It’s not really much of a secret that the lines that once separated basketball from Hip-hop are proving to be more blurred as time goes on, and coming up in the musically drenched environment of Minneapolis, making a transition between the two was somewhat effortless for rising emcee Mac Irv.
A lifelong basketball player, Mac Irv’s promising career included being a starter on the University of Oklahoma’s Men’s Basketball team from 2003 to 2005 before transferring back to the University of Minnesota, eventually earning All Big-Ten honors.
While Mac cites music as always having been a passion of his, it wasn’t until a injury cut his career in the NBA’s Development League short that he dedicated himself to the mic once and for all.
Outfitted with this encouraging narrative of a second chance, Mac Irv has set his sights on distributing hope to listeners everywhere.
“My job is to push hope into people,” says Irv. “It may be tougher. The odds may be against us. But, you can get out of there and you can do it the right way.”
Making waves with his single “Change”, a track focused on social injustices in this modern age, Mac Irv is the ideal example of finding equilibrium in environments of imbalance.
Let’s start with your history. Looking back on your lifelong career as an athlete, how would you say that the things that you’ve seen as a basketball player; your experiences growing up, how did that prepare you in becoming the artist that you are now?
“I think the number one thing is that it helped me become more cultured. There are a lot of times when kids grow up in urban communities, and they don’t see outside of the city a lot. I was able to go different basketball tournaments, go out of state. That’s when you had those types of opportunities. I think that was important for me to be able to see those type of things.
Number two, one of the most important parts, was having the discipline and the work ethic. I figured out that when you put things in black and white, it’s almost like, ‘What do I need to do to be at this level of an athlete, or what do I need to do to be this level of an artist?’
I watch different artists, and I study them the way I study the game of basketball. I study the greats the way I study the greats of basketball.
There’s so many different things from the discipline to the preparation for each show. That’s what gotten me to the point to where I am now–just working so hard and using those same things that I did as an athlete. With my music, I’m kind of taking the same exact path just on a different stage.”
How would you say that your upbringing in general, and your influences, whether musically or otherwise, have come together in helping you develop your sound?
“My history is that I grew up across the street from Cornbread Harris, who is a legend in Minneapolis–Jimmy Jam’s father. I lived next door to Fred Steele and the Steele family who are legends in Minneapolis and have done things across the country. It was pretty much the same neighborhood as Prince.
So, you know, just being around music and hearing music all the time was something that I’d always been interested in and wanted to do. Basketball took up so much of my time. But, I always had an interest in doing music. I think it naturally happened for me. Just hearing that Minneapolis sound and the different legends that we had in the city, I think it just naturally happened for me.”
Let’s fast forward to “Change”. Talk about the experience that basically spawned that track.
It comes from numerous different experiences. More importantly, we were basically shooting a video for “No Place Like Home”. We rented a Bentley, and there were about 7 cop cars and they ended up pulling us over, telling us to throw the keys out of the window.
It was just crazy–the way they talked to us. I’m a college graduate. I’m a law abiding citizen. I pay my taxes. I have kids at home, and the way they talked to you, it almost makes you feel worthless; like you can’t do anything about it.
It’s so crazy just the things that I go through as an educated African-American man just because of the color of my skin–that you could be judged that quickly, and put under the gun that quickly. It’s basically your life in the hands of somebody else. With that experience, and all the other experiences with Philando Castile and Jamal Clark, it just kind of makes you paranoid as a Black man.
That’s where “Change” came from. Years and years across America.
That experience happened in Minneapolis as well?
Yes. That happened in Minneapolis.
Now, let me get your thoughts on this. I live in Atlanta. This is where the ‘vibe superseding content’ movement is centered–less content, more feeling. You’re pretty conscious with your music, how important is it to you for there to be that balance?
I think balance is extremely important. I think that’s what life is all about. My music? Of course, I’m gonna be conscious in my music, but at the same time, I do like to go to the club. I do like to talk to girls. I do like to have fun, and I don’t know everything. I’m a smart man but I don’t know everything . So, what I could give you is what I know and what I understand. People need to be awakened, but at the same time, I don’t think that that’s the only thing that should be played.
When I hear the vibey music, I like that when I go to the club. When I’m driving? Probably not. I’m a J. Cole fan–Kendrick, Jay-Z. I’ve always been a fan of guys who can tell stories. I always used to say that I don’t have to read many books. I listen to Jay-Z, I listen to Common, I’m receiving something from what they’re telling me. I always get a message.
But, that’s not the type of stuff that you’ll hear from someone who may have not gone through that, or grown to that point.
I definitely think it’s important to have that balance in music where if somebody is listening to the radio, they don’t have to be brainwashed.
How often do you find yourself struggling to find that balance when you’re creating the music?
I think what makes an individual creative is being yourself. What makes an individual stand out is being yourself. So, I don’t struggle at all. I just continue to be myself.
It’s easy for me because I’m just going to be myself. If something comes up in a song, then it comes up in a song.
I’ve got a song that talks about graduation, and getting twerked on–a song about the cops killing a young man in Minneapolis.
In one song, I’m saying I shook hands with drug dealers and I shook hands with governors, too. I think having that aspect of being from a community where a lot of people don’t make it out or a lot of people don’t go to college and aren’t able to go to the other side, I have a broader perspective in my music based on what I’ve seen in the world.
Taking into account all of your growth: the changes, the experiences, what can people expect from your upcoming project?
They can expect to hear what’s real. Everything I do is related to what’s happening in the world. I just want to be 100 percent real.
I can talk about violence and things that are going on in the community; social issues, but at the same time I am a human being, and I’m not perfect myself. In a nutshell, it’s a lot of perspective and a lot of reality. I know everybody says that but I feel like, in my own way, it’s about being extremely relatable.
Keep up with Mac Irv: