“I have this thing, I don’t sleep a lot,” says OG Maco. We’re sitting in an empty office at The Hundreds Homebase and the 22-year-old rapper is still wheezing from a week of LA smog. He’s telling me how he recorded the 3 tracks of his lyrically deft, rallying Eric Garner-inspired Breathe EP the day before it was released because he just couldn’t sleep. Kevin “Coach K” Lee, the ingenious co-founder of Quality Control Music – a label that OG Maco, Migos, and Skippa Da Flippa call home – told him it was amazing, and that he was going to “put this out now.” Maco says, “I thought now meant a couple of days, and it was literally right then.”
Since Maco’s minimalistic, unhinged, Atlantan ad-libbed “crack baby beat” hit “U Guessed It” dropped last year, sparking a deluge of viral Vines and recent global imitators, Maco’s proved himself to be prolific, releasing 3 EPs – OG Maco EP, Live Life 2, and the aforementioned Breathe. ) Yet frustratingly, he’s seemingly found himself pinned to the success of that first hit by the general public – a song which he unapologetically calls “the dumbest shit I ever made.” “I can make a couple more “U Guessed It’s,” and I can make millions off of those,” Maco shrugs. “But that was never what I wanted to do and that’s not what I want to push for all these kids who look up to me.”
Maco seems hyper-conscious of the tenuous tightrope he’s smack-dab in the middle of, trying to prove himself post-what many thought was his one-hit wonder. Earlier this week, right in the wake of Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and Kanye’s single debut at the Yeezy show, OG Maco dropped a surprise 11-track mixtape, the 15 EP – the number referring to the 15 millennial seconds of fame critics assumed he had after “U Guessed It” (“They said I had 15/I’m a couple of seconds up“). I got a chance to talk to him earlier this month about Breathe, his recent lyrical output, the real meaning of now-reappropriated ad-libs like “sheesh!“, and his frustration-driven aspirations.
ALINA NGUYEN: I’m so sorry, you’re all sick from the smog.
OG MACO: No, it’s all good. Yesterday was bad, yesterday I couldn’t breathe at all. So I was like wheezing and choking and throwing up and dying. All day with this shit.
So I wanted to talk a little bit about Breathe.
[Laughs] Obviously, a lot of people were really surprised by Breathe and your lyrical output… One of my favorite lines in “Do Better,” is when you say, “May this truth I speak give me awkward looks.” How much does it matter to you to be understood by your audience with what you’re saying?
They don’t have to understand me. I just want them to understand what I’m saying and where it’s coming from and why I’m saying it and why I’m saying it like I’m saying it. Because a lot of people did do that, they were like, “Oh, man, Breathe, he can rap.” But I already showed people I could rap way before. And I actually had material that was just like Breathe on Gifts. Gifts actually had a whole bunch of lyrical material and it was actually about progression and moving that way.
But a lot of people overlooked – and still to do this day you have people who – the OG Maco EP went so crazy, but Live Life 2 came out right before that with Cardo and that was amazing and everyone who heard it, loves it; a lot of people never heard it. So when it was time for Breathe, I had actually done that whole mixtape the day before it came out.
You wrote everything and recorded [Breathe] the day before?
Yeah, the day before it came out. Then Coach [K] came into the studio because – I have this thing, I don’t sleep a lot. So I was at the studio for maybe three days and I worked on some material for another couple of EPs I’m doing and one song for the album. And it was the third do, so I was getting kind of tired so I was like, “Gotta do something else.” Coach came and heard one that morning before I was going to leave and was like, “This is amazing bro, I’m going to put this out now.” I thought now meant a couple of days, and it was literally right then.
That’s why I want people to understand, that it’s really that vital. You don’t really have time for people not to get what’s going on because it’s happening every day still. And it’s crazy.
That’s interesting… [that] also ties into how fast and easy it is to just push out music now. Have you always been so prolific with your writing?
Yeah. Right now I got like 500 songs in my Evernote that I haven’t even recorded and probably will never use, but I got them just because. When I’m home, I record another three or four or five songs every day.
How do you feel when you’re not recording or writing?
A little weird, but I’m never not recording or writing. When I don’t write, I freestyle, and when I don’t freestyle, there’s usually just something on my mind. So with me, I’m not a rapper that goes and imagines and shit. I write about what’s really going on, whether it be in my life or whether it be something that’s going on in the world. But it’s not really hard to talk about what you’re actually doing, what you’re actually living in. It’s not hard to do that, you can do that every day because you live in it every day and it doesn’t go away.
So when I’m not working, I feel like there’s probably some more work I should be doing. Even when I’m ahead of schedule I just still keep working.
“I just feel like finessing the world one time.”
How long have you been writing?
A while, I can’t really even put a stamp on it. At least six or seven years. I was probably about 11 or 12 years old and I’ve been writing since then. When I first started rapping, I was rapping like I rap on Breathe or the Audio Push record – that’s how I started rapping. So I’m a really technical rapper.
