If ever there were an unconventional story to rap stardom, it’s Mike Stud’s story. He went from the pitching mound at Duke, ball in hand and eyes set on MLB, to concert stages around the country, mic in hand, and eyes set on music.
After blowing out his arm after his sophomore year at Duke, Stud underwent Tommy John surgery to replace a tendon in his elbow. However, when his arm strength never returned, the former NCAA Division 1 All-American came to the realization that his dreams of the majors were over. Still, positive developments were on the horizon. After recording “College Humor” in his dorm room as a joke, the song went on to gain popularity in his community and then eventually made its way online, much to his surprise. Stud followed up the joke record with a few more fan favorites and his rap career began to snowball right before his eyes.
Now, with Relief, his second true project, debuting #2 overall on the iTunes charts and a new tour set for June, the Rhode Island native chats with RESPECT. about his legitimacy as a rapper, the importance of having a message in his records, and following the Macklemore formula. Batter up.
“College Humor” catapulted you into social media fandom. Take us through your mindset when those YouTube numbers kept climbing.
I was genuinely shocked. I made that record as a complete joke. Honestly, music was never an aspiration at that point. I had no intentions of it being a public song or anything. What happened was, I made it and it got popular at school. Students were sending it around to each other and then they started playing it at bars and then it got online. Then some of the music blogs that we all went to for music started posting it and it was like, “What the hell is going on?” I just felt like, this is dope so I’m just gonna try and run with it. That’s the kind of the mind frame that I had when I made the next record and the next record. I just kind of fell into it.
You’re a white, middle class former college kid. How conscious are you of steering away from the “frat rap” tag that follows you?
I was unaware of the whole genre ‘til I was in it. I found myself in it and I realized all these other kids were doing it, too. I’m not big on trying to label it or trying to prove people otherwise. I’m just making records that I like and that I wanna make. I’m just making records that relate to me and that relate to my life. If you listen to what I’m saying I’m not talking about anything that isn’t my life. I take pride in having truthful lyrics and keeping it a hundred. I think what’s dope about it is a lot of kids feel that same way. They relate to what I’m talking about. As far as frat rap being the only thing I do, when I see that just know that people haven’t listened to a lot of my music. A lot of my following comes from meaningful songs about completely different topics.
There have been a bunch of artists who got hit with that tag and ultimately fell flat, either because the novelty wore off or they tried to branch out too far and alienated their core fanbase. Do you look at those cases as a learning tool for what not to do?
Yeah, I really do, man. I’m a very open student to the whole industry. I really take note to the rules that were made ahead of me and try to learn from them. I made a very cognizant effort to try to advance my music and make bigger records but not to alienate my original fans and not to desert my original sound. It’s a disaster when that happens. When you’re at this level your fans are all you have. I don’t have a label and everything that’s going on now is because of my fans. Putting me on the charts, that’s all my original fans. If i were to make bigger records, which I think we did, we still kept it me. It’s not something where they listen to it like, “Yo, this is like a different person.” It’s a thin line but I think we found it for the most part. We achieved what we wanted to achieve with this record.
Relief is only your second true release and I do hear those bigger records. You’re working with Scott Storch and you’re using heavier melodies. Do you think you’ve found your sound yet?
I think I found it here in these last few months with the last records I was creating. I get all these different comparisons and a lot of them are true: sometimes I sound like Drake or [Mike] Posner. I’m still finding my exact niche and my exact sound. After this project I feel like I’m really comfortable in my own skin as far as how I approach records. The last two years I’m just kind of been growing up in front of fans. They’ve been growing up with me and watching me go through trials and tribulations trying to find myself as an artist.
You have some songs that deal with deeper subject matter, from “Happy Ending” to the recent “Past Gone.” Where do those songs come from? Are they based on real experiences?
