By Wayne Epps Jr. | Photos by Griffin Harrington
One of Rhakeem Stallings’ passions is very visible, on display in front of thousands every Saturday in the fall.
Another is not so visible to the JMU community — at least not yet.
Rhakeem, a redshirt freshman linebacker on JMU’s football team, is a multi-faceted musician. In fact, the singer, songwriter, drummer and pianist has been making music longer than he’s been playing organized football.
“When I was probably like 8 years old, I would sing around the house, [and play on] pots and pans like I’m on the drums,” Rhakeem says. “Then when I turned like 10, I started playing drums for my church. Of course I wasn’t that good, but I was still trying to learn. My mom and dad got me piano lessons when I was little, so that actually started the foundation for me.”
According to Rhakeem’s father, Jerald Perry II, he first started showing some musical interest at around age 5 or 6. He was drawn to the drums early on at the church overseen by his parents, Tabernacle of Deliverance in Chesapeake, Va.
“He was always captured by the music department,” says Robin Perry, Rhakeem’s mother. “Always, even as a little boy, I remember seeing him just staring at the drummer. He was just studying the footwork, he studied their handwork. And he started off with drums, then all of a sudden we saw him taking notice at the keyboard and the Hammond [organ].”
At around age 10, Jerald and Robin, realizing Rhakeem’s musical inclination, put him in piano lessons.
Rhakeem did the lessons for a year or two, but most of what he did was self taught.
Athletically, Jerald introduced football to Rhakeem around age 3 or 4. Jerald played high school football and later semi-pro football with a team in North Carolina in the ’80s and ’90s. But despite the early introduction, football wasn’t a main focus for Rhakeem growing up.
“I was more of a basketball player growing up,” Rhakeem says. “I liked watching Kobe, so I used to always tell my dad, ‘Dad, I want to be like Kobe. Dad, I want to be like Kobe.’ So, [I] played rec basketball, played middle school basketball, tried to play [Amateur Athletic Union] basketball, but my family was telling me basketball is not where it’s at. It’s football.”
Rhakeem, a sociology major and music industry minor, played recreation football briefly at age 12, but it wasn’t until the eighth grade that he got into serious organized football. He went on to win 2008 and 2011 state championships with Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake.
“Honestly, I’ve been playing football for like five years,” Rhakeem says. “So I’m still learning the game of football.”
All the while, Stallings was gaining notoriety on the music side. In his early teens, Rhakeem played back up drums in 2004 for notable gospel artists Earl Bynum, Andre Jones and Mona J. at the annual McDonald’s Gospelfest held in Portsmouth that year. Around the same time, he was named the minister of music at the Tabernacle of Deliverance and led the musical productions until he came to JMU last year.
“Pretty much all the local musicians and producers in this area at some point in time has crossed Rhakeem’s path and has spoken very highly,” Jerald says. “If not even playing with him at a stage or inside of a church.”
Rhakeem has also stepped into the recording studio, working with other gospel musicians like Todd Walker on a song called “I’m Changed” that was featured on Walker’s album “Introduction to Change”.
He also recorded with artist Robert Freeman on a project not yet released.
The professionals that Rhakeem has played with, like Earl Bynum, have expressed high praise in his ability. Bynum even expressed interest in doing lessons with Rhakeem, but that never came to fruition because of Stallings’ busy schedule.
Sports and school forced Rhakeem to put music on the backburner. Though music was more of a focus for him growing up.
“Over the years, football has taken over,” Rhakeem says. “I don’t have time to sing at other people’s churches or do concerts or write a song … I’m trying to get better at football.”
But recently, Rhakeem has been inspired to delve deeper into his music.
“Ever since I’ve been taking [a] music industry class and minoring in the music industry, I found myself wanting to get back to my music even more so,” Rhakeem says. “Sometimes when I’m in class … I might just start writing a song, like, whatever comes to my head I might start writing something down.”
Rhakeem isn’t only writing new music but is preparing to do more production as well. When that comes together, he’s planning on working with teammates Sage Harold and DeAndre’ Smith on a mixtape.
Smith plays the piano while both he and Harold sing.
“I’m going to have my own recording system in my dorm. So then when I do that, I’m probably not going to be out of my dorm, pretty much,” Stallings says. “I’m probably going to be in my own room singing, making beats and stuff like that, writing. And I’m just going to be focusing on school, football and music.”
Jerald and Robin describe Rhakeem’s sound as similar to John Legend. He draws inspiration from gospel and R&B and it’s clear that the music plays a special role in his life.
“Music [is] his comfort,” Robin said. “Whether he was singing it or whether he was just sitting at a keyboard playing. Music is Rhakeem’s meditation. It’s in him and that’s the way he, like many other artists, expresses himself.”
Music isn’t only Rhakeem’s comfort and meditation — it’s his dream, something that he could see himself doing professionally. And he’s moving ever closer to it.
“Anybody can do anything they put your mind too,” Rhakeem said. “That’s what I’m trying to do, I’m putting my mind to it now so I’m trying to go further.” n