And I can do that all day, that’s really easy. But when I was doing that, people didn’t want that.
I know, it’s hard.
People didn’t want it at all. Even right before “You Guessed it,” and all that happened, I self-produced an album. Everybody, if you’re looking for an article, just look up Black Phil Collins. That was the name of the album. It still exists, I still have this album, but when will it come out? Probably three or four years from now because it’s so far ahead of all the shit that’s going on now. It’s really in the future, even down to the production. So I think if I put it out now – it’s just like when Kanye put out Yeezus, people didn’t catch what was going on because it was so far ahead. So that’s what I feel like Black Phil Collins is like.
When did you record Black Phil Collins?
I made it in my living room… [in] the beginning of 2013 until about the beginning of 2014. And I made a whole bunch of stuff in between that, but I was just – it’s so grand, I wasn’t really rushing to make anything because I was taking my time to compose; I was doing compositions, I wasn’t trying to make beats. I wasn’t trying to produce, I was making compositions and adding words to it.
So you were writing it without beats.
Yeah, no beats. I was just saying what I wanted to say and then I was making the beats after. Like, “This is what I want to say.”
That makes sense to me because I notice a real musicality with your lyrics. Were you ever reading [poetry] –
It’s so funny because I never liked poetry. I’ve never been a poetry fan, but like you said, when you examine all my music like, “How We Planned it” – “Moving methods you can’t understand, lessons learned from the street and corner. You good business I move underhand.” Just the words by themselves are already musical. You don’t even need a beat just because of how they sit. That’s because you have to actually put soul into the music, you have to put your actual essence into the words or nobody gets it.
And the people that are actually looking for that, they see it automatically.
“Right now I got like 500 songs in my Evernote that I haven’t even recorded and probably will never use”
So you were saying you began to write a lot more in middle school. And back then, you were writing things that were more like [the tracks on] Breathe. What were you listening to back then?
That’s actually when I took a break off from rap, I got bored with what was going on around.
Oh, so you weren’t listening to [hip-hop] when you were writing?
No, I was listening to Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, Black Sabbath, Devil Wears Prada.
And you were how old? Maybe 12?
12, 13. 14.
How old are you now?
22. So that was like 10 years ago.
So that’s when that music was at its peak.
Was at its peak. What I always like about rock music and stuff like that is that you can feel what’s going on. If you listen to someone like Pierce the Veil and just how they’re saying what they’re saying, they’re telling really simple stories. But just how they say it lets you know how intense this little simple act made them feel. And to be able to do that is really amazing because a lot of rappers are trying to show you how they feel about something, they got to express it in monetary value or something like that. They can’t just express it with words, with the musicality of it. Or they go and this producer that they ask to make this amazing, grand-ass beat. Then you gotta get 30 fucking writers – I’m never going to be that person.
OG Maco’s recent surprise mixtape, 15 EP.
I was talking to my friend [Senay Kenfe] about how there’s been a death of regionalism, but for some reason with Atlanta, it hasn’t really died. Why do you think that is?
Because we made all the swag. We made all the swag. In Atlanta, you don’t really have to think about the rest of the world because we know somebody from the rest of the world is going to take our swag. If you are at the top of Atlanta, that’s what they’re taking. Look, when Migos got to the top, everybody took their shit. Now I’m climbing, everybody’s trying to hop on my shit. Everybody’s starting to yell on tracks and shit. They’ve started to yell and get these retarded ad-libs.
The don’t even know where my ad-libs come from. Everybody thinks my ad-libs are really random, but they’re not random, they’re actually calls from the street. If you see the police way down the block, you can’t be like, “Police!” And now 12 knows what 12 is, we can’t be like, “12!” But you can be like “SHEESH!” We know what’s going on, that “sheesh” is going to carry for a mile. You can hear that shit from one end of the block to the other end and you know what’s going on but nobody else does. “Hooo!” Same thing, that means they coming now – leave.
So a lot of people hear all my ad-libs and think, “Oh, this is crazy.” They don’t understand what the fuck is going on.
I was just thinking about what you were saying with your process of writing, how you’ll usually start out writing first and then do the beat. Obviously, on “U Guessed It,” you wrote it to the beat?
No, no, “U Guessed It” was actually – I didn’t even hear the beat; I never heard it before. For “U Guessed It,” I walked in the house and I was drunk and I slapped the headphones off the edge of my [producer’s] head and I was like, “Play a beat.” And before he could play it, I was just so frustrated like, “You know what? Fuck it, the beat’s going to be trash, I don’t even want to hear it right now. Press record.”
So, the first time I heard the beat, just like if you were to turn on the song your very first time, you heard that little piano [part], I heard it live and recorded it live at the same time. So I never heard the beat, I had never had a concept for “U Guessed It,” none of that shit. It was just, “Press record, I’m hearing this shit and it’s what I’m going to say right now.” So it was really raw.