Yeah. “Happy Ending” was actually about some of my better friends and their family situations. I actually really enjoy those types of records. The “Past Gone” thing is 100 percent real and a real thing I’m going through still with that girl. I think that comes from being so in touch with your fanbase. I’m doing shows and I actually get to meet a ton of them. That’s actually where I met her. Her whole life’s kind of hanging on by a thread and obviously I’m a human being so I’m drawn to that. I really connected with her, still talk with her a ton.
White college rappers are really easy to hate on but those records are the ones where people are like, “Yo, I don’t really like this kid but I fuck with that song. I fuck with what he’s saying here.”
Those records are therapeutic for the fans, too.
It’s so true, man. That’s hands down the best part of what’s going on: meeting people. Even on Twitter, seeing people say how much they’re affected by the music. Whether they’re going through a negative time and it helps them or they’re really happy and they’re listening to it and it’s making them have more fun. That’s really dope.
You studied sports management and finance at Georgetown. Given your passion for baseball, why not just pursue that route to stay near the sport?
Honestly, my passion for sports is playing them. I played sports my entire life but once the baseball thing [ended] it was very hard to deal with because I had crazy success from the beginning. I was on the fast track for playing professionally. When I got to the point where I was ready to get drafted, my elbow blew out. And I really battled. I battled for two years trying to get back to full-speed. That’s really the only reason I went to Georgetown at all. I was going to be able to keep studying, but really it was about playing my fifth year in baseball. Like, this is my chance to get back into it, get drafted and continue my career. That was the plan the entire time. When the music thing took off, timing-wise it just worked out. I started to get slightly legitimate. I had signed with a booking agent and I was actually getting some shows and it was right when I was finishing school, so I was like, I might as well run with this.
In a perfect world, would you rather be pitching in the majors right now or doing music?
So hard to answer that question. I can’t say one answer and be like, “Yeah, that’s how I’d like it.” I’m legitimately having more fun doing music, but at the same time I worked my whole life for baseball. If I had to pick, I would probably pick music. I just connect more with the fact that other people connect with that I’m doing so much. It’s a much cooler thing than being good at sports.
So who gets more groupie love, a star baseball pitcher or a rapper?
[Laughs.] I would definitely say a rapper, from experience. I never got to be a “star” baseball player on a national level. I was “big man on campus” type hot. Obviously girls like baseball players and athletes so you get girl like that, too. But it’s definitely more active on the music side.
I know you didn’t have a hardcore passion for music while growing up, so when your career started taking off, who did you listen to to try and learn from?
I really just kind of study the now. I listen to all the people of now. I listen to a ton of Kanye, especially from when he made his kind of pop transformation. I study all of his records. I listen to all of Drake’s records and Kendrick’s. I was a hip-hop fan my whole life but I wasn’t a die-hard. I wasn’t influenced by people like Mobb Deep or any of the old school people. If I said that it’d be a lie. I think the first album I ever got was a DMX album when I was like 10 or 11. I’m seeing what people are doing now who are having success. To me, that makes the most sense. I’m trying to learn from people that are having success right now and not people who had success 20 years ago.
You remixed Mike Posner’s “Gone in September” a couple of years ago. On paper, being that you’re both from Duke and have some similar subject matter, it would seem like you guys would be a good fit together on a record. How come that hasn’t happened?
Yeah, man. I’m saying the same thing! He’s a friend of mine, we still talk. I knew him before he got famous at all. We were in the same fucking dorm when he was making beats in there and no one knew who he was. But it’s gonna happen, it just needs to happen organically. Mike’s a private dude. He’s going through some stuff, the whole song writing versus artist thing. He’s been getting his album in the works for like two years, but we both agreed we’re gonna do one. I just think it’d be really organic and a really cool record.
Things can get dark when you’re striving towards one goal your whole life only to have it ripped away. How did your music help you when dealing with the fact that MLB was no longer an option?
