Mack Wilds – Return of the Mack

Mack Wilds Is All Grown Up Now – Our Interview

Like most of urban America I was introduced to Tristan Mack Wilds when he came into our homes in 2006 as Michael Lee on the HBO series, The Wire. While on the show he became one of the characters to love and in the years following he has maintained a lovable image as an actor in films like, The Secret Life of Bees and Red Tails. Wilds also became a young heartthrob as Dixon Wilson on the recent revival of 90210, airing for 5 seasons. Now that he’s won our hearts, Tristan is committed to following his own heart, deciding to take a break from acting to pursue what he calls his first love, music.

Taking on his middle name, Mack Wilds, he is already creating a buzz for himself with his debut single, “Own It.” Wilds teamed up with production legend, Salaam Remi to become the first artist signed to Remi’s Louder Than Life label imprint distributed through Sony. Remi is also the vice president of A&R and production at Sony Music Entertainment, making him a perfect advocate for Wilds’ music.


Fresh off celebrating his 24th birthday, we caught up with Mack Wilds in NYC, the Staten Island native talked about his journey from Shaolin to Hollywood and now back to music. Check out our full interview here…


Parlé Magazine:
How’d you get into acting? What made you want to pursue that field?
Mack Wilds: When I was younger my older brother he was doing commercials. I was like 5 or 6, maybe even 7 and I saw him in a commercial. He was in a commercial with Rocket Ismail (former CFL MVP and NFL athlete), remember him from back in the day? He was the man! So I saw him in that commercial and even though my main focus was music I saw that and I said I want to be on TV someday. Time passes, I do a couple plays in school, teachers say I’m good. A couple of my friends start going on auditions, I’m in like 7th grade, I’m like aight, I can make a few extra dollars doing this, its the Summertime, why not? One commercial turned into a tv show, tv show turned into a TV series, The Wire turned into EVERYTHING else.

Parlé: I’ve talked to some child actors in the past and oftentimes its one and done because it becomes so stressful. How did you maintain and stick with it?
Mack Wilds:  It was fun. I think that was the main thing. I didn’t really start acting heavy until I was already in high school. I started when I was 14, but it didn’t really pop off til I was 16, when I did The Wire, I had to leave school for that. So it was cool for me, I was like aight, I don’t have to go through high school, wooo (fakes wipe sweat off forehead). I can do this homeschool stuff. School would send me like three weeks of work, I’d bust it out in a day, send it back. It was literally just cool, there was no pressure.

Parlé:   How’d your parents feel about the acting?
Mack Wilds:  I remember a conversation with my Moms, she said, ‘if you do this, its all on you. Don’t expect anyone to help you. Don’t ask me for help, you go to the city yourself, you go to these auditions, its all on you.’ I was like aight cool. I’m down for that. No pressure.

Parlé:  I don’t want to dwell on it too long, but on The Wire, you played Michael Lee.  How were you able to relate to that character and transition into him so seamlessly?
Mack Wilds: I was definitely coming straight from the projects so I knew that story oh too well. Michael was an amalgamation of experiences I been through in life, experiences that I seen my friends go through in life and I just smashed them all together and tried to build this character who I felt would portray what was needed for the role. After a while it really became second nature and it was comfortable.

Parlé: Growing up right in Staten Island how did that impact the person you’ve become and your ability to get into the entertainment business?
Mack Wilds:  One of the things that I’ve learned and someone said it to me recently and I didn’t think about it til they said it, but its a deep thought. New York City is like a bowl. Unless you see someone that does it, it’s kind’ve hard for you to comprehend doing it too, whether its getting out the hood or doing something different. Because I grew up with my dad doing local gigs around the city, and I grew up around the time that Wu Tang was just coming up, they used to come to my dad’s barbershop and I used to sit on Rza’s lap and play with his rings and Meth would spit rhymes to me and Raekwon would chill with his chipped tooth, back when he had the chipped tooth. To see that it was possible, even seeing my brother on television, seeing that it was possible it allowed me to know aight cool, I can do it too. It could’ve been just a subconscious thing but I guess that’s what gave me the energy to get up and go. New York is a city that constantly moves and if you don’t move with it either you’re going to get washed away or you’re going to sit down and chill.

Mack’s album, ‘New York: A Love Story’ is out now

Parlé:  If people been watching closely they’ve seen you making cameos in a bunch of music videos, but how did that translate to you getting into the booth?
Mack Wilds:   Music was my first love I been doing music since–I been around music since I can remember, my earliest memories are me running around with a talk box thinking I’m Brian McKnight. My house was mainly about music, my father sings, my grandfather sings, my mom would sing around the house, my sister sings, my brother raps, my other brother just makes sure everyone is on point with their lyrics. Even when I went to school, I went to a predominantly White school, so I was able to pick up on the nuances of music that they had, Phil Collins, Billy Joel, excetera, excetera. So music was always my first love, it wasn’t a I wanna jump into this thing, it was just weird uncanny timing.

Parlé:  What led to you sitting here at this point ready to drop your debut album?
Mack Wilds:  I think it was mainly me and Salaam. I’ve known Salaam since I was about 19 years old. We were just really cool. Every time he’d come to L.A. We’d just chill, I’d let him hear a song I wrote. He would let me hear the stuff he was working on, I’d tell him what I like, what I didn’t like. And one thing we always super duper connected on was how much we miss New York. We always talked about it [music] but this Christmas that just passed he was like why don’t you come down to Miami, let’s make something work. I went to Miami for like literally seven days and came back with seven songs done. From there it all came together. Salaam got his position at Sony, I swear it sounds cliche as hell, but its real, he played my song in the office, the President comes in, hears it, says, ‘who is this kid?’ ‘Oh its just this kid I’m working with.’
‘Let’s sign him.’

