* Welcome to the 43rd installment of The Quaz Q&A. This feature—a question-and-answer session with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever—will appear every Thursday on jeffpearlman.com. If you have any suggestions/ideas for people to speak with, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m listening.
That’s the number of times the video of Mac Lethal rapping about pancakes to the beat of “Look at Me Now” has been viewed on YouTube.
Twenty two million, three hundred and eighty five thousand, five hundred and sixty eight.
By comparison, Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address has been watched 2,580,570 times. Whitney Houston’s video for “How Will I Know”—3,480,870 times. The racist UCLA student mocking Asians? 1,252,471 times. Some dude talking about my book from his dining room? 23 times.
In short, Mac Lethal (aka David Sheldon) is an internet sensation. But, of course, he’s more than that. The 30-year-old Kansas City, Missouri native is—straight up—one of the most talented and original rappers I’ve seen in a long time. His delivery is Lam Jones-fast; his verses and fierce and pointed; his take on the world beyond unique. Wanna listen to one of the greatest hiphop recordings of recent memory? Take a moment to hear this—the gritty, out-of-this-world “Sun Storm.”
Will Mac Lethal go down alongside Jay-Z and Eminem and Tupac and Grandmaster Flash and other MCs as all-time greats? Will he remain somewhat more obscure? I have no idea. But the guy has become one of my favorites, and I’m thrilled to have him here to talk hiphop, the plight of white and gay rappers, Victor Cruz, touring with Celine Dion and why his finances are none of my business. Mac Lethal Tweets here, and you can read more about him here.
Mac Lethal, the floor is yours …
JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so before we get into your background and biography, let me get one out I really wanna ask: You are, by all accounts, a YouTube sensation. Hell, 16,592,690 views for the pancake song. Just insane. My question is—in 2012, what does this mean? What I mean is, is this how we now gauge performers? Whereas once it was record sales, then tape sales, then CD sales, do YouTube hits and Twitter followers somehow put a genuine number to success?
MAC LETHAL: I think it’s dangerous to rely on any one number. You know, I may have a pancake video with 22 million views on YouTube, but I had to work, tour, and grind it out for 12 years before any of this happened. And I have had a cult-like fan base for several years too. I think the only way to truly judge an artist is by their longevity. You can make $20 million in three months and burn out before you even get hot. Or you can make $20 million over 20 years, and have a comfortable, successful career with longevity and respect. If you take short cuts, you get cut short. So the pancake video is just another moment in my very long mission as a musician.
J.P.: I would love to know, exactly, how the pancake song came to be. Like, from soup to nuts, how does an artists think to himself, “I’m gonna rap about making pancakes,” then do it, then have it blow up?
M.L.: I have always just randomly got the compulsion to redo songs/make cover videos. In this particular situation, I thought it would be interesting to try to put some of my culinary schools to the test while rapping fast. I had zero idea that it would get this big. Which is why I haven’t followed up too fast with a new one. The next video has to top the pancake one, which could be tricky to do.
J.P.: Your sound reminds me of absolutely nobody. That’s a compliment—I don’t hear Eminem or Kanye or Tribe or anyone in you. You’re from Kansas City, that much I know. But how did you develop into a rapper? How did hiphop enter your life? In other words: Who the fuck are you?
M.L.: Oddly enough Eminem, Kanye and Tribe are all very prevalent in my artistry. I have always lived by the adage “If you bite, don’t leave crumbs/ then they won’t know where you got it from”
J.P.: I love the political rants incorporated in several of your songs. It seems a lot of performers—from all genres—stay away from this, for fear of turning off listeners (as Michael Jordan famously once said, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”). Are you concerned at all about losing conservative listeners? And why are you so outspoken?
M.L.: Not really. I am not a Liberal, or a Libertarian, or necessarily fully ascribed to left-wing ideas. However, I think fucking with Republicans is important, because I find a lot of conservative ideals to be archaic and a little frightening. Not to go God and Politics on the interview, but I feel like people are afraid to speak in broad, easy-to-understand terms about the Republican agenda. The thing is, though, Republicans are trying to make the country better too. I don’t believe either side of the pendulum is trying to sabotage America. I just think both sides gravely differ when it comes to how to get it done. To such a ridiculous point that the partisan line is so deep and clear. People will disagree/agree with something simply because it’s part of their party’s precepts. Which is stupid, and much more common when it comes to right wingers. But Liberal hippy people do it too. I am somewhere in the middle with several twisted views.
J.P.: There’s a part of me that hates asking this question, because it’s sorta cliché. But I’m genuinely interested, so I’ll ask: In 2012, are the biases against white MCs dead? We’re 22 years post-Ice Ice Baby. Do you think, as a whole, hiphop fans just take good music for good music? Or are there still some lingering expectations that you’ll suck?
M.L.: For the most part I think Eminem is the guy to thank for it. However, the white MC bias has turned into a general Eminem comparison. Eminem is so naturally talented, and famous, that people automatically assume every modern white rapper grew under his tutelage. False. I rapped before I ever heard Eminem. For years. However, he is tremendously talented. So, yeah. No more white boy biases. Now it’s sifting through the Eminem wannabes.
J.P.: According to your website, a major label offered you a large advance and you turned it down. Or, to quote you directly, “It was a $250,000 advance. Which, that’s like insane. That’s like, ‘Hey, let us bend you over and put like 3 cocks in you at once.’ It’s outrageous.” At one point and time, getting signed was the name of the game; the signature success. So why would a guy like yourself stay independent?