I can say, 100 percent, it saved my life. Not that I was spiraling out of control, but I just don’t know what it would be like if I was in a cubicle right now. I’d probably be really depressed. Even from when I was really young I was somebody [and was] probably gonna go to the big leagues. I was always on my way and then it just got completely wiped out. I was really trying to stay positive. I publicly appeared positive, but at the same time, it was a really tough time for me. Especially that fifth year at Georgetown realizing that my arm just didn’t work the same. It didn’t move as quickly. It was really a depressing time. Music, the fact that this happened, is weird and I’m fucking so grateful that it did. It definitely saved my life because I’m really happy now and I’d probably be really unhappy if it none of this happened.
You’ve only been in the game for a few years. Do you think it helped or hurt that you blew up so quickly without having much time to hone your skills on the mic?
I wouldn’t change anything because I’ve been on the come up pretty quickly and I’m grateful for that. I understand that I’m kind of an exception. But, at the same time, I look back at some of the records and some of the videos and just grimace. I just didn’t really know what I was doing yet. I didn’t act the right way in some places, didn’t do the right records.
You said you didn’t do the right records at times. When you look back on “College Humor,” do you regret that that was the first thing people saw from you?
I understand how gimmicky and retarded it is. But, at the same time, it’s just part of the story. I think it’s a cool part of the story, me making this gimmicky song. So, I’m not mad at it. If you look at the second song [I made], it’s called “In This Life” that’s something I’m way more proud of.. It was actually more popular than “College Humor” too, more people took to it. It was the second song I ever made and it was pretty meaningful. I’m happy with those two being my first two because they’re kind of like party and one’s meaningful.
On “Young King” you mention your talks with Universal, which I’m sure stem from your relationship with Charlie Walk, but people like Macklemore’s success have really legitimized the independent route. With Relief debuting #2 overall on iTunes, do you see yourself ever signing to a major label?
I’m not gonna say I’m never gonna sign with a major, but I’m in no way in a rush to do it. I do take a ton of notes on what Macklemore’s done. They’re just doing it right. They signed a crazy, groundbreaking deal with Warner [Records], where they just have a radio/promo deal. They’re technically independent, but they’re getting the radio push. The only reason an artist should sign with a record label is really for radio. You can get features and do whatever you want as an independent artist but you really need radio if you wanna grow at a rapid rate and record labels really run radio. The fact that [Macklemore] was able to put [Warner] in that position to just only handle radio and get nothing else, it’s amazing. I think we might be able to pull off similar things if we have the right records.
Do you have a single in mind off Relief that you’re gonna be pushing?
Yeah, it’s “I’m Not Sorry.” It’s probably the most obviously pop-infused one. It’s the one we’ve been playing when taking all the label meetings. We’re shooting the video in a couple of days in North Carolina. I’m really excited about that record because I was a little skittish about it. I knew it was more pop than anything I’ve ever done, so I was curious to see what my fanbase was gonna think about it. It’s been hands down full support and most people’s favorite record. It got into the Top 50 iTunes singles without even pushing it as a single.
What ever happened to your French Montana collab?
It was actually supposed to be on the album, man. [Relief] was uploaded to iTunes with that on there. We recorded it and Puff and Bad Boy were good. But the father label is Interscope and they technically need to clear it, as well. And that was no problem at all because we had French and Bad Boy to co-sign it, but it’s a four-to-six week process and we found that out a week before the album was coming out. So if I wanted that on the album I would have had to push it back six weeks. I already had a tour set up for this and I was just so ready to put it out I was like, “Fuck it.” We’re just deciding what we’re gonna do with it. Hopefully it’ll come out in the next few weeks.
Are you planning on releasing anything else before the tour starts?
We got a handful of records that we really like and they were made for the album. They just didn’t make it. I don’t really know the answer right now; like I said the main focus is executing this single and seeing what we can do, but I’m leaning towards a mixtape and hopefully getting it out before we hit the road. We have a handful of records that I actually really like. I don’t have any definite answers, though. But I definitely think if we could get a little project out before the tour that would be ideal.
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