The music industry is constantly growing and has become saturated with talent and emerging talent, but very few have what it takes to stand out. In an industry where longevity is a rare phenomenon, it’s refreshing to see an artist come along, establish their own lane and find a consistent stream of success.
R&B giant, Mint Condition’s lead singer and two-time Grammy Award nominee, Stokley, is one of those artists that continues to give us the music that we love while staying true to his definition of musicianship and artistry.
Southern Laced had the opportunity to talk to Stokley about his solo album “Introducing Stokley“, which was described in a press release as “a refreshing artistic statement rooted in the soul music tradition from one of R&B’s most remarkable voices”. Since its release, the album, which features guest appearances from Grammy-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper and Estelle, has received over 1,000,000 streams on Spotify! Additionally, fans are flocking to Stokley’s live performances. Most recently, he was a special guest on Mary J. Blige’s “Strength of a Woman” tour.
Keep reading below to find out what Stokley had to share about his latest project, Mint Condition, his time with Prince and more!
Q: Mr. Stokley, you are a multi-Grammy nominated artist. I know you from your work with Mint Condition. “What Kind of Man Would I Be” is one of my favorite songs. I think a lot of people should probably still listen to that song today to keep them out of trouble.
S: Yes. It’s an age-old question. It poses the question for us to keep looking in the mirror to kind of keep taking stock and reflecting on who you are. And only each one of us can answer that question.
Q: I want to go back a little bit. You were discovered by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, which is absolutely amazing. Tell us the story about how that came about.
S: Well, at the time, we were doing a lot of showcases and outside events. We weren’t really a big cover band. We didn’t play a lot of other people’s music. So it was all original stuff. And like I said, we did showcases around town. And we did one at this place called First Avenue, which the movie Purple Rain was made famous by Prince. After the showcase, they loved what they saw and heard. We were in a meeting a couple of weeks later at Flyte Tyme Productions. And, basically, off of our live performance, they signed us.
That was pretty much the beginning of it. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q: Did you produce your first album?
S: Yes. We had Jelly Bean Johnson, who co-produced it with us. But all songs were conceived, written, arranged, produced, and performed by Mint Condition since day one. We are a pretty much self-contained group. That’s one of the things Jimmy and Terry liked. And it resonated with them because they were kind of cut from the same cloth.
We had a lot of the same influences… Some a little bit different, but as far as bands go, there were a lot of the same influences. So I think they recognized a lot of themselves in us.
Q: Southern Laced is based in Mississippi. And there’s an artist here by the name of Kobe Singleton, formerly known as K.D. Brosia.
S: Laughs. Yeah. I know K.D.
Q: I want to talk about that a little bit. What kind of work did you guys do together?
S: We produced a song for him some years back. He’s an incredible singer. I met him while he was living in LA at the time. They came here and we did a song together. It was just one of those things. We connected and they loved the song. We worked on the vocals and everything. And it came out great.
I think we did a show and he opened for us at least once. He did a great job and turned it out. It’s been a while since we’ve been in contact. But through social media, I’ve been following him.
Q: How would you describe the Minneapolis sound to someone from the South?
S: The Minneapolis sound is more or less something that was derived from Prince’s mind. He had such an influence over the city here and a thing with spreading his sound. Some would say his sonic seed. It’s kind of like he had all of these different groups; Vanity 6, Appolonia 6, The Time and The Family. So he was able to get his sound out.
He did a bunch of different things. So with that sound and a platform, (a big movie) which really put you on the international map for people to take notice of what you’re doing, it really took storm. And it just had all of these tentacles at the time. There were so many places he could reach because they were playing his music.
That sound is a mixture of a lot of different influences that he had from Sly Stone, Santana to James Brown. Even the simulated horns… He didn’t have a horn section until later on. So he simulated all of those horn parts on a synthesizer. So you can say this funky bass line’s guitar and synth lines.
