StoneyBertz, aka Stacey Roberts, a thirty-year-old MC from Colorado Springs, released the new EP Tough Love in January. The rapper, who is gender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, has been dropping projects on SoundCloud and Bandcamp since 2011's Fades and Green Stuff, but Tough Love is still something of a debut, because it's the first musical venture created by an alcohol-free StoneyBertz.
After dropping col(ours), in March of 2017, the rapper checked into rehab for alcohol abuse. "I was tweaking a lot, so I went to treatment and was in rehab, just kind of re-evaluating everything and seeing where life was. I was making music and stuff like that prior to then, but obviously a lot of that was in a state of inebriation," they say.
Roberts took a hiatus from music after rehab to get comfortable performing without using alcohol as a crutch.
"After a certain point, being in treatment and being without substances for a really long time, then coming out and trying to jump back into going to shows, I had to take a super-long break," Roberts says. "Because it's hard for me to still do a show and not use my drink tickets. That's something that was super-foreign to me."
Roberts says the journey toward sobriety and self-reinvention inspired the six tracks on Tough Love: "I had this idea in different renditions over time. I knew where I was going, so it was about finding the pieces that fit."
Even though the subject matter of Tough Love is heavy, the EP is also uplifting. It's driven by a grounded optimism — never bouncy or cloying, but underpinned by a cautious hopefulness that we could all use right now.
In a hip-hop world saturated with bravado, each line here is delivered with a refreshingly understated confidence. There's an old-school swagger to Roberts's flow, at times reminiscent of early East Coast MCs.
They describe it as "Notorious B.I.G. mixed with Atmosphere."
On the titular opening track, Roberts gives an unflinching look at life in rehab, but follows it up with a TeQNiK G-assisted come-what-may anthem of self-assurance, "On Me."
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The third track, "Cherish This," is the furthest foray into melancholy on the EP. Roberts speak of loss and death of loved ones, but without falling into the trappings of abstract sentimentality. Simple instrumentals like the bare-bones keyboard and drumbeat on "Planning v. Procrastination" provide the ideal backdrop for Roberts's effortless lyricism. Rounded out by smooth vocals, courtesy of ELiMence, the track calls to mind Chicago-based indie hip-hop darling Noname.
"Had To," one of three tracks produced by AATMA, stands out with an energetic drum riff and a smokey, slick bass line. The final track, "The Work," is StoneyBertz's personal favorite off the EP. Bookended by poignant monologues from favorite comedian Mark Maron (who also pops up on many other StoneyBertz tracks), "The Work" is a testament to hard work, tough love, and the necessary discomforts of growth and change.
StoneyBertz's hybrid of realism and optimism on Tough Love makes it ideal quarantine listening. Shit happens; we persist.
Tough Love is available for streaming and download now on Bandcamp and Spotify; so is the new single "Deep Down," the first track off the rapper's upcoming EP, I Am Them.
Listen to StoneyBertz and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.