M.L.: Getting signed in 2012 basically means a big label tries to mold and shape you into a highly marketable artist. About 99 percent of the time they completely ruin it, have horrible ideas, and end up wasting a lot of time and money. I have zero interest in participating in something like that. I can make money on my own, with full control of my music. Even huge independent labels will still let me have control, and these fuckers spend MONEY. Indy is the way to go, and it’s the way I’ve gone for 12 years.
J.P.: You seem to take a lot of pride in the speed of your delivery. And I think it’s insanely impressive. But does speed really matter? I mean, many of my all-time favorites—Tupac, Ice Cube, Chuck D—were very deliberate, even casual. So does it matter? And how’d you get so fast?
M.L.: Speed only matters to lure people in and feed them a message. It is the least important element of my skill set.
J.P.: Just listened to “Sun Storm” for the first time, and all I can say is, “Wow, wow, wow.” Just love it. You seem to have a very love-hate relationship with the Midwest—closed-minded yet family-oriented; hateful, yet loving. Can you explain? And have any neighbors tried killing your cats?
M.L.: Well, I’ve lived here my entire life. I am ultimately going to know all sorts of beautiful and ugly secrets/details about a place like this. We have tons of ridiculous, indoctrinated people out here, and they do a lot of destructive things, like sabotage their children’s imaginations, and push Jesus in schools. But whatever. I came out okay, so I imagine everyone’s beliefs will surface on their own in time.
J.P.: I always ask athletes whether an openly gay player could make it in their world. You’re very pro-gay rights in your verses. Could an openly gay rapper thrive in mainstream? And do you think he/she would be accepted by peers?
M.L.: I think it will eventually happen. Not to say that there won’t be backlash and open hostility towards he/she. But it will happen. The key, however, is this gay rapper needs to be fucking INCREDIBLE. So good that they shut all the haters up and let the skills speak for themselves. No one will take a gay rapper seriously just because they’re gay. They gotta be great, too.
J.P.: What sort of jobs have you had since high school? Do you make enough coin via rap to no longer have to do anything but?
M.L.: I haven’t had a job since 2004. Been living off of music since then. I make enough to work on music/write every day, and go out to eat whenever I want. I don’t wanna delve too deeply into details because it’s rude.
• Single greatest line you’ve ever written: “If Yoko Ono gave you herpes would that be Strawberry Fields Forever?” Or “Every time I make a new friend, that’s another funeral I will attend.”
• Five favorite MCs of all time: Jay, Em, Andre, KRS, Big
• I’d argue that “Ice Ice Baby” has gone from vastly overrated to vastly, vastly underrated now. Agree or disagree? And why?: That song is garbage.
• Have you ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Yes, and I oddly enough wasn’t afraid of death during that particular phase in my life.
• Celine Dion wants to pay you $5 million to go on the road with her for a year and do a rap solo midway through that Titanic song. You in?: Yes.
• Would you rather eat five pounds of your own shit or hammer a rusty nail all the way through your thumb?: Ew. The nail.
• I was very impressed by Victor Cruz’s breakout season. Is it a fluke, or is he the real deal?: The problem is, you don’t know these things until several seasons later. His franchise record-breaking 2011 season was impressive. But will he do it again? Or turn into Randy Moss? Or turn into the Larry Johnson of wide receivers?
• Five must-do things in Kansas City for a visitor: 1. Eat BBQ; 2. See a Mac Lethal show; 3. Eat Bo Ling’s Chinese food; 4. Visit KC museums and art galleries; 5. Sit there amazed by how developed and cultured Kansas City is.
• What do you think of the theme to my last book?: What I think doesn’t matter. What do YOU think?
Quaz 1: Wendy Hagen
Quaz 2: Chris Burgess
Quaz 3: Tommy Shaw
Quaz 4: Russ Ortiz
Quaz 5: Don McPherson
Quaz 6: Frank Zaccheo
Quaz 7: Geoff Rodkey
Quaz 8: Meeno Peluce
Quaz 9: Karl Mecklenburg
Quaz 10: Amra-Faye Wright
Quaz 11: Phil Nevin
Quaz 12: Jemele Hill
Quaz 13: Drew Snyder
Quaz 14: Roy Smalley
Quaz 15: Michael Shermer
Quaz 16: Kathy Wagner
Quaz 17: Travis Warren
Quaz 18: Scott Barnhardt
Quaz 19: Chris Jones
Quaz 20: Cindi Avila
Quaz 21: Crystal McKellar
Quaz 22: Dan Riehl
Quaz 23: Prime Minister Pete Nice
Quaz 24: Glen Graham
Quaz 25: Dave Coverly
Quaz 26: Marie Te Hapuku
Quaz 27: Christian Delcroix
Quaz 28: Jack McDowell
Quaz 29: Jake Black
Quaz 30: Brian Johnson
Quaz 31: Craig Salstein
Quaz 32: John Herzfeld
Quaz 33: Jenny DeMilo
Quaz 34: Tina Thompson
Quaz 35: Seth Davis
Quaz 36: Dave Fleming
Quaz 37: Mike Sharp
Quaz 38: Kathleen Osgood
Quaz 39: Gabriel Aldort
Quaz 40: Lennie Friedman
Quaz 41: Rick Arzt
Quaz 42: Sean Salisbury
Quaz 43: Mac Lethal