After over two decades as the lead vocalist for the incomparable hit-making R&B band Mint Condition, singer and two-time GRAMMY Award nominee Stokley charters a new course with his breathtaking debut solo album Introducing Stokley, set for release on June 23, 2017 via Concord Records. Featuring guest appearances by the likes of GRAMMY-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper and Estelle as well as some production from multi-platinum duo Carvin Haggins & Ivan Barias, Introducing Stokley is a refreshing artistic statement rooted in the soul music tradition from one of R&B’s most remarkable voices.
Hailing from the Minnesota twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Stokley was reared in a family that fostered a deep devotion to musical and cultural expression. Showing an affinity for the drums early on, he began seeking out opportunities in the fertile musical landscape of his environment. Coming of age at the peak of Minneapolis’ intense affair with the pop and R&B charts, the city was a virtual hotbed of talent in which Stokley would be groomed for imminent, monumental success. Surrounded by acts like the Time, the Jets and the omnipresent Prince and the Revolution, he began earning his stripes as a drummer and vocalist.
In the mid-1980s, Stokley became a founding member of what was the genesis of Mint Condition. After several years of gigs and paid dues, a stroke of serendipity saw the band cross paths with that of lauded multiplatinum producers and hometown heroes Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Fresh off the success of Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, the two former members of the Time had just inked a deal with A&M Records to distribute their own label, Perspective Records. Jam & Lewis recruited Mint Condition to their label’s roster and released their debut album Meant to Be Mint in 1991.
The group soon found success in their now-classic single “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes).” The song broke through on the pop and R&B charts, reaching #6 on the Billboard 100 and #3 on the Billboard R&B chart and was eventually certified gold. In 1993, the band released its sophomore effort From the Mint Factory. The lead single “U Send Me Swingin’” hit #2 on the Billboard R&B chart and was a testament to the group’s intrinsic ability to craft sublime songs that crystalized contemporary R&B sensibilities with a live band aesthetic.
Continuing their winning streak, Mint Condition released Definition of a Band three years later. The album contained the Billboard Top 40 hit “What Kind of Man Would I Be,” which was also certified gold. Definition of a Band would also become the group’s first gold-certified album. Mint Condition signed with Elektra Records and released their fourth effort, Life’s Aquarium. The album produced yet another Billboard Top 40 hit for the group in the form of “If You Love Me.”
Following Life’s Aquarium, Mint Condition made the collective decision to continue on their journey by taking the reins of their career and young legacy by independently releasing subsequent efforts, the first of which being Livin’ the Luxury Brown, unveiled in 2005. As the group’s first self-released foray, the album reached #54 on the Billboard 200, #11 on the Billboard R&B chart, was #1 on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart and was nominated for a Soul Train Music Award. Building on their newfound independent success, the group followed up with E-Life (2008), 7 (2011) and Music at the Speed of Life (2012). In 2017, Healing Season (2016) was GRAMMY-nominated for Best R&B Album.
Apart from his band dynamic, Stokley has been an in-demand session drummer and vocalist in the industry for quite some time, performing on recordings by artists such as Elton John, New Edition, Usher and the late Prince. Over the years, Stokley also began to expand his repertoire as a producer and featured vocalist. In 2011, Stokley co-produced and dueted with R&B recording artist Kelly Price on the hit “Not My Daddy.” The song reached #22 on the Billboard R&B chart and received two GRAMMY nominations in the categories of Best R&B Performance and Best R&B Song. The following year, Stokley lent his vocals to a cover of the 2008 Mint Condition song “Why Do We Try” featured on Robert Glasper Experiment’s GRAMMY-winning Black Radio album.
Stokley also built bridges within the hip-hop community, appearing on projects by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest founding member Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Tech N9ne and Brother Ali. Fortifying his relationship with that community, he also co-produced several tracks on Maybach Music Group recording artist Wale’s critically acclaimed 2013 album The Gifted as well as his 2015 album The Album About Nothing—both of which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Stokley also fortified his ties to the jazz community with guest features on albums such as Brian Culbertson’s 2012 Verve Records release Dreams and the Billboard #1 best-selling Contemporary Jazz Record of 2015 by saxophonist Boney James entitled futuresoul.