There’s a drum machine that he made popular. He used that his whole career or on about ninety percent of his stuff. That helped create a certain sound. When you use something over and over, that’s your signature. Things like certain guitar sounds, certain snare sounds, certain drum sounds… That becomes a signature. So I think that became the Prince sound. After that, it became the Minneapolis sound. Mint Condition was a direct relation to that.
Q: Did you ever work directly with Prince?
S: Yes. We’ve done a lot of work together. We have this recording called “Call My Name” from the Musicology CD. Me and a couple of my friends did some background and did the video for that. And, of course, he took Mint Condition on the road with him to perform at certain places… multiple times. Whether it be in the Carolinas or Madison Square Garden, Los Angeles or to France, we’ve done a lot of different things with him. Just spending time talking to him, he’s an amazing man and an amazing artist. So he’s definitely going to be missed. He did it on every level in the grandest style.
Q: If you’ve worked with a Prince or a Michael Jackson, that’s like the pinnacle.
S: The pinnacle. Yes. Nobody can do it better. We’re not going to get another one. It’s unfortunate that they are both gone. But we still have to keep their legacy alive. And remember that in whatever we do, we have to give a nod to the pass and keep it moving forward.
Q: Inquiring minds would like to know if you will be performing in Las Vegas anytime soon.
S: I hope so. I don’t have anything on the docket yet, but I’m working on that. The thing that’s happening with this “Introducing Stokley” project is we’re still creating awareness. The single has been doing extremely well with “Level”. It’s been a lot of fun to perform at the shows that I have been doing. So a lot of people are just finding out that I’m even doing what I’m doing. They are so used to me being with Mint and all of the great work that we’ve done together as a group. And just striking out on my own is new territory. So they are still trying to understand what’s going on.
A lot of fans from Mint Condition didn’t know what Mint was doing because there’s so much traffic in the entertainment world. There are so many different choices you can make to entertain yourself.
You’ve got new artists. Ther are more people doing music and entertainment now than ever. Social media and technology makes things so easy, accessible and convenient for people to consume it or to become a part of it. So I’m helping to create awareness with what I’m doing through social media, and if I can get television through what we’re doing now, I thank you for that, and through shows. So, hopefully soon. Keep a look out. You can go to istokley.com to check out all business, affairs and everything I’m trying to do. My social media is all ‘stokleyofficial’, whether Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Q: We are definitely plugged in.
We just talked about Vegas. Teddy Riley lives in Vegas and he’s currently building a studio. Will you ever work with Teddy Riley?
S: You know, we’ve threatened to work together. It tends to be such a small community. The last time I saw him was maybe a year or so ago. We went on before them in Atlanta.
We talked about doing something. Everyone is so busy and I think that it’s one of those things. It will happen once the stars align and everything is the right time. With music and art, you don’t want to force it. You want it to happen naturally or organically as possible.
But, yeah, I hope so. He’s one of my favorites. I’ve admired his work for many years.
Q: Well, we will be on the look out for that.
You mentioned organically. “Organic” is a song on your new project “Introducing Stokley”. Tell us a little bit about that project.
S: The project is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a while… just spread my wings. It had gotten to the point where my thirst started growing in other areas artistically that I wanted to express myself outside of what people have known me for. I worked with other people, producers and songwriters as well, who share the same likeness and the same energy as me.
I worked with people like Carvin Haggins, Ivan Barias, Sam Dew, the A Team, Wiley, Estelle, Omi and Robert Glasper. I just wanted different textures and different colors to add on to what I already know that I am. And it’s been an amazing response. I’m really fortunate to have folks like that around me who are interested and wanted to be involved with it in the first place.
I’m real proud of it. It was just a passion project. That’s where I am right now in my life, period. Just developing myself more than what people have seen. I’m just pushing the limits of my artistry.
Q: I did take a listen to the project. And I love it. It reminds me of that music you can always vibe to. We don’t get a whole lot of that. So we can definitely appreciate that.
“Pretty Brown Eyes” is almost thirty. And it’s just as popular as it was when it was released. What or who was your inspiration behind that particular song?
