Women in Music 2016

OG Maco on Life After 'U Guessed It': 'You Have to Escape the Ghosts of the Past'

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OG Maco

Rapper aiming to release debut album this summer.

The past two years have been a whirlwind for OG Maco. Since releasing his first proper mixtape Live Life in February 2014, the Atlanta MC has been on a tear, releasing more than a dozen projects of varying lengths featuring frequent collaborators -- and fellow rising ATLiens -- Migos, Rome Fortune, Key! and more. But it was his breakout hit "U Guessed It," a wildly energetic cut off his Key!-assisted Give 'Em Hell EP, that made hip-hop fans stand at attention as 2014 came to a close.

Things snowballed quickly for Maco after that. The 23-year-old signed with local indie label/management company Quality Control Music -- led by former Gucci Mane and Jeezy manager Coach K and also the home of Migos -- in August 2014, then inked a major label partnership with Capitol Music Group/Motown in May 2015 and landed on the 2015 XXL Freshmen cover later that summer, all while steadily feeding his fans with a consistent stream of new releases.

Along the way, Maco's sound began evolving. While "U Guessed It" owed much to the Atlanta trap sound bursting from the city, it didn't quite fit that mold; similarly, as a new wave of more melodic MCs began trickling from Atlanta -- led by iLoveMakonnen, Father, Rome Fortune and Raury, among others -- his sound remained an outlier among that group too. Instead, Maco made a habit of combining punishing, powerfully delivered vocals over a wide palette of production that flitted between the piano-based grooves of Just Blaze and the darker tones of frequent Gucci Mane producer Zaytoven (the latter released a joint tape, OGZAY, with Maco last April). The consistent evolution led some of his fans to wonder where the rapper of "U Guessed It" fame was headed, even as Maco tried to distance himself from the hit that introduced him to the scene outside of his hometown. "You have to escape the ghosts of the past," he says.

All that buildup led to OG Maco's latest release, the nine-track mixtape Lord of Rage that he released for free on SoundCloud on Jan. 3. For Lord of Rage, he traded in many of his prior collaborators to rhyme primarily over the production of PHRESH PRODUCE, who doubles as the rapper's engineer and helped usher in the latest incarