Rex Mac is a Boston-based Asian American who can be seen sporting his many artistic hats all throughout the city. His versatility overflows into what’s most important to him: his music. It’s not often, especially in hip-hop, when someone is able to effortlessly dominate 16 bars like a monster and seamlessly show that they are a real person, with real emotions, which are just as important to talk about as they are to acknowledge.
We spoke with Rex Mac about his new album, his dad, and his feelings ahead of Boston Hassle Fest 9 coming up in November.
Allston Pudding: What was the process like getting to this point in your career as a musician? What purpose has your discography served in getting you to this point?
Rex Mac: The process thus far has been dynamic. Many high highs and low lows. I’ve been making beats with MIDI keyboards since age 12, and for a while, that was just me messing around to get a reaction from my father. He really dug that I could replicate the melody on keys from Ludacris’ “Roll Out” back in 2001 or the saxophone riff from Mystikal’s “Bouncin’ Back.” Pops was my first fan.
And gradually, the process became more self-serving. It was therapeutic, cathartic, especially through my teens. Rapping over those beats naturally followed suit. I’ve never received any formal training and can’t really read music, but I’d like to think my ears have gotten smarter or that I know what I want out of a song, sonically and thematically, a bit better than a few years back.
Over the past five years, I’ve made it a goal to position myself in Boston’s hip hop community as a very present figure, to offer relatable, accessible content of value in a way that feels refreshing to listeners. I’ve tried different styles over time. Big, braggadocio, stadium songs with Kingdom Power Glory. Minimal, ambient songs with How To Be Alone. Funky, bright melodies on Meditating in the Moshpit. I just hit a year’s mark of organizing hip hop showcases at Cambridge’s Out of the Blue Too Gallery, and now I’m writing articles for Know Your Scene and Boston Hassle. All of these things in symphony have given me greater access to a local music community that is thriving–that you’re a part of as much as me–and the confidence to know I can do way more.
AP: You unpack some serious topics on your project, including mental health. What was the personal connection for you to these subject matters? Was there any difficulty in being able to open up about subjects like these?
RM: My output as a songwriter has always been spiritually and emotionally pointed. So, all of the works mentioned above had to do with mental health in some respect, but Abloom is that big, open flower that owns up to all of its emotional spectrum..shamelessly.
Its early stages of recording were subject to drinking, depression, idleness, just pure stagnancy, but its latter phase was about the rise out of that dirt. I had to cut through some bad habits, develop some good ones, and repair some relationships including the one with myself in order to finish the record. So yeah, there was some difficulty. Sharing semi-confessional songs with the world was the easy part. Self-admission took a bit of time though.
Songs on the record that sound overly happy were actually made in moments I felt pretty down about myself and my lack of movement in life. In those moments, now that I look back, I think those songs materialized because I was writing love songs to myself in a time when I needed encouragement.
Lines like “you are meant to be loved,” “I believe that we will win,” and “y’all better believe I’ma come back stronger,” populate the choruses in Abloom and ended up being mantras that I felt were worth sharing with the world. I just want people to hear these songs in the morning on their way to work and get enough energy from them to get through their day. Abloom‘s an espresso, and the content absolutely speaks to the culture now with younger Youtubers creating videos on self-care rituals. I really dig that shit. Loving yourself is mad attractive.
AP: Seems like you have a good relationship with your father. What role did he play in the blooming of that flower from the “dirt” (drinking, depression, etc.)?
RM: Pops is just a simple, practical dude, not to say he doesn’t have his quirks. He’s always taking his car to the dealership because it made an obscure, and usually non-threatening, noise – to the point where I feel he annoys the employees there, haha.
What I’ve gathered from this is that if something’s of concern to you, make it known and hold yourself accountable to fix it. There has to be a parallel to self-care in there somewhere.
My mother is his equal opposite. His yang. For all of his simplicity and sensitivity to detail, my mother believes in being a micromanager. She’s a get shit done, no time for details kinda gal, which is evident given the successful trajectory of her career from finance, to real estate, to everything else in between. She always tells me I need to be the “master of my own universe,” which is why “The World Is Not Enough” exists as a song.
Navigating between these polar personalities has been confusing at times in growing up, which often has led me to form my own solutions when I hit the bottom of my mood. When it comes to self-betterment, I’ve always found it best to remain mindful that your loved ones always want what’s best for you. It’s just communicated in different ways. You fill in the blanks. Do whatever you like.
AP: As a man of color that is an artist, why do you think it is important for other artists that are also men of color to take that step of self-admission that you took? What role do you think that admission should play?
RM: Self awareness is absolutely key. It’s necessary to live effectively. If you need to set some personal truths straight with yourself and people close in orbit in order to move forward and get shit done in your life, do it. Whether or not you identify as an artist, that shit is an art.
I had to deal with the recent passing of a very close friend that reminded me how intentional your day-to-day living must be. What fulfills you? Is it art? Are you making time for it? Are you sharing it enough? Are you an agent of service, or is your work self serving? If you’re a songwriter, are you just talking about yourself at people? Is your content pointed to help the world?
You can’t wear a cape and watch the world burn. It doesn’t work that way. Oddly enough, the world sometimes doesn’t want to admit its heroes and saints are people of color. It all returns to that cliche that you need to do everything for yourself first. Harness your strengths. Then, when you hit your stride, help those who need it. I believe in that.
Check out Rex Mac out at the Boston Hassle Fest on November 10th, doors at 5pm, tickets are $25.