Soulful, street-wise lyrics laced over familiar, hard Hip Hop beats have always been an irresistible combination since the early 1990s. No longer regulated to the urban contemporary charts, what can now be considered “Hip-Hop-influenced R&B” has changed vastly since the ‘90s. Today’s Hip-Hop Soul artists dominate the Top 40 charts and mainstream pop culture with ease. These new “rappers-turned-singers” have now replaced the ubiquitous “feature rapper” cameo of early Hip Hop Soul music and in turn, sing and rhyme on their own songs.
The latest artist to step into this arena is Mack Wilds, the R&B reincarnation of actor Tristan Wilds (HBO’s “The Wire”). Wilds’ nostalgic debut New York: A Love Story resurrects the same elements many Hip-Hop Soul purists long for: legendary East Coast production (DJ Premier, Pete Rock), familiar Hip-Hop samples and meaningful yet hardcore lyrics. After a frenzied, yet fun performance at New York’s own SOB’s, Mack Wilds talked to HipHopDX about music versus acting, collaborating with Lauryn Hill and why right now is a great time for New York Hip-Hop.
Mack Wilds On The Similarities Between Music & Acting
HipHopDX: Why an album right now? How did acting prepare you for a music career?
Mack Wilds: It just felt like the right time. I’ve always went off of gut impulses my whole career, and it’s always worked for me. I’ve known Salaam Remi since I was 19, and when “90210” ended I was like, “When will I ever get this opportunity again? I’m just gonna go hard.”
The two industries—although both have their differences, are rooted around the same factors, like art, celebrity, and politics. So growing up in one, whether I jumped into acting or music first, would've groomed me with a general idea of what's to come in the other. So, it just showed me the ways of the business; how to work it, and maneuver through all the bullshit sometimes hurdled your way [laughs].
DX: So are you a rapper or a singer?
Mack Wilds: I just say I’m an artist. You never know what’s gonna come out…When I hear a beat, what I write to it always varies. I’m an artist, and I just like to express myself.
DX: Judging from your album, your musical taste seems pretty diverse. Who would be your dream musical collaboration if you could pick from any genre?
Mack Wilds: There’s too many to name. One person I will say though is Lauryn Hill. She's one of my heroes when it comes to doing music and acting.
DX: In your opinion, what is your view of the current state of Hip Hop and R&B?
Mack Wilds: If you would have asked me this question two years ago, I would have said I was scared. But it seems like with the resurgence of great music, not good but great music coming out like Pusha T, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Nas, J. Cole… I feel Hip Hop and R&B is getting back to a place where it’s changed a little bit, but it’s finally getting back to the way it used to be. Funny enough, it’s like New York City. The look of it has changed, but the feeling of it and what’s real stays the same. It’s that real, raw feeling of how New York is and how I remember it. I see my memories like movies, and that’s how I wanted the album to be. I wanted people to listen to my album and be taken through the boroughs of New York City.
DX: People recognize and love you from your film and television roles. How do you focus on music without alienating fans of your acting who may not listen to Hip Hop or R&B?
Mack Wilds: You know what’s funny? I feel like so many people listen to Hip Hop now. Urban music is the new pop; Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, they’re all doing urban records now. I have fans from Ireland and fans that only know me from “90210” talking about how the songs make them want to come to New York to see what it’s like.
So whether someone is black, white, if it’s good, people are going to listen to it. It’s dope. It’s a really good feeling, and I’m glad everyone is connecting to it like they are.
How Staten Island Seclusion Influenced Mack Wilds’ Sound
DX: Your album is an ode to love and specifically your borough, Staten Island. Often-forgotten, what makes Staten Island special?
Mack Wilds: The greatest thing about Staten Island over the other boroughs—because we are so secluded from the other boroughs—is each neighborhood has its own energy. Stapleton is like Brooklyn; Park Hill is like Harlem; West Brighton is like Queens. You can literally take a bus five minutes and be in another environment.
The kids from my side, the North shore, are secluded from the other side of the borough, which is what people usually see, like “Mob Wives.” We are so secluded from that mainstream part of Staten Island that people forget that we exist too. Growing up there you get to see so many facets within one borough. It’s amazing to grow up there.
DX: How did you generate such a heavy buzz as a virtually unknown artist while simultaneously being a famous actor? Where do you think you fall into Staten Island’s Hip-Hop and R&B legacy of Wu-Tang Clan, Force M.D.’s, and The UMC’s?
Mack Wilds: Being unknown was the beauty of it. No one knew, so that way I was able to make the music I wanted to make without anyone having any pre-conceived notions of what it may be. It’s funny because Mack Wilds is not a stretch from who I am; Meet Mack was my Tumblr.com name. It’s just letting everybody know now who I am. To even be mentioned in the same sentence with the Wu is crazy! I pray that one day that I can reach heights as high as those guys. I was in a club in Prague with Method Man while I was shooting Red Tails, and [fans] couldn’t speak a lick of English. But they knew every word to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ Ta Fuck Wit,” so it’s amazing. I’m shooting for heights as high as all of those people and even further.
DX: What’s next for Mack Wilds in terms of possibilities/opportunities?
Mack Wilds: Right now, it's music. The other things I'd like to jump into will come into fruition very, very soon. But for now? Music. Tomorrow? The world.