And while Stokley was content with his band of brothers in Mint Condition as well as his outside collaborative endeavors, he realized that the time had come for him to embark on a musical voyage in a vessel meant for him to steer alone. Introducing Stokley finds the singer stepping into the spotlight, a vibrant portrait of an artist on a quest to cultivate a creative statement as an individual. The album offers listeners a fresh perspective of a dynamic voice that has resonated with core fans around the world for over two decades. “I’ve been gearing up for a minute,” he says. “My thirst has been building. And I’ve been moving at a great pace with Mint Condition. But I just want to take some time to move differently right now. I think one should experience everything life has to offer. And if you have a gift, and most of all the ambition, you should do it.”
Though he’d amassed several albums worth of material over the years, he knew his debut had to be special and was steadfast in pursuit of the goal to ensure the project was founded on a clean slate. “I got tired of just hearing my own voice,” says Stokley. “I didn’t want to feel too isolated. I wanted different textures. So I invited people to come in.” To that effect, he enlisted the efforts of Carvin Haggins & Ivan Barias. Responsible for the success and hits behind such multi-platinum acts as Musiq, Jill Scott, Ledesi and Faith Evans, the Philadelphia-based duo contribute to the fabric of Introducing Stokley in a way that superbly compliments Stokley’s mellifluous vocal style. “They’re like a young, East Coast Jimmy & Terry,” says Stokley. “They know the industry pretty well and also have kept their finger on the pulse of what’s happening musically over the years.”
Introducing Stokley also includes co-writing contributions from Sam Dew and Los Angeles-based songwriting group the A Team. “Putting all these different energies,” he reflects. “Collaboration is a great thing. It’s how you make the world work. I’m a musician at heart, so I wanted to pick people that are just incredible.”
The album’s groove-laden lead single “Level” finds Stokley wielding his mighty pen as a songwriter, weaving lyrics of affirmation over a propulsive rhythm guitar-driven track produced by Stokley. “We all seek to find someone or something that fits just right for us,” he says. “Everybody wants something that fits with them comfortably. Something on their level.”
The Haggins & Barias-produced “Organic” is a take on the human compulsion for acceptance and how individuality can be compromised in the pursuit. “I hear a lot of women particularly speaking about the concept of fitting in, with regard to styles, personalities,” he muses. “A lot of women think that’s what makes them more appealing, when it was actually better when they were just being themselves.” The singer notes that the title “Organic” is also a nod to his newly vegan lifestyle.
Partially inspired by current sociopolitical events and the deliberateness and critical commentary of Marvin Gaye’s landmark 1971 hit “What’s Going On,” “We/Me” finds Stokley reverberating with the times in an earnest yet piercing take on various sociopolitical state of affairs buoyed by undertones of the Motown sound. “It’s a social statement that takes a look at what’s going on around the world,” he says of the song. “I didn’t want to be preachy, but I knew I had to say something. When you’re taking in all this energy, you have to let it out somehow.”
“Art in Motion” (featuring Robert Glasper) is a wondrous, sonic hybrid of eras and production techniques. “I came up during a time when it was just about analog,” he says. “But I also love digital. I love new technology and new sounds. So here, I’m bridging a gap between these two worlds. The song has electronic elements as well as analog.”
Shifting gears, the dancehall-flavored, Stokley-produced “Wheels Up” exudes maximum island vibes and features Jamaican singer Omi (of the 2011 triple-platinum hit “Cheerleader”). “I grew up playing steel pan drums in a lot of reggae bands,” Stokley mentions. “So this is my ode to West Indian culture.” Apart from its festive flare, the song also extols the virtues of holding fast to one’s passion in life. “It’s about going for it,” he says. “Your dreams; your goals. We’ve only got one life. So do whatever it is that you were put here to do.”
It has been said that good things come to those who wait. Fans have been patiently biding their time in hopes of a solo project from the lead vocalist of one of the most important R&B bands of the past several decades. With the bowing of Introducing Stokley it’s safe to say the wait is over. “Artistically, I wanted to say something different and take it a few degrees away from what I’ve done in the past,” contemplates Stokley. “Obviously some of it is going to be familiar, because of my voice. I’ve just expanded my sensibilities a bit more. Introducing Stokley is a look at the past and the future. The fresh and the familiar.”