Sterling Hayes. Photo by Troy Gueno

In the spring of 2020, Hyde Park MC Sterling Hayes found himself “flirting with death.”

In his studio album of the same name released during that same time period, Hayes confronted his battles with depression, anxiety and addiction, all while facing the destructive consequences that come along with battling such afflictions.

At one point, Hayes even considered leaving the rap game for good.

Since that tumultuous time in his life, Hayes has since found God, (mostly) gotten sober, started attending therapy and even changed his diet in an effort to overcome his struggles.

The end result is his brand new album Beam Scale, a ten-track effort filled with back-to-basics hip-hop production and a series of lyrical diatribes centered around hope, wellbeing, and family.

Conceptually, Beam Scale is much more uplifting than its predecessor. Instead of penning tales about his self-destructive habits, Hayes devises a simple recipe for making oneself well again, which includes simple tropes such as eating more fruits and vegetables, taking vitamins and supplements, and self-education.

Sterling Hayes. Photo by Troy Gueno

The uplifting sentiments are reflected on the album cover too, which shows Hayes being pulled up off the ground by his wife with his daughter standing nearby.

“The last album was flirting with death…physical death, spiritual, emotional,” Hayes said. “This [album] was more of the glory because I’m not flirting with it. It’s all about life, abundance, health, and wisdom. That’s why the music sounds more uplifting, because I have been uplifted.”

Aside from changing his habits, Hayes also credits his wife and daughter for helping get back on his feet, noting that having a daughter has forced him to value his life more. “After having my daughter, you start wearing your seatbelt all the time, you start driving slow,” Hayes said. “Family became more important than my self-destruction.”

Hayes conveys the album concept right away with the track “INTRO,” where he delivers a poetic set of bars reflecting on his journey towards feeling whole again. “Livin’ too fast, movin’ so fast, I can’t breathe/Depression and anxiety and drugs, there was no peace,” he spits over an ethereal-sounding instrumental.

Along with its introspective, personal themes, Beam Scale sees Hayes oozing with charisma and confidence. On tracks such as “HEALTH IS WEALTH (RANDY MOSS)” and “OMK (FAKE WEED),” Hayes comes through with grimier flows and gritty lyricism.

Despite being a stark departure from the more introspective material here, it also shows Hayes at his best.

“I can feel the music, shades on like I’m Stevie, I knew I would be the man ever since a peewee/ Send the club up and peel off to the green just like a kiwi,” he flexes on “OMK (FAKE WEED).”

Complementing Hayes’ stark introspection on the production side is a series of beats that are soulful, dense and brimming with detail, featuring a very traditional Chicago hip-hop sound, courtesy of Chicago producer Peter Cottontale, who Hayes said produced ninety percent of the album.

Hayes said he wanted the album to reflect the city he calls home. “That’s who it’s for,” Hayes said. “It’s for the city, it’s for my people. The music industry is very fickle now; you got these fans, they love you and then they hate you .. so for my core fanbase, that’s who I do it for.”

 Instrumental highlights include the album’s opener “INTRO,” with its heavenly, layered vocal passages and pretty sounding string sections, and “INTERLUDE: BROTHER,” a hardcore boom bap joint with a bluesy vibraphone loop.

The album’s soulful vibe gets interrupted towards the end with “HEALTH IS WEALTH (RANDY MOSS)” and “OMK (FAKE WEED),” two ferocious trap bangers where Hayes ditches introspection for some intense, braggadocious lyrics. While these tracks offer a drastic switch in aesthetics, they also do a brilliant job at resetting the pace of the album.

“I wanted to add some bangers on there in an attempt to have some club or car value,” Hayes said. “I just didn’t want to hip-hop this shit down. I gotta chop it out because that’s still Chicago, too.”

Perhaps above all else, Beam Scale is a time capsule that documents Hayes’ transformation from wrestling with personal struggle to achieving personal contentment—a reminder that everything will be alright in the end as long as he has his family by his side.

“Everybody ask me, how is married life? I will not get married twice/This little family saved my life,” he raps on the album’s closing cut.

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Ryan Rosenberger is a Chicago freelance music journalist who has been covering the local hip-hop scene for three years. A resident of the Bridgeport neighborhood, Ryan is also a contributor to the Weekly.

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