Minnesota churns out intellectuals and artists of varying talents and minds- Prince, Bob Dylan, to name a couple- and mothers various cultures that oftentimes seamlessly coexist with one another, and sometimes fosters a certain dissonance. Sitting unfazed, Mac Irv spoke candidly about wealth disparity in Northern Minnesota, which has one of the largest levels of poverty in the nation. As a result, most turn to rapping or hustling to make ends meet- a common narrative in lower income neighborhoods across the globe. Despite this, Mac remained equally as candid when talking about the flip side of the negativity, which is the gorgeous, creative culture that is birthed from the “outcasts” of normative society.
This idea of living outside the box and exploring your mentality outside of social constructs is explored in his latest project, Misfits, as well as through his brand Pilot Life. The combination of this and growing up near an environment which has defined life for many of his peers culminated in establishing Mac Irv’s foundation for his music making, and the subjects he chooses to speak on. During his sit down with RESPECT., he talks about fears, negativity, his top five artists, and plenty more.
RESPECT.: What are you afraid of?
Mac Irv: Not much at this point. I used to say I was afraid to die, but right now I don’t know. I just feel like I understand everyone has their time coming and I live each moment like my last. I was telling someone before how I used to play basketball, and throughout my time in the sport, I’d stay in the best places, eat the best food- and I overlooked it.
RESPECT.: How have those fears, or lack thereof, driven you in the past?
Now, going into my new career, I’m living in the moment , taking things as they come. I guess the fear of failure is a fear, maybe. I’m proud of the things I’ve already done though. I think it’s all about fate. Worst things can be happening to you, you know? (laughs).
RESPECT.: Can you say there was a positive side to all the negativity in the hood? What was it?
I would say there’s a positive side to all negativity. As a matter of fact, I learned that there’s really no negatives. It’s the mindset that you’re in. It’s like: this happened, I could be down for it and beat myself up, or I could learn from it. Me as an artist, I feel like I’m in the middle; I’ve been able to walk across the stage at a university, and I’m the guy who’s like like yo, the environment’s f**ked up, and we don’t have the opportunities y’all have, and this is reality. Minnesota has one of the biggest wealth disparities in the world, and you have to work extremely hard for it. You don’t wanna go down the road they want you to go down; you don’t wanna be a statistic. some people just aren’t woke to it, but some people just aren’t about it. But, again, it goes back to your mindset.
RESPECT.: So on being not woke: you definitely have an opinion on normative trap lyrics, and the whole embellished aesthetic behind all of it. Would you consider yourself a fan of it?
I’m not a fan of it. I would say I, myself, am very well rounded. But I’m a part of the culture too! Most people around me rap about street stuff, but that is street stuff, at least a good part of it. I still like fly things (gestures at the ring he’s wearing), but it’s not all I’m about. New Jordans, jewelry, etc; that’s not what gives me confidence. And you can’t define success as these things either, and I think that’s the biggest issue. I know what I’m about, and there’s always a plan. A lot of people are trying to get you to do a certain thing, rap about certain things. Sometimes people get lost, sometimes they don’t know how to “unlost.”
RESPECT.: So much culture came out of struggle- like in the early 20th century, Jazz music was created in part as a way for African-Americans to maintain a sense of culture, do you think hip-hop is the same?
A lot of people will be like “man you rap like you been in the streets for so long,” and, you know what, I’m really not on the streets. I’m on the “curb,” and I’ve grown up very, very near this stuff. and it’s crazy how it becomes this culture of comfort and discomfort, and staying zoned in the comfort. Lots of cats I know don’t know how to go into a room of people who don’t look like them and speak. And, you know, bless my dad for teaching me all these things; “this what you gotta do to get to this place, then here’s where you need to be to get to this other place, etc.” And, again, once it’s a mental thing you’re pretty much there. Life is all about the evolution, and displaying that evolution in the music, man. So yeah, don’t be afraid to change, and to use the struggle, the same one’s they had back in the day, to your advantage, and to steer clear of thing that’ll hold you back, things that don’t equal success, and plenty more. Change is everything. There’s cats in my hood that be wearing 4XL jeans and shirts still. You can’t be afraid to evolve.
RESPECT.: Explain the cover art for Misfits. At first glance, it’s extremely reminiscent of how To Pimp a Butterfly’s cover utilized political imagery- namely a building in D.C.- and put Blacks in the foreground of it.
My music is very, very similar to Kendrick and his Section.80 I feel, and I really had that one idea that I rolled with. It really displays how I grew up and what I grew up around, even in the imagery. A lot of folks I grew up with didn’t graduate from college unless they played sports; they don’t have corporate jobs, they just hustle. It’s just how I’ve grown. My job is to give kids who look like me the hope, and that guidance,to not be in a place or mindset that they’re not getting food or they’re working at a factory. Life’s all about choices and looking for them.
Misfits is about standing out. It’s hard to be an outcast. People gonna make fun of you, but if you stay that path, people are gonna see it has strength. It’s that mentality of not changing. When you judge someone, it shows that you care what people say about you. Me? I don’t give a f*ck what you say about me. I’m gonna do me anyway.
RESPECT.: What are some non-rap influences you have?
My father, my family, my friends, honestly. I choose my friends wisely; my core group of friends, at least. We all have great fathers, and I think we came together because we had that guidance. Having that there helped us to be shaped as men who always have someone in our corner. That’s kinda what we’re doing, yaknow? We also have this company called “Pilot Life” (“always a pilot, never a passenger. Never sit with other people, just go, take off”). The bigger the music became, the bigger the voice became saying we were special, and we needed to do this.
RESPECT.: What draws you to making the type of dark sounding hip-hop that you do?
I recreate my reality. And, at that point, that was where my mind was at, and that was my reality. This is what happens. In “The Cycle” there were real clips and real news at the end. The visual showed all the stuff that was happening in North Minnesota. I say it in the song: there’s different path to all this. Same thing in “Change.” I’m always gonna be in moments where I’m sad, and that’s how I feel about the songs that I make; there’s also other songs like “Emotional” and “Kitchen,” where I showcase different sides of myself. I think I’m just well rounded.
RESPECT.: What was the best live show you’ve ever done been like? What was so good about it?
First Avenue. When you walk in there it’s so historic. You feel the vibe. Just knowing you’re gonna perform on this stage- that same stage- where so many people played; Prince especially. The crowd was amazing, the sound system was amazing. It was perfectly made for live performances. I’ve been at venues where the people can barely bear me, and then you go here and it’s completely crazy. And I sold it out!
I think it’s all about connecting with people. I’ll tell people that all the time. That’s what it’s about. They’re the reason I continue to do the music. They’re my motivation. So of course I’m gonna make my live shows reflect that attitude.
RESPECT.: Top five artists, rap and non rap, dead or alive.
Jay Z, Biggie, Pac, Cole, and um…… sh*t (laughs).
I wanna say Kendrick, I wanna say Chance, I wanna say Kanye. Let’s do a 5a, 5b, and 5c (laughs). I like guys that are truthful but raw at the same time. I’m gonna tell you the truth but I’m gonna show you I’m not perfect at the same time. I want things to be right in the middle, right down to the point.
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