With his latest album, Da Nu Boi, North Memphis rapper Mac E is determined to put the past -- including a longtime feud with local rap star Yo Gotti and a well-publicized penchant for label hopping -- behind him. "I'm coming out with a new sound, new lyrics, and a whole new game plan," the 24-year-old proclaims. "And regarding that beef with Gotti, well, I made the phone call and let him know that we don't need to do this no more."
Mac E's problem with local labels Lil One Records (which released his solo debut, Lyrically Platinum), Mo Chedda, and Inevitable Entertainment (Yo Gotti's home) are more complex. "I'd get with a label and we'd agree to something, then everything would go sour," Mac E says. "The focus would change, and people would start talking negative."
But now that he's signed to the Hy Lyfe label (owned by Memphians Tys and Sease and distributed by local workhorse Select-O-Hits), things are looking up. "I learned that I've got to keep myself away from all that," he says. "Everybody's got the same goal. There ain't no time for this fighting."
Mac E recorded the dozen tracks on Da Nu Boi at Orange Mound studio Da Sweatbox. Special guests such as Turk (who rhymed on "Whatchabout" a few months before his shootout with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department), Yo Lynch, Yung Kee, Gangsta Blac, and Playa Fly collaborated with Mac E on this thoroughly Memphis album. Tracks like "Do Da Dam Thang" and "Gangsta (Screwed)" feature strummed guitars, à la Ennio Morricone's spaghetti-western soundtracks, rather than standard synthesized clichés, while "My Year" builds a riff off the Willie Hutch hit "Sunshine Lady."
Now that Da Nu Boi has hit the streets, it's all about promotion. "We're giving away CDs, posting flyers, doing free shows," Mac E says. "Whatever goes on, I try my best to be a part of it. Right now, I want radio. I've got a personal relationship with a few deejays," he says. "They'll call me to do an intro, but when I drop an album, they won't play it."
Then Mac E backs up to explain that Hot 107.1-FM is playing his latest single, "Got Deals" -- or, at least, the instrumental version of it. "[My program director] allows us to talk over instrumental bits that we like," confirms Lil Larry, who's been a deejay at the station since 2001. "I'm trying to get the audience familiar with the beat. I feel like Mac E's song will work. It's gonna get hot in the streets, and it will probably eventually get picked up on the radio."
Larry, the self-proclaimed "King of the Streets," says, "I used to wonder why radio stations aren't playing this guy or that guy. Now I see both sides, and I can talk to these guys on the street and explain it. No other deejay is doing this right now. I'm the only one going to the hole-in-the-wall clubs and hanging out in the 'hood."
"If you're a local artist," Larry says, "the best thing to do is work the streets." When pressed, he cites other up-and-coming rappers like Bumpy Johnson and Da Block Burners as potential adds to the Hot 107 playlist. "Not to say those are the only three good acts," he says with a laugh. "There are so many talented artists in Memphis. It's just gonna take the right song in the right time at the right place. But," he cautions, "even if a song is good and it has a buzz, it might not fit our formats."
Wendy Day, founder of the nonprofit Rap Coalition, agrees. "If artists can build a buzz on the street, radio will come to them," she says. While local rappers are notorious for their complaints about airplay, Day points out that "it's much harder everywhere else. When I hear complaints about radio play, it's usually because they're not doing it right."
In conjunction with the Memphis & Shelby County Music Commission, Day is hosting an 11-part series for locals hoping to break into the music industry. The next installment, titled "Publishing: Where the Loot Is," will take place on Thursday, July 1st, at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street. (Go to MemphisPanels.com for more details.)
"Radio is a business like everything else," Day says. "The music has to fit a format, and the artist must have a plan in place. Are they trying to sell records, or do they just care about being the man in a four-block radius? Two months ago, we had a panel that talked about how to promote your record and build a buzz. On November 4th," she promises, "we're gonna do it again."
Mac E's next local appearance will be at the Crystal Palace Roller Skating Rink on Sunday, June 20th, where he'll be performing with Warner Bros. recording artist Crime Mob. For more info, go to HyLyfe.com. n