Most famously known for their smash-hit nineties singles, “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” and “What Kind of Man Would I Be,” Mint Condition, the revered R&B/Soul band out of St. Paul, Minnesota, was finally celebrated on a March 2013 episode of TV One’s Unsung series. Flash forward nearly four years to the date later, and lead singer/percussionist Stokley has finally embarked on what has since become his long overdue, eagerly awaited solo career.
We caught up with Stokley for an exclusive interview to discuss his new solo single, embracing his solo journey and much more.
Parlé Mag: Let’s hop right into this brand new solo single “Level”. Tell me about this particular composition? How did it actually come to fruition?
Stokley: I had this track for a few months and was just searching for what I would sing over it, and decided I didn’t want to hear me the same way. I had been experimenting; working with this writing team called The A-Team. We have the same management team, and thought it may be a cool mash-up. I spoke with them loosely about a concept, and that was it. A couple alterations and additions… Boom! It’s what you hear.
Parlé Mag: Sonically, how does “Level” measure up for you, to what people already know and love you for through your countless hit offerings as “The Voice Behind” Mint Condition?
Stokley: To me, it feels like a different pulse than what you usually hear from me. I mean, the voice is familiar still but there’s also a freshness about it that you haven’t heard or at least you haven’t heard in a while.
Listen to “Level” Below:
Parlé Mag: “Level” comes courtesy of your forthcoming debut solo collection, Introducing Stokley and I know you been going with the tag, ‘Who is Stokley?’ Although pretty self-explanatory, conceptually, tell me what that title represents both to and for you?
Stokley: ‘Who is Stokley?’ was just a tag we used on social media to help create awareness. The actual title is Introducing Stokley. It’s basically another way to say self- titled. Giving you a kind of snapshot of me sonically for a lil over a hour. I’ve had a very unique vantage point to see things from the back of the stage as a drummer, all the way to the front as a front-man, who loves analog and digital? I tried to combine these worlds; the world of old and new, smiles and cries and everything in between… and, of course, I love to bend between genres, so there is a little bit of that.
Parlé Mag: How does the overall Introducing Stokley solo material either differ and/or compare to previous Mint Condition efforts?
Stokley: It compares in that it’s my voice still… and even some of the slow stuff is a reminder of Mint Condition naturally. The difference I see is I was able to dig deeper into my sensibilities and explore a lot more. I’m just able to sign my name a little bit bigger. Also with a group, you leave room for democracy. With just one person, you just do all of the things you love instead of cutting up portions of yourself. Just a different way of working is all.
Parlé Mag: With that being said, does the upcoming release of Introducing Stokley signify a Mint Condition break-up?
Stokley: It only signifies this is where I am right now. Musically and personally, at some point you get to a place where you want to develop other parts of yourself. You wanna push past what’s comfortable or what you know, and just go for it. We all have the room to do that now. But, I would not say a break-up.
Parlé Mag: In having said that, and because rumors of a solo project have been circling for years, why exactly did it take you so long to branch out and finally do this?
Stokley: Been having a great time doing what I do with my brothers this whole time. But also, started writing and collaborating more and doing more outside things. I’ve always been active playing in different groups and what not. My thirst simply has been growing in other areas, and wanted more room to create.
Parlé Mag: Switching gears here, how has not only the industry itself, but even more-so you, either changed and/or evolved since your whole inception into music?
Stokley: Well, everything is slightly faster and doesn’t seem to stick around as long. Starting with the artists. I’m sure that this digital age has attributed to that though. The digital age seems to be a double-edged sword; on one hand it’s great to put so much in the hands of the artist regarding independent distribution, recording on computers and making it more affordable to even do a record. I mean, anyone can do a full album/CD in a hotel room from start to finish, mixed and mastered, if they really know what they’re doing. On the other hand, it has kind of cheapened everything for artists as well. Streaming is very very attractive and convenient for a consumer, but the rates to pay artists suck at this moment. Hopefully that will change. If you do not have a large catalog and are starting out, it can be a little tough.
Parlé Mag: Longevity, what do you attribute yours to?
Stokley: Really, just getting in front of people consistently and doing what you do to the highest of your abilities. Also, continuing to study history… learning new things about anything in life and applying that to what you do. This way, you’re able to resonate with many different people on many different topics for many years. Continuing to elevate oneself is always the key in my opinion.
Parlé Mag: What do you want people to get from your music?
Stokley: As an artist, I want them to get that you can be many different things at one time. That you don’t have to fit inside of a box or one type of genre. For artists amongst people, that even though sometimes someone will tell you that what you’re doing won’t fit inside of some kind of popularity chart, it will always fit inside of people. As the saying goes… be true to thyself. I want them to feel free even if they are not. People go through a lot in life and I want to be a refuge for them. A place where they can come and decompress, chill, dance, laugh or cry, celebrate, make love, think and lift them up when they need it. I’m sure in some small way after that they will be inspired to go out and help affect change for someone else. We keep passing it on.
Parlé Mag: On a more serious note, are you happy with the current state of R&B? And, even more specifically, where exactly do you think you “fit in” when it comes to today’s current/trending sound-scape?
Stokley: I am pretty satisfied with what’s happening right now. The reason I can say that is I stay abreast of what’s going on everywhere, pretty much. The difference between now and yesteryear is back in the day the only game in town was your radio. If you only tune in to your radio station in the car, you will be very dissatisfied with the short and narrow playlist. People say all the artists sound the same, but that’s because people running the music industry most of the time are non-music people. They are only concerned with profits and loss, or power. It has nothing to do with actual music. This again is where creative artists get lost. So then, you won’t hear any of them. Now again with technology, you have satellite radio or Internet radio. There are a bunch of different styles and there’s lots of R&B artistry to be discovered there. So honestly, these days you just have to work a little harder to find some dope sh*t.
Parlé Mag: Do you have any other outside/additional aspirations, maybe even completely away from music?
Stokley: I started early doing just a little theater, so I may want to practice up in that area a little bit and go for it at some point. Voice-overs or characters for animation. At some point I’d like to eventually build an institution for young kids or adults just to further their education in the arts, technology, math and/or science. I guess that kind of sounds like some kind of school to me, so we’ll see. A few more things so I gotta work quick… but I’ll set it down right here. Peace.
Main image and bottom image by Margaux Rodrigues
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