If Mack Wilds' goal was to capture a distinct Big Apple vibe on his debut album, New York: A Love Story, then the actor-turned-hip-hop-singer has pole-vaulted over the bar he set for himself. Mack — who's better known as Tristan Wilds — has natural talent, but watching others go from the screen to the studio helped him in his transition.
"I think with Drake, it definitely made me know, 'OK, there is nothing that could stop me,' " Mack said when he visited "RapFix Live" on Wednesday. "But I think honestly, the person that inspired me the most — and a lot of people don't remember this — who was an actress and then became a singer/rapper was Lauryn Hill."
Lauryn landed a breakout role alongside Whoopi Goldberg in 1993's "Sister Act 2." By the following year though, she and the Fugees were releasing Blunted on Reality, their debut album. Hill, who was released from federal prison on Friday (October 4) after serving three months on tax charges, went on to have an illustrious career before moving away from the spotlight.
But like Hill did with the Fugees and her 1998 classic solo debut, Mack lays smooth melodies over hard-core hip-hop tracks. And like L-Boogie, when the mood strikes, Mack spits some choice raps. "Watching her do it was immaculate, and then her singing and rapping was so effortless," he told "RapFix Live" host Sway.
Love Story opens with "Wild Things," a proud boast that samples Wu-Tang Clan and features new vocals from the group's Method Man. The album's lead single, "Own It," reinvents the thump of Eric B. & Rakim's 1986 classic "Eric B. Is President" to create a playground for Mack to seduce his dream girl: "Tell me where you wanna go/ What you want to do."
Under the guidance of veteran producer Salaam Remi (Nas, Amy Winehouse, Miguel), Mack linked with a who's who of producers, including DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Mobb Deep's Havoc. Those beat gods helped recreate a 1990s New York feel. With tracks like the Jay Z-inspired "My Crib" and the boom-bap-laced "Keepin' It Real," Mack may be doing more to preserve that culture than most of NYC's current rap crop.
"I just remembered New York summertimes as something, literally, that movies were made out of," he explained, before illustrating a few local details. "Just the feeling of sitting on a stoop, drinking a quarter water, eating a dollar slice of pizza — there is nothing like that.
"Everybody has their summer story, but New York sounds and feels completely different from everybody else's. I just wanted to recreate that," Mack added. "I wanted to recreate the feeling and sounds of New York."