Parlé: Working with Salaam, he’s definitely one of the production legends in the business, what is that experience like? What is he teaching you?
Mack Wilds:  He teaches me a lot. He’s like a big brother. He’s just a good dude. He teaches me not only about music, and not only is he making me a better musician but he helps me understand the certain nuances of the music game and how to make it work. Its to the point where now we’ll have certain pow wows about certain things that need to be in order and he’s challenging me to make things better so I can figure out the different things that work.

Parlé: Mack is your middle name for those that don’t know, but what made you go with that for the music name as oppose to your first name or even an alias?
Mack Wilds:  Mack has always been my family name, and because this music is so personal and I feel like it has to come from a real place, I feel like I’m letting you guys into my super duper real life. You guys usually see me play characters so its like I gotta bring you into my real life, so you might as well call me by my real name or what I know my name to be, which is Mack. Paul is my dads name (Tristan’s other middle name), I don’t want to be Paul.

Parlé: We’ve been watching you for a while and honestly you have a SUPER clean image, especially having started so young. Do you think this music stuff can taint that?
Mack Wilds:  I don’t want it to taint anything. I think with the music you’ll have a more realistic view of me as opposed to the ‘oh he’s this clean cut…’
You’ll be like, ‘he’s that little n*gga from Stapleton Projects’ or, ‘he’s that good kid from Stapleton Projects. I like that kid.’
There’s definitely going to be things on the album, that if you listen to the lyrics strong enough you’re going to be like, ‘Word?’ But its real life.

Parlé: Looking at the artwork for the single, “Own It,” I was really expecting you to jump off on some hardcore Rap stuff. But then the melody comes on and you’re crooning. Is that what we can expect from the album?
Mack Wilds:  “Own It” is one of the more melodic songs on the album, but the album is definitely authentic, New York, boom pap, with melody. When you hear the whole album through and through you’ll hear more of the Hip-Hop influence then “Own it.” Its one of those tracks where we’re like, ‘aight we gotta show you what we can do, and then we’ll hit you with the rest.’

Parlé:  So you are rapping on the album?
Mack Wilds:  Yep, I’m rapping on the album as well.

Parlé: And you wrote most of the album as well, correct?
Mack Wilds: Yep, I wrote a majority. Ne-yo wrote “Own It” and I finished it up. @Fauntelroy wrote a song, Rico Love wrote 2 songs and the rest is all me.

Parlé:  When I think of Salaam I think a lot of musicality and even song reggae influence, is there any of that on this album?
Mack Wilds:  It’s Hip-Hop influence, and me and Salaam like to mess around with orchestral stuff, like strings, trumpets, etc. So its cinematic Hip-Hop. We were even thinking about doing a reggae-esque song but we were like naw, we’re going to keep that bullet in the chamber for now.

Mack WIlds
Return of the MACK

Parlé:  The album is titled, New York: A Love Story.  Talk to me about the title, why’d you chose to go with that?
Mack: We always wanted something that sounded like New York and as we were writing the songs we were like, these joints make you feel a certain way. Whether its about love and loss, or even just partying. Its a love story.

Parlé:  Talk to me about the features you got on the project.
Mack:  Right now we have Method Man and Raekwon. Production wise it’s Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Havoc from Mobb Deep among others.

Parlé:  You mentioned earlier being in the barbershop with some of these dudes, now to come full circle and work with them, what was that experience like?
Mack Wilds:  It’s crazy! We had the album pretty much done when I called them up and asked them to jump on something. Watching Rae in the studio as he listened to it was amazing. Even Meth, cause we got Meth to come to the studio, I was shooting the music video when he came in but he called me like, ‘Yo, I’m proud of you boy.” I was like, “Yes!!! That’s all I needed to hear.’

Parlé: Are you still going to keep the acting going?
Mack Wilds:  I’m the kind of guy that can’t be scatterbrained. I can’t be two places at once. I’ma continue to go heavy with this music and when the time comes where I’m in a cool down period I’ll look at some scripts and see what’s out there. I can’t be two places at once or you won’t get good product, and the one thing I want to make sure is that everything I put out is on point and there’s nothing you can say about it.

Parlé: Do you have plans for a tour yet?
Mack Wilds:  Yeah, we have a few things planned, I don’t want to get anyone too excited because its not official, but its definitely going to happen.

Parlé: What do you hope people get from Mack Wildes and the music you make?
Mack Wilds:  First, that whole ‘oh sh*t’ feeling you mentioned, knowing that is the best feeling in the world. As soon as I saw that all over the web I was like cool, we got them. Now, just expect good product. I hate to say it like its the drug game, but expect Blue Magic!

Mack Wilds debut album, New York: A Love Story is out now.  For more info on Mack Wilds, check him out on twitter @MackWilds

Images by Julius Stukes for Parlé Magazine – @funnyjulius


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Kevin Benoit

Kevin Benoit graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2007 with a Bachelors of Science in Legal Studies. Empowering the urban community has been a goal for Kevin Benoit for the past 8 years. As a freshman in college, in May of 2004, Benoit created Parlé Magazine, an urban entertainment magazine that focused on literacy through entertainment. The publication has since provided a stepping-stone for many individuals throughout the country, from teens to adults and continues to provide inspiration for inspiring entrepreneurs, writers, photographers and graphic designers. Read more articles by Kevin.

Kevin Benoit has 271 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin Benoit

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