It's been big year-and-a-half for Ohio-born, New York-based MC Stalley. In just over 18 months, Stalley has gone from relative obscurity to being a regular on MTV and BET, ESPN's go-to rapper for theme music and one of the latest signees to Rick Ross' Maybach Music. With all that success, it would be easy for Stalley to get arrogant, but nothing could be further from the truth. Stalley is almost unnervingly humble. He wears his blue collar roots like a badge of honour. During a recent tour stop in Toronto, Stalley took a minute to explain how he went from small town baller to rising rap star.

Is that the most well-travelled fitted in hip-hop? I've only ever seen you in that hat.
Yeah, I think it is. Have you seen the inside of it? (Points to the inside of the hat. It's filthy.)

Yeah... Tell me about all the buttons on that hat.
Well, I travel around the world, I do a lot of shows, so the buttons kind of represent the different places I've been. When we on the road, I'll go to the little antique shops and look for buttons that say Ohio, or Ohio State, or Browns. Anything that's Ohio, as far as a pin or a button goes, it goes on the hat. The hat is something that's special to me. It's been through a lot. My first performance on MTV, my first performance on BET, interviews with a lot of magazines, signing with [Rick] Ross, it's been there. I'm attached to it right now.

I want to talk to you about signing with Rick Ross... You don't strike me as a Rick Ross kind of guy. How did that come to pass?
He just called me out of the blue. He said he'd been watching me for a while, he liked what I'd been doing and he wanted me to be a part of what he was building over there, the Maybach empire. You know, he's just a dude who knows music. He's well rounded, he's a smart guy, and it just made sense for me, when you have a guy who's of that calibre who's allowing me to use that platform, you can't lose. And I can still do everything I've been doing.

Your last album was released through a clothing company, Mishka. Das Racist did the same thing, other people have done the same thing. Is this the future of the music industry?
You know, I think it is... It's just about branding with brands who brand with you. My brand is my music and myself. I work with Nike, I work with ESPN, I work with Mishka and 10 Deep. These are brands that remind me of me, that have the same kind of goals and outlook, so it just makes sense. We have the same audience. A lot of streetwear kids are fans of hip-hop... It works. I don't know if they have has much money as a [record] label, maybe Nike does... But it works.

What's your ESPN affiliation?
I've done a lot of theme music for them. I basically did a whole album [of theme music.] I've been up to the campus up in Connecticut. They reach out to me if they need something... I've done interviews for them and things like that.

How did that come about?
They just hit me up, man. They saw a video of mine on MTV, liked it, they wanted to meet me, we had these meetings and we just worked it out.

In an alternate universe, you're on ESPN playing ball, right?
Yeah, exactly. That comes in line, too. I played college basketball, I'm a fan of all sports, so just they knowing that I have that history and background, it makes more sense, even. They know I'm not just a rapper who makes music, I'm a rapper who's also lived that lifestyle of an athlete.

What happened with you and basketball? There was an injury, right?
Yeah, I played at the University of Michigan, and then I went to Long Island University. I was injured and my career was cut short, but it was a good time. Basketball is something I've done since I was six years old. I loved it, I still love it. I still play when I get the chance, but it didn't work out, and I decided to stay in New York after school and pursue the music, and now I'm here.

What was it like for you, as an Ohio guy, playing for Michigan?
Oh, I hated it. It's funny, because, when I was doing it I wanted to leave because I wanted to get out of Ohio. You know when you're a kid, and you grow up somewhere, you're like "I'm sick of Ohio. I want to see something new." Most of my friends was going to Ohio State and I was like "If I go there, it's going to be like high school all over again." A couple of my friends were going to Michigan, so I went up there and I tried it. I didn't like it, so I went to LIU, in downtown Brooklyn, loved it and I'm still there.

Your hometown, Massilon, OH, is an interesting place. Massilon was the home to one of the bloodiest labour conflicts...
In American history!

Exactly. You're a very thoughtful kind of rapper. I don't want to use the word conscious...
No, don't.

Right, but thoughtful. Does being from a place with that kind of history influence you?
Definitely. That history is everything to me. The build-up around that city has been the biggest inspiration for me. The labour movement, the steel factories, the railway industry, it's everything to be able to be a voice for that and bring that history to the rest of the world. It's such a small town, places like this get overlooked, but there are more Massilon, Ohios in the world than there are New York's, L.A.'s and Chicago's.

There's a lot of really rough small towns out there...
Massilon is one of them.

Right, Massilon, Youngstown, Flint, MI. Why do you think we haven't heard more MCs from these sort of hardscrabble blue collar towns?
It's a couple of reasons. A lot of people don't venture out and move out and try to do something. They get comfortable with being local... A lot of people like waking up in the morning know the family's there, the kids is there, the car is there, they know what they gonna get on a Friday night. At the nine-to-five they know everybody and everybody knows them. Some of it is being afraid. But also, we haven't had somebody like myself to come into the mainstream, so that other people can go and put that magnifying glass on some of these smaller cities. That's why I rep where I'm from so much. I want the world, especially the music industry, to know that these Massilons, these Youngstowns, these Huntsville, Alabamas, little towns in Mississippi, Oklahoma City, towns in Ontario, everywhere has great artists and great music.