Chip Off The Ol’ Block: A Conversation With Mack 10 & District 21
The last installment in our father and son interview series
Today we’re giving you the final installment of our latest interview series, Chip Off the Ol’ Block. Hip hop has been around long enough for multiple generations of a family to be involved. As the title suggests, we are talking to fathers whose sons have taken up the family business. In this case the fathers are iconic West coast MCs and the family biz is hip hop music. We’re also talking to the sons who are making waves without riding their pops’ coattails.
We had to end this series with a bang and so we’ve brought out the big guns… literally. Mack 10 is easily the most commercially successful artist we’ve featured in Chip Off the Ol’ Block so far. Not only did he make a huge impact on the culture with the supergroup Westside Connection, but he racked up multiple certified-gold solo albums, cracked the Top 20 of the Billboard 200 more than once, and ran his own successful indie in the ‘00s. Mack is truly one of the West coast’s most respected rappers, ever and rightfully so. As for his son, District 21 doesn’t kick that gangster shit but he’s definitely inherited his father’s penchant for poetry. However his rhymes focus more on beaches and girls than guns and drugs. Clearly his pops’ success has afforded him a different lifestyle.
Below we talk to both artists to see how these two generations of the Rolison family compare and contrast with each other. While other sites are widening the gap between old and young heads with sensationalist coverage, we’re trying to show hip hop is family.
Did you push District toward rapping at all? Or was it something he got into on his own?
I’ve never wanted any of my kids in the music business, to be honest. It was something he wanted to do. Even right now, I have never helped him with one song he recorded in his life. So, that’s really all him. I told him, if he was going to be great, he was going to have to be great. I can’t just make him great. He’s dedicated to it and he works real hard at it. But nah, I ain’t never been the kind of parent to push my kids into nothing. Whatever their personalities are, I roll with that.
When you got into rap, how did your pops feel about it? Was he supportive?
Nah, nah. Me and my father didn’t have the relationship me and my son got. My son lives with me. He’s in college now, but he lives with me. But nah, my parents weren’t very supportive of it in the beginning.
How about now that you’re successful?
Yeah, I’ve changed everybody’s life around me. I’m sure everybody feel pretty good about it at this point.
How much was your son around when you were in the studio or doing videos back in the day?
He was around. He would see stuff. But it was never a thing where I tried to include my kids in my videos and my studio sessions and all this. I always tried to keep my family kinda separate from my professional life. And music was professional life. So, I just let my kids be kids. I didn’t try to push nothing on ’em. If anything, I thought they was gonna grow up to play sports.
Does your son know Ice Cube’s son, OMG?
I don’t think he know him. He didn’t grow up around him.
How does it feel to see your son make music so different from your own?
That feels better than anything. Because like I said, if you’re going to be great, you’re going to have to be great on your own. But he don’t sound nothing like me because he didn’t have the life that I had. He didn’t have the upbringing that I had. He didn’t have to go through the things I been through. On the other hand, I didn’t have the upbringing that he had. And I haven’t been exposed to and seen the things he’s seen either. So, all he’s doing is being true to himself, to be perfectly honest. DJ is just being DJ. That’s what we call him, DJ. It ain’t no act. It ain’t no gimmick. That’s why it’s so easy for him, because he’s really just being himself.
I know you stay grinding—what are you into these days?
I’m a concert promoter. I do over 150 shows a year. Nowadays that’s where the majority of money is in the music business, live performance. So, I always try to stay a little bit ahead of the curve. I have a very successful touring company.
When did you know District was serious about rapping?
Well, I knew that when he was in about the seventh grade or sumthin’. He rapped on one of my albums when he was seven years old. He was on beat and everything. I just thought he was my little son rapping on a song. But when he got in middle school I knew that he was serious because he would make records. Of course, we got a studio at home, and his records were actually good. I remember telling him when he was about fourteen years-old, that he was better than a lot of dudes that were grown. He was spitting fire already. He grew up with it on his mind, obviously, but I knew that he was serious when he was in the sixth or seventh grade.
He’s put out two full projects, Outsiders Village and Lifeguard, and you can hear the growth between the two. What advice are you giving him going forward?
