Despite still only being in his early 20s, Malcolm Lockridge has had plenty of time to gauge where he stands amongst Nashville’s hip hop community; where he stands and what he stands for. Growing up in a rough neighborhood has helped guide him toward who he has become, certainly instilling in him the idea that he needed to brand himself to reflect a tougher image (Mac’s stage name has evolved from the harder sounding Mac tha Ripper—which he used as a college DJ—and later Mac tha Knife), but in speaking to Mac he makes no bones about not wanting to promote an image that isn’t indicative of where he’s at in this stage of his life. He recognizes his upbringing as a chapter from his past, but also feels as though it would be unfair to front as though that image was still a reality as he moves on with his life; something many MCs struggle with as they evolve as not only artists, but people. Now having graduated college, Mac explained how the move to change his name once again was motivated to reflect a “more professional” version of himself; but all that assuming the modest stage name of Mac L really does is go to further suggest the MC’s willingness to be upfront about who he his and what he’s about right now.
Earlier this month Mac performed on a bill ringing in the new year at the grand opening of the recently rebranded Epic 9 (formerly Avenue 9). Following a performance by Tasha T—an uneven set that still inspired a solid reaction from the modest crowd—Mac quietly took to the stage and rolled through a half dozen songs. Despite his confident presence however, the already scattered audience appeared to take an unannounced intermission from partying by the stage and slowly cleared out over the course of the MC’s set. Watching the performance, it became immediately clear that the setting wasn’t optimal for Mac’s brand of lyrically focused rap. But he rolled on. Opening with “Music City,” a song unfortunately heavily influenced by crowd interaction, Mac persisted, determined to do shrug off the awkward light show and club goers’ dwindling interest. As the performance went on though, Epic 9′s off stage hype-man perked up and chimed in, eventually barking the clichéd “this is real hip hop” chant; in this case however, he wasn’t simply bullshitting to stir things up. In the face of a disinterested audience, now only waiting for the next Waka Flocka track to overtake the dance floor, Mac remained confident and established his voice amongst the chaos.
The MC might not fit in when considering Southern Hip Hop as a brand, but Mac fits like a glove when considering that he’s inspired by a sense of community that the south is largely known for. It’s unfortunate though that the rap scene in Nashville is, at least on the surface, about as divided as his reception at Epic 9 might suggest. This isn’t meant to push the man as some messianic hope to change things in the country-music capital of the world, but Mac has a bigger picture in mind and is excited to see whether or not the city’s scene can grow into a full-fledged movement. Whatever you think of his music, you have to give it up to him for pressing on with such faith and determination despite being in such a minority. Recently Mac and I touched base, discussing this conflict, his upcoming album, Raw Material, and the local artists who he feels are some of Nashville’s finest.
This isn’t meant to incite a shit-talking session or anything like that, rather I’d like to work on building on the positives. In 2009 you wrote a post on your blog that read, “Nashville is notorious for its crab mentality. Nobody wants to work together. There’s alot [sic] of hate in the city. There are too many cliques that call themselves movements, and they stand for nothing. It’s really disturbing.” Do you feel that Nashville has enough talent to develop into a hotspot on the national scene? If so—in relation to the points you made a few years back—what do you think Nashville artists have to do to start heading in that direction?
Mac L: Nashville has more than enough potential. The problem is people are either too afraid or too stuck in their ways. When we start working together and start going outside our comfort zones, I think that’ll start a great change. We also need to start being professional and stop trying to continue the “hood” mentality. Don’t get me wrong. I’m from the hood. I left the hood.
Why do you think MCs in Nashville have come to the point where they are only looking out for themselves like you’re saying? Elsewhere the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies in many cases, and you’ll have whole communities working together to reach their individual goals. What is it here that isn’t working?
ML: That can really be applied to life. I say it is experience (or lack thereof) that makes people want to fly solo. What is also hurting us is that everyone wants to be the star. Everyone wants to be Kobe [or] Michael. No one wants (or knows how) to play their position. This is Ca$hville, and everything comes at a price here.
In that same post you mentioned Classic Williams and Black Noize as key proponents of pushing Nashville as a scene. Two years later, who’s out there working on building bridges, attempting to make change in the city?
ML: On the scene, I see DJs like DJ Legacy and DJ Sir Swift hosting events and CDs that are really good for the city. Moss da Beast and Aphropik are a couple MCs I see also puttin’ on for the city. Behind the scenes, I see Wes (founder of Hip-Hop in the Ville) and Janiro (founder of the Southern Entertainment Awards) putting in work in Nashville. Capo & Latino Saint also have a quarterly event called the Urban Music Challenge, which is a great opportunity for artists.
Your track “Coordinates” revolves around a hook that includes the line, “Because there’s people that want to see you fall off track.” What roadblocks do you see right now getting in the way to achieving the success you’re looking for in the track?
ML: Right now, life is my main roadblock. Not wanting to make excuses, but what’s keeping me from the success I seek is my reliance on others. My lack of necessary resources is really hurting me, but to be realistic, my biggest roadblock is myself. I still doubt myself sometimes. I still have bad habits I need to overcome. I still have things to do.
Prophicy is one of the names you’ve been high on—who are two or three more names in the city that people have to check out right now?
ML: Haha, yeah Prophicy is a beast—as an MC and a producer. But aside from him, as well as others mentioned, people should definitely check out my brother KDV, my dude Likwid and my boy Stix Izza. There’s plenty more, but off [the] top, these guys have chops.
As a young MC, how do you see your voice developing since first dropping your Great American Paper Chase mixtape in 2008?
ML: Well, my voice has always been something I’ve worked on. You’ll definitely be hearing a matured sound; more confident, more serious.
CD: You do have a very confident presence on stage—of the local names hustling right now, who has impressed you as a live performer?
ML: I appreciate it. There are two artists who really stand out to me here in the Ville, the first being Finess Da Boss. Her live band only adds to her skill. I’ve also been impressed by D-Lowe with Blow 4 Blow Entertainment. We’ve actually performed together and D-Lowe has tons of energy. I’ve actually perform with a group named Word Up. Started in Nashville by my boy Dean “Dirty D” Andrews, he got me and a select few others to build up the live music scene in Murfreesboro. This is where I earned my stripes. (Mac followed up with me after the initial interview, adding the following: “In regards to your question about impressive performers, I forgot to mention Quiet Entertainer. Awesome musician.”)
CD: What’s coming up in 2011 for you? New releases?
ML: I have a lot on my plate this year. My big release this year is Raw Material, my follow up to The Great American Paper Chase. I’m also working with a couple new artists, one of ‘em being an R&B singer whose names I won’t reveal yet. I’m also working with a lot of producers including Kev the Sureshot, M. Will the Shogun, Bhon of Audio Ink, Bill Breeze, Johnny Storm, and more. 2011 is gonna be busy. Expect many singles.