes that gave him a tough time:
All of them. Some came out pretty fast, because I had some songs that fit already. The Upper Room was probably the biggest challenge. I had the title set, I knew what I wanted it to be about, but in October I was writing that, writing for The Motion Soundtrack and this was during A3C, when I had all the artists in town that I wanted on The Present, the last [tape]. I was doing three at once, and it was really divine, how I was able to write maybe ten songs at a time. I recorded more than I needed in two days, did the whole thing and then I thought they were all terrible. You're doing all of these songs, recording and venting and mixing, and then all of a sudden it's like, "Wait a minute. People may be trying to analyze and decide whether they like it or not."
On his Rent Tapes evolution:
Listening to The Chills (Broke at 30) as opposed to The Savior - I think when I talk about being broke at 30, I think I was more paranoid in the beginning [of the year] about my money situation. I'm definitely more positive now. This is like an open-book journal for the world to hear. I don't think people really know how real these stories are, but a lot of them, it's pretty close to home.
I learned a lot about myself. The Savior touches on my beliefs in God and spirituality. The 9.2.5 is a really interesting look at the whole idea of working a job. That's one thing that's always been a fear of mine, being locked into something like that, and for me to touch on it musically was refreshing. As a human, I've grown. As an artist - I think with The Motion Soundtrack, it's been my biggest realization that I never had a producer. Working with Focus on this November joint, I can't say enough as to how different it sounds and feels as opposed to the rest of the joints, where I'm gathering beats in my crib. ... We would do maybe five songs from scratch right there in the studio, when he starts that beat.
It was good for me to purge. I know that I needed that as an artist. A lot of my critics say, "Oh, he can rap, but the songs aren't as good as what he delivered on stage or in person."
Sha Stimuli's latest in the Rent Tape Series, The Motion Soundtrack, is out now.
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