Mac Irv: I'm creating something out of nothing but a pen

Mac Irv: I'm creating something out of nothing but a pen
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Mac Irv has been steadily building a following since releasing his free debut Certified Magnet in 2011, thanks to a unique approach to storytelling raps and a mass quantity of music videos. Ahead of his slot at this Sunday's Soundset at Canterbury Park, Gimme Noise sat down with the Northside rapper to ask about his upcoming project Sincerely Mac Irv.

See also:
Soundset 2014 set times revealed via official app

What was your reaction to hearing you made the Soundset lineup?

I was excited, just for the simple fact that we didn't expect to be on there this year. We were kind of past it, we were thinking about the next move. [When] we got the e-mail, it was an exciting feeling. Of course [the line-up] didn't come out yet, so we couldn't tell nobody for like two weeks. It was hard to hold it in. I was really excited about it, man.

I've always liked the way they incorporate local artists from different sides of scene.

Definitely, I think that's dope. It gives people the opportunity to see the local talent at a large scale. At Soundset, they have people from all over the country come. You could do something that will stick with these people, now you gotta fan in maybe Lousiana or maybe Texas... I think that's how artists grow like that.

Plus being on the same bill as rappers like Nas or 2 Chainz...

Just to be on that same list, on the same bill as them, it's amazing. If I stop rapping after Soundset, I can say I was on the same bill as Nas. That's dope.

You recently released a video for "No Place Like Home." Is that from an upcoming project?

Yep, that project is called Sincerely Mac Irv. It's basically gonna be like my letter to the people, asking for support, telling them what I'm doing, this is how I've been doing his life... It's sincere, everything that I do is sincere. 

"No Place Like Home" uses a relationship with a woman as a metaphor for Minnesota, but you've done a number of local pride songs. 

[I] hated when people say they hate Minnesota. When [I] grew up, people would say that, like, "I'm getting out. I don't like this, I'm ready to leave outta here." I'll just be like, well, leave! I've always been the type to love my city. If you don't want a place to be looked at a certain way, that's our job to change that. And I'm prideful. Minnesota to me is cool. I like the diversity, I like how laid back it is, I like how cool it is, and you know what? This is what we're gonna represent, and we're gonna make it look cool. People are gonna respect what we're doing here. That's why I represent it so hard.

Hopefully when I get to that next level, I'll still be able to show them. Anywhere I go, people are like, "Man, you're kinda different, I didn't know Minnesota was like that." That's how we're like, we're cool, we're laid back. This is just how it is. People try to stray away from Minnesota... On a national level, people [are] gonna think Minnesota's like this and this and this, so [rappers won't] represent this because people might say it's lame. It's like, nah. Show 'em, show 'em through your work and show 'em through your character what this is and what you represent. Just do your job if you're an artist.

You played college basketball for years before devoting yourself to music after an injury. What was that transition like?

It's been about two and a half years now when I first got started. The thing about it is, when I first got started I jumped in it right away, it wasn't no one foot in one foot out. I didn't care what anybody thought about it. I'm a man of faith, and I believe in myself, and I believe when God closes a door he opens the next one for me, and I just jumped in it. I got great feedback. If I would have jumped in and people was like, oh that's weak, or if nobody was sharing the videos except my friends, nobody really liked the music, I would've said, you know what, this ain't for me. But I got a lot of good feedback, so I just kept at it, and it grew and it grew and it grew. Two and a half years later, I end up on Soundset. I had tagged Kevin Beacham in a [Facebook] post, and had like 600 likes, 200 comments, like, "Mac Irv needs to be on Soundset!" Those people don't do that for no reason, they do that because they believe in the music and they understand what it's about, they understand what it represents on a higher level.

You've gotten a lot done in those two and a half years. You've come out with three projects already.

Yeah, it's amazing. Even the first year, we made so many strides. It ends up causing jealousy, especially where I'm from, man. I don't know, something about African-America people, when one person makes it, they can't be happy for them. It's just weird. When you make it a business, they don't like that. I made this a business, I'm not looking at it as a hobby like you guys do. You see what I'm doing. I just flew to New York, I just met with MTV, I just met with these labels, I'm doing Soundset. I'm making moves, this is not for a game. "We've been doing it ten years long..." Ok, that's ya'll problem. After ten years, if I was in the same place, I probably wouldn't be doing it. I've been past that as a basketball player, I've seen so much. I've been in the paper since I was fifteen years old. It is what it is, I enjoy it, it actually motivates me to do better and better.