Do you prefer to write things that way?
No, I don’t really have a preference. When I’m freestyling a lot, a lot of the time, it’s more gloomy because I’m just speaking on what’s around. So I’m not really trying to get to a deeper purpose of shit, I’m just really telling you how it is. “U Guessed It” is – I’m just really telling you how it is, telling you all the shit. I know you’re doubting me, I know you’re trying to play me, but it don’t change the fact I’m still the shit. So I’m going to tell it to you.
There’s a lot of songs where I just go off the top of the head and it’s what you got. But I enjoy when I’m trying to get something across. I want to write it because when I write it – I’m accepting that boom, this is going to lead to this and this is going to lead to that. I need it to go that way because, otherwise, it throws my entire objective off and I hate that.
So it’s equal, it’s pretty equal.
How do you feel about most people not recognizing that you – you know how we were talking about how a lot of people were surprised by your output on Breathe? And you were saying, “Hey, I’ve been writing like that for a long time, I actually have all these songs,” but a lot of people only know you from “U Guessed It”? How do you feel about that? Does that bother you?
It doesn’t bother, I don’t lose any sleep over it, but it’s annoying as fuck. Because people build this entire profile – [they] will tell people when they should or shouldn’t listen to me. And they only heard a verse, I only got one verse in “U Guessed It”! So you doing all this based off a verse and it’s crazy because I could see if I were some artist where you had to go and really dig to go find shit. If you go to Google and type in OG I’m the first thing that pops up.
Get on your phone and go to Google and type in “OG” – sometimes you can just type in “O,” and OG Maco is the first thing that pops up; I guarantee it every time. Matter of fact, I did this on Twitter yesterday, a bunch of fans tweeted me like, “We only gotta type in “OG” and you pop up.” And when you click on my name on Google, you see Rolling Stone, you see Billboard, you see Fader, you see Complex, and you see all of these rave reviews about all this different stuff.
“I knew that “You Guessed It” was going to blow the fuck up – it was the dumbest shit I ever made.”
But you go to “U Guessed It” to criticize me and it shows me the ignorance in the culture of people that still exists. Even with an abundance of information, people will still choose to be ignorant and opinionated, versus actually doing some kind of actual research and then being opinionated. Don’t be ignorant and opinionated. It’s okay to have an opinion, but at least have the right information.
Do you think that now, more than ever, people are like that?
Now more than ever because you have – there’s such an abundance of information but very little of it is useful.
I don’t want to be the guy who lives off of the idiotic move. Yeah, I can make a couple more “U Guessed Its,” and I can make millions off of those. But that was never what I wanted to do and that’s not what I want to push for all these kids who look up to me – for artists and other musicians who strive to do something more and actually have talent and they’re like, “My talent will never get me nowhere. I’m about to just make some stupid shit like everybody else, and blow up.” But I just feel like finessing the world one time.
I knew that “You Guessed It” was going to blow the fuck up – it was the dumbest shit I ever made. I’m an amazing artist and it was the dumbest shit I ever made, so it’s going to go global because that’s the world we live in, sadly enough.
So what’s the next step for you? What’s the next project that you’re working on?
I be working on four EPs at the same time right now because I finished the album. I wanted to drop the album in Spring, but we’ve been realizing that people don’t really have a full grasp of what I’ve been doing. People think, “Oh, man, you got that one hit song.” They haven’t really been looking at the stats. I topped the Billboard Emerging Artist charts like six times. I had four number ones.
All I gotta do is choose one of these records, put it on the radio, and it’s going to go on the actual Billboard Top 100 chart. And people are so ignorant to shit that’s going on, they’re like, “You got this one single.” They don’t realize I got 6 options right now to pick from. It’s about how you want to make that happen. What do you want to go with for people to immortalize you with? Because once it’s on the charts, that’s it. There’s no going back…
So that’s how it’s been for me, but so far these projects – I got Seven Forever, Tax Free –
Seven Forever is really close to me. My brother’s baseball number was seven, and seven is my favorite number. My brother died when he was like a kid, like 14, he got murdered. It wasn’t gang shit or nothing like that. My brother didn’t do anything in the streets or nothing like that, he played baseball. He was really good at baseball, he would’ve went pro definitely. He had already been scouted. And he murdered by this perverted-ass dude in the woods and shit. So Seven Forever is like if he would’ve been alive and he could see what I had going on, we’d just be flexing on the world. Like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Because we used to talk shit to everybody, “Yeah, yeah, you know what it is.” So Seven Forever is on that vein.
And Tax Free with Pablo Dylan – Pablo actually works with Rick Rubin, he’s like the fucking future. And that’s what we’ve been making. Really, really expansive records, something to really lead the generation. I’m just trying to start this revolution because we need it.
Photos by Julian Berman. Words by Alina.