Mack Wilds: 'I Still Gotta Make Thriller''

"Henny" singer talks covering the King of Pop and handling his success as an actor-turned-recording star.

Posted: 06/10/2014 12:31 PM EDT
Mack Wilds: "This Album was my 'Off The Wall.' I Still Gotta Make 'Thriller'"

While plenty of musicians have carved out successful careers in film and television, the opposite is a rare feat. With his first album, New York: A Love Story, already nominated for a Grammy and a BET Award, Tristan "Mack" Wilds has already proven himself the exception to the rule.

After finishing his run on the awards circuit, the 24-year-old star of shows like The Wire and 90210 will cap off a momentous rookie year by hitting the road with Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, Rich Homie Quan, Sage the Gemini and Iamsu! as part of the "Under the Influence of Music" tour.

In an exclusive interview with BET.com, Mack talks about connecting with Wiz Khalifa, his chemistry with producer Salaam Remi and getting over his fear of covering Michael Jackson.

BET: Your music career has continued to grow, but you're still a television and film star. How has it been juggling the two?
MW:
It's really about just knowing where your priorities lay. You have to understand and accept that your priorities will change as time goes on whether your priorities lie in music or whether they lie in acting or any other form of entertainment, you just have to prioritize. Right now, my priority is music. Once I learned that, everything became much easier. 

You were recently announced as part of the Under the Influence tour with Wiz Khalifa, Tyga, Ty Dolla $ign, IamSu!, Sage the Gemini and Rich Homie Quan. How did that come about?
Wiz is actually one of my homies. He's somebody that I met during Grammy weekend. Since then we've just been cool. He's been a real real cool dude. And when he was first talking about going on tour, I guess his agency asked him who he wanted to go on tour with. He said me. And it also happens we have the same agency, so it was an easy process. Shout out to Wiz for that. We haven't collaborated on a track yet, but being on tour with him and so many other creative people, you know there's gonna be quite a few things coming together.

You got to work with Salaam Remi quite a bit on New York: A Love Story. How did working with a legend like that help you sharpen your skills as a musician?
Salaam is not only my producer, he's my mentor. He's my big brother. So, honestly, before all this music, he was the guy I would go to with my songs that I had just cut when I was running around and just a studio rat and I would come in on this song and I would write another song and, after a while, he was the guy that I would go to and he would tell me how to sequence the song or what the song needed to make it extra dope. So after a while of doing that, the chemistry just became what it is today.

You had a cover of Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" on your album. How did you decide to do that particular song and were you nervous covering MJ?
I can't even fully take credit for that one. That was more Salaam. When I first started working on the album, the first song that I wrote was "Henny." The two songs have a very similar beat. So when I was writing "Henny," Salaam stopped me and I was still trying to figure out what I was going to do to it. He just stopped me and was like, "Yo, why don't you sing Michael Jackson 'Remember the Time' over it?" I was like, "Really?" He said, "Yeah. Just to get your mind off of one thing so that when you come back to thinking about it you have a fresh mind. I was like, "Yeah, definitely that makes sense." Did it. Sang it. Didn't think anything of it for a while until months later. We started [putting together] the album, and he nonchalantly just said, "Oh, we're keeping this song and keeping this song and this song, and, oh yeah, we're gonna do 'Remember the Time,'" and I was like, "Salaam, I don't remember a song called 'Remember the Time."' He said, "Remember the Michael Jackson joint you did?" And my whole world just froze. I was like, "Wait a minute. I'm a Michael Jackson fan, so I know what Michael Jackson fans do to people that try to cover Michael Jackson. They rip 'em apart. Limb from limb. I don't want to be a victim." He said, "You did a good job and I think people will be excited to hear this." So he went through the necessary precautions and it was on the album and I still got all my limbs.

The "Henny" Remix has French Montana, Mobb Deep and Busta Rhymes. Did you get to hit the studio with everyone?
I wish it was like the old days where everyone was in the studio together, but it was really dope. French and I had spoke about him being a part of a remix before and this came up. Then Havoc was like, "We wanna do something with you and give you some of that real flavor," and I'm like, "Of course!" Busta Rhymes cornered me in the club one night and was like, "Yo, I don't care who's on the track but I'm getting on that track, so your best bet is to just let me know who's on it!" I was like, "Cool." It literally all came together in, like, a three-week span.

So now that the bar has been set so high, do you feel any added pressure to duplicate this success on the next album?
You know what's funny? It would make sense for me to feel nervous about where I'm at, but I'm more excited than anything. I think I'll be nervous once it's done, when I'm trying to find out if you're gonna like it again, but as for now, I'm more excited. The way I look at it is, this album was like my Reasonable Doubt, or to go back to Michael, my Off the Wall. I still gotta make Thriller.

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