You've put out a lot of music videos also.

We got like 20 videos [laughs]. I understood the work ethic it takes. That's with anything. If you wanna be a journalist, if you wanna be a lawyer, a doctor, an athlete, you gotta go overboard with your work. Especially if you wanna be great at it. You gotta just lose yourself in it. That's how I've always been. If I had a choice, if I had a video director that was around me constantly, I'd probably have a hundred videos. 

It fits well, your music on it's own has a very cinematic feel.

Sometimes as artists, you gotta figure out, what's your lane? [It's] storytelling for me, I like to tell stories. Stuff that I've been through or stuff that people around me have been through. I hooked up with this guy named Will Harris, a videographer, that's his main thing. He's not big into effects in videos and all that, what he can do is put together a story for you. He can show that, he can get all the cinematic looks and all that. We hooked up and it's just been working out perfectly for us since the beginning. Anytime I write a song like that, I'm already seeing it in my head. That's the beautiful thing about music. I could write with this pen, create something out of nothing, a whole entire story that people are going to watch and enjoy. It's dope, it's just a dope feeling to be like, I'm creating something out of nothing but a pen, from a word. 

You tend toward narratives in songs as opposed to punchlines. What led you to write raps from that angle?

All those one-liners, that's cool sometimes, I like it, it's entertaining, but I'm more straight to the point. This is what I'm talking about, this is what I'm saying. More than anything, I want to get to the point and let you understand what I'm talking about. My job is, I wanna get it straight to you. I don't wanna be too unorthodox or too abstract, I want you to get it right away. That's the beautiful thing about it. My listeners don't say, "Oh that was hot, that was good, I like that." They really write four paragraphs. "You know I was listening to it when I was down, and I thought about this at this time, you motivate me." That's the type of responses I want. It's more meaningful. That's what keeps me going and doing music. I don't just do it to do it. That's what I like, when you see the feedback you get back from it, it's a dope feeling man. It's amazing.

How has your approach to writing changed since you started?

When I first started, I think I used to just write what came to my head. From the beginning, my songs have always been meaningful. I think it's a challenge as time goes on, as you write more and more, you almost challenge yourself because you want everything to be perfect now. Gotta be better than this one, instead of letting it flow. I write the best when I'm emotional. If something happens, either I'm angry about something, [or] I'm upset or sad about something, that's when I write the best. It don't gotta be strictly on the emotion I'm feeling in that moment, that's just when I write the best, cuz it just flows out for me. 

Everybody has a story. I always say that. People just choose to either not embrace it, usually they're insecure or they're embarrassed about it. Ok, you grew up eating government cheese, but you want to talk about how you're ballin' now. But you're not really ballin' now. You might look like it, you might have a chain or two, that's not ballin'. Not getting some Jordans and buying two bottles at the club; own some property, own a business. That's ballin', that's dope to me. I salute that. I love people to hear what I got to say like this. I'd rather be able to tell the whole world what's on my mind, because I feel I have the ability to change people, change people's views on things, cuz I've seen it.

I've seen the feedback, I know what it is. I was lucky enough to have my father in my life to show me these things, and that's what helped me become successful. I've been a winner. I won four state championships in basketball, only person in Minnesota state history to do that, period. I know what it takes to win, and if I can spread that knowledge to people and [make them] understand what I've been through and how I'm honest with myself, I think that's what helps me become a better artist.

Soundset 2014. Doors at 10 a.m., music at 11 a.m., Sunday, May 25 at Canterbury Park. SOLD OUT.

Soundset 2014 Preparty. With Brother Ali, Step Brothers, Murs, and the Lioness. 7 p.m., Saturday, May 24 at First Avenue. Tickets.

Soundset 2014 Afterparty. With Prof and special guest performances. 10 p.m., Sunday, May 25 at First Avenue. Tickets.

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