You might remember Mack – a.k.a. Tristan – Wilds from “The Wire” or “90210,” depending on your television proclivities. Now, the 24-year-old Staten Island native has turned to his first love, music, and has just released his debut album, “New York: A Love Story.” With Super-producer, Salaam Remi at the helm, and a rolodex of established contributors, including Wu Tang’s Raekwon and Method Man, the album boasts a dynamic sound that harps back to the boom bap days of old New York – hence the title. When Mass Appeal caught up with Wilds, he was at Sony Studios in Midtown. Dressed in a Stussy camo shirt, Rag and Bone khakis and limited edition Timbaland x Mastermind boots, he forgoes the usual journalist/artists awkward exchange and goes in for a bear hug. Wilds is just that kind of guy.
Mass Appeal: You grew up in Staten Island, which is kind of the forgotten borough. How was that?
Mack Wilds: It was cool. The thing about Staten Island is that it’s so segregated from everywhere else that every neighborhood is like a borough. We lived in Park Hill and then Stapleton. Park Hill was more like Harlem and Stapleton is definitely more like Brooklyn. Harlem being known for the guys who are more about fashion and their swag – still not necessarily the guys you want to mess with – and Stapleton being the gritty, grimy guys with hoodies, and Timbs on. You know, rob you and beat up your mom.
MA: So you lived with the guys who rob you and beat up your mom. Are you friends?
MW: Obviously. You’ve got to be friends with those guys [Laughs]
MA: You were in LA for a good while with 90210.
MW: Yeah, five years.
MA: I guess you missed New York from the title of your album?
MA: What was so different for you living on the West Coast? New York vs. LA: What are your likes/dislikes?
MK: It’s hard to say that I dislike Los Angeles . . . As Kendrick says its women, weed and weather. But, I’m used to New York where you feel the seasons change. It’s a whole different element when you get to put on that bubble coat and you know it’s fly.
MW: New York is the culture; it feels like New York is the center of the world sometimes. In LA it’s so different because you’ve got to get in a car to go everywhere. You have the museum row and you have Venice beach and Silverlake. I feel like in New York you can get culture damn near anywhere.
MA: You mentioned changing clothes? Are you into fashion?
MW: You know, a little somethin’ somethin’.
MA: Whose style do you like?
MW: I like Kanye of course. My hero. Pusha definitely has good style. Designers… I like everything. I’m a minimalistic kind of guy, if I’m wearing it you won’t know what it is.
MA: Interesting you say Kanye. He’s been struggling to be taken seriously as a rapper turned fashion designer. Going from acting to music, did you feel you had to fight harder?
MW: Absolutely. I was already prepared to be in people’s faces. I didn’t have to as bad as Kanye, but you definitely have to be prepared for that. I knew I would have to do a lot of proving, first with the good music and then to show them that it’s real.
MA: True. There’s a ying and yang to that though because you have to prove yourself but then again, do you find that you have doors opened for you?
MW: In some instances it definitely helps, but if you take too much help it will hinder. You have to find that balance. I think in certain instances where it could of helped I was like, ‘Nah, I’ve got to do this my self, I have to prove it, I’ve got to make this real.’
MA: You’ve got a great line up of producers.
MW: Yeah. We would do a record and Salaam would go and sit with some producers and play it for them. They’d be like, ‘Yo, this shit is dope, who is this?’ He’d say, ‘Uhh, it’s this new kid who I’m working with called Mack Wilds.’ We didn’t go out and say ‘Yo, we’ve got Tristan Wilds we want you to do this.’ They’d ask, ‘What does he look like?’ Salaam would show him my picture and they’re like ‘Yo, dude from “The Wire?” I’ve got to be on this record.’ So it was more based on my merits as an artist rather than who I was.
MA: Right, so do you think the name change helped with that?
MW: Absolutely. The funniest thing to me is that it’s not even a big name change. I’ve been going by Mack for God knows. I feel like I could have taken the “N” off my name, everyone would have been like, ‘Trista Wilds, I wonder who that is?’
MA: Like, what does she do?
MW: [Laughs] Exactly.
MA: There’s an R&B and hip hop feel to your album. What other music genres do you listen to?
MW: Man, the list goes on and on. I like Daft Punk, Gnarls Barkley, Kings of Leon, Phil Collins, Queen, Billy Joel. Everyone; the greats. These are people who have not only made amazing music but have shaken up the world.
MA: Is there any music you don’t fuck with at all?
MW: There was a time when I was like why do people like country music or whatever. Then someone put me onto Lady Antebellum and I was caught. There’s not really a genre of music I don’t listen to. I’ll be at a Paul Simon concert and then two days later, I’ll be rocking out with Steve Aoki at a rave.
MA: Since you’re from Staten Island I have to ask you about Wu-Tang. Obviously, Method Man and Raekwon helped produce the album.
MW: I grew up with them. They used to come in to my dad’s barber shop and get their haircut. I remember Raekwon giving out $20 bills to the kids. Method Man cracking jokes. That energy that you see on stage during a performance he’s always had that energy.
MA: So let’s talk about the album. What track are you most pleased with?
MW: I don’t even have one. Salaam used to play this game like, pick one of your favorite tracks. I’d be like, “Magic.” Then he’s be like, ‘Okay pick a least favorite.’ I dunno, “Own It.” We’d go back into the studio, re-cut it, lay some new stuff down and we’d fix it up to the point where I really liked it. He’d say, ‘Now that’s your favorite? Pick another least favorite.’ We did that for a month until you couldn’t even choose. There was something to love about every one.
MA: The record has been well received. Are you please?
MW: Absolutely. I’m coming into a landscape when everyone is doing trap/rap so I didn’t know how people would take to it. But, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, they have the feeling of that old school hip hop too. I definitely had to come kicking the door.
MA: Which other young guns from New York do you like?
MW: There’s a group from Staten Island, Tribe Gang they’re starting to move. I feel like Troy Ave. He’s definitely putting on for New York in a strong way.
MA: Who would be your dream person to work with?
MW: Lauryn Hill. That’s who I’ve adopted my whole style from. She’s my idol.
MA: Your image is pretty clean so far and you brought your neighborhood into your music. Did you feel like you had to have a bit of a raw edge to be accepted in rap?
MW: Not necessarily. I just really wanted people to know who I was. I didn’t want people to know me as the killer from “The Wire” or the preppy boy from “90210.” I wanted people to understand me as Mack Wilds. I definitely grew up in the neighborhood and played around on that side. But I’ve been on this side as well. I’m a kid who’s smack in the middle. I’m not trying to be a thug. Not trying to be any type of anything. I want to show people my life. I think that’s what the music is for.