S: It’s one of those things where life is always an inspiration for everything you do. It’s like you live a little bit. You have these experiences. You write them. And it came so naturally.
That song came about in rehearsal, as many songs did back then. We’re rehearsing and one person keeps on adding and adding. And I started singing this melody and came as what we know today. Probably wrote that in a matter of minutes, I’m sure.
You know, it was just something you saw. Pretty brown eyes walking down the street. A girl walking down the street that someone likes. You just conjure up this fantasy story, so to speak, in your head or what you would say. If she would break your heart or kind of let you down easy because you know sometimes women when you go up to talk to them, you’re like, “Aww man.” Laughs.
So that’s pretty much a version of the story.
Q: Earlier this year Mint Condition received a Grammy nomination for the Christmas album entitled “Healing Seasons” for Best R&B Album. After all these years, what was Mint Conditions reaction to being nominated? And what was the motivation behind that particular record?
S: We were surprised and ecstatic. At the same time, we were like, “Oh. Okay. We’ll take it.” Laughs.
It’s funny we would get it for that because we just did the record. We talk about this pretty openingly. Some of us had not wanted to do a holiday project at all because we felt it was too corny, it was too early or whatever the case. I’ve never been against it, but it didn’t seem like the right time earlier. This time, it just felt like the right thing to do. We could have fun with it and do things our way, which is what we did. That’s why it sounds different. It’s one of those records you can continue to play after the holidays and it’s all good.
Q: You’ve been in the game a while. What and/or who keeps you grounded?
S: Definitely, my family around me. I don’t do too much. I pretty much do regular things just to kind of keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.
Keep people around you who are real, who knows you, who knows your true essence and who knows your heart.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received as an artist? What is the best advice you can give, likewise, to an artist?
S: Education is the key to everything in any industry that you go into. The more you know, the more you can pull from the years that you go on in that industry. So pay attention to history of whatever you’re doing. And pay attention to technology and the business side of what you’re into. The artistry of what you’re doing, since we’re talking about music. Know the music up and down, backwards and forward, the history of it and the different genres where things came from. People who came before you are the shoulders you are standing upon. Learn the business of music because it is a music business. It’s not just about E flat minor ninth (laughs) and all of these technical terms for music and great singing. Singing from your diaphragm… that’s great, but that’s just one aspect. And that’s hard enough as it is. Just trying to be a musician is really difficult. It’s really challenging and not for everyone.
Then, you start to learn the business side of it, which is a whole other bag of tricks. I mean tricks too. Laughs. That’s the other part of it. And technology will always change every industry.
So those three things, just pay attention to them. Read up on them. Get with the elders and people who have done it before you and get the story. Try to figure out what things are important for you to pay attention to because everything isn’t important. And you can’t do everything at the same time. Everything has it’s time and place. You can be spending a lot of time, but you might be spinning your wheels on the wrong thing. So make sure you get someone who’s reputable.
And ‘you can learn from anywhere’ is something someone told me years ago. Like keeping your eyes and ears open… Now, I will definitely promote school and education, but education is all around us. It doesn’t have to be in a formal setting like school. I know many musicians and people in life… professionals who just pick up on stuff. It’s important to them. So they know they’ve got to pay attention to everything. But that’s the toolbox for life.
Q: What’s next for you?
S: I’m continuing to create awareness and really focus on letting people know that I have this project out… “Introducing Stokley”. I encourage people to go out and get it. It’s just one-click away at any of the online stores like Amazon and iTunes.
And come out to support shows. I am playing live. My mic is on. Meanwhile, if you’d like to buy some merchandise, go to istokley.com. I’ve got some shirts for you and whatnot. You can look at the dates of where I’m going to be, little tidbits and messages.
I just appreciate you. I appreciate the fans. And I appreciate all the fans who love all the work with Mint Condition. Please continue to support that; the albums if you love them. If one broke on you or something like that, pick up another one.