Get the 24-year-old New York rapper Mack Wilds talking about his music and he’ll likely throw the word “cadence” at you, an essential concept for someone that traffics in the sung, recited, rapped and spoken word like Wilds does. In 30 minutes, he’ll drop it no fewer than three times, repeating it almost like a mantra.
“With everything that you do, with every word that you speak, with every way that you move, there’s a cadence and there’s rhythm to it,” Wilds told Radio.com.
You may know Mack Wilds by his acting name, Tristan, speaking in actor’s—not rapper’s—rhythms in film, television and on stage. Wilds has played supporting roles in Red Tails, The Secret Life of Bees and The CW’s Beverly Hills: 90210 spinoff. The role he’s best known for though is Michael Lee, the quiet, brave teenage protagonist in seasons four and five of The Wire. From the ages of 16 to 18, Wilds showed a depth of performance beyond his years, gaining critical notoriety in the worlds of drama and hip-hop. His debut even earned him a GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album putting him up against the likes of Tamar Braxton, Fantasia, Rihanna and his own producer, Salaam Remi.
“Although the players change [The Wire], the game remains the same,” Wilds said, summarizing the moral of the acclaimed HBO drama. “It’s still those archetypes that create what you see every day.”
Wilds’ Grammy-nominated New York: A Love Story hints a similar depth of street poetry. And if his debut is at all akin to The Wire, it’s in both their nuanced portraits of urban life. But where The Wire could be harsh and starkly realistic, New York: A Love Story it is a double love letter: for his hometown and an unnamed female love interest, their flirtatious phone conversations dramatized in skits throughout the record.
Wilds has a special kind of love for his home borough of Staten Island. And for New York rap, which he’d love to see return to its ’90s glory days.
“There’s a lot of young, hungry guys out here now who are ready to show that they’re not only amazing, but who can show that New York is alive and thriving,” Wilds said. “They’ve just been in the cut. It may be about to turn back around.”
Similar to the story behind the recording of the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, Wilds recorded New York: A Love Story in Los Angeles while shooting 90210. With the help of Remi—a New York rap producer known for his work with fellow New Yorker Nas—the album became a homesick love letter.
“To us, [the album] felt like a summer in New York: the johnny pump, the dollar slices of pizza, the Italian ices,” Wilds said. “There’s nothing that tastes, looks, feels, smells like a New York summer anymore… So we just said, ‘Yo, everybody’s going left, let’s go right.’”
His deep connection with the Staten Island community and music—Wilds’ father moonlighted as a musician and owned a barber shop on the island—hooked him up with members of seminal New York rap group Wu-Tang Clan, namely Method Man and Raekwon, both of whom drop guest verses on the album.
“They literally watched me grow up throughout my entire time in the industry already,” said Wilds, who was four years old when Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was released. “So it was like The Godfather, calling it that favor.”
Not to mention, Wilds was raised in music-filled household. “We didn’t really have much, monetary-wise, growing up,” Wilds said. “But what we did have was a lot of love and a lot of music.”
Though he started as an actor, Wilds isn’t wasting any time getting his music game up to where his acting game is.
“Me and [my producer] Salaam are already halfway through the next album,” Wilds said. “I had to stop because I wanted it to be kind of a reflective thing, where I’m reassesing myself growing up in this business. I think the best material will come with time, experiencing the now.”
It’s sure to have more beats, more rhymes and more cadences. And who knows? Maybe even earn him a second GRAMMY nod.