He’s definitely growing and I commend him for that. Cuz like I said, it’s been all organic with us. We ain’t put no “whoop” on nothing to make it bigger. It’s just been all organic. I feel like if you build it like that, then your foundation will be strong and it will be real. You dig what I’m saying? So, I tell him, just remember that it’s is a business. You gotta remember that this is the music business. Don’t leave the word “business” out. Cuz them dudes that leave the word “business” out, they ain’t got no money at the end of the day…and they don’t know how to get no fucking money. So, you gotta make strategic moves and think things out. Fail to prepare, then prepare to fail.
Are the numbers in District’s name a tribute to your rap name?
Nah, 21 is a tribute to himself. That was always his football number growing up. He was a hell of a running back growing up. Since he was a little boy, everybody knew he was a cold-ass running back. When he first started he used to wear 21. So, he wore 21 a lot of years in his pop warner days, so that’s just like his number. He took it and kept some of his identity as an athlete and brought it over to this music side.
Your music doesn’t sound like your pop’s stuff at all. You seem to be more about the lyrics and the ladies. How do you see your sound?
I see my sound as very much a product of my environment. I grew up in Calabasas and places like that, so I make music that I feel is an active representation. I try to make my music as visual as possible. That’s why I always put wave sound effects in my music, or you’ll hear like bright sounds, because I feel like the area I live in is bright…by the beach and things like that. Those are my favorite places to hang out.
So, you were raised in Calabasas, CA?
Yeah, I grew up in Calabasas my whole life. Me and my friend used to hang out a lot in Malibu or PCH.
Can you speak a little bit on your recent release Lifeguard?
I was working on it for about two years maybe. I went through four or five different versions of it. It originally was 17 songs and then after playing it for my dad and a few other people, we just felt it was a better idea to narrow it down to a concise ten. Because people have short attention spans and for my first few projects I just want to get my point across. Like I said before, I tried my best to make a soundtrack to my life for the past two years. I spent a lot of time hanging out atwwwdsx the beach this last summer. I was in a weird relationship with this one girl where it was kinda wishy-washy. I just tried to describe my life the best I could for this past year and a half, two years that I’ve been working on it.mmm
I was checking out your SoundCloud page and saw you dropped a song recently where you used an old pic of you and your dad for the graphic. Tell us why you decided to use that photo and when it is from.
I used it for the song “By All Means.” That picture is from my preschool graduation. I had just found the picture on my phone and [picked it] based on the message in the song. That was such a passionate song for me to record. It really meant a lot to me. Basically the whole message behind it is drive and passion, and refusing to give up on myself and everything I believe in. And I feel like I got that mentality from my dad. He’s like a relentlessly hardworking businessman. Rap was always secondary for him. He succeeded in rap first but he was always about his business and making sure everything else was taken care of. That is something he instilled in me early on. On top of that, just the mentality to go get it. That’s my mentality right now, so it’s only right that I put a picture of me and him on the cover. All my morals and ethics, I got from him.
What are your favorite songs by your pops?
“Mack 10’s The Name” from his first album. “The Gangster, The Killer & The Dope Dealer” on the first Westside Connection album. “Connected For Life” from his Bang or Ball album. Those are my top three.
Were you ever in the studio for any of his classics?
I have vague memories of being in the studio. I can’t really pinpoint what the time period was. I know I was very young. But I can’t really pinpoint exactly what he was working on. Actually, my first time ever recording was on my dad’s second to last album, Hustler’s Handbook, on a song called “Step Yo Game Up.” I was like six years-old and I’m rapping on the song. So, that’s my most vivid memory.
Have you ever performed with him?
No. That would be cool, though.
It sounds like your dad has a hand in giving you some direction. Speak on how he helps guide your career.
He’s like my final opini3on. His opinion means a lot to me. Even though we have completely different lanes in music, I always trust his opinion and advice. Like when it comes to putting an album together he always says, the quickest way to get to your destination is a straight line. So, you don’t need extra tracks on your album. Make it ten songs or eleven songs. You want to have as little filler as you possibly can. The greatest albums of all time are nine songs or ten songs. I think Thriller is nine songs. Dark Side of the Moon is ten songs. Or Nevermind is twelve songs. Those great bodies of work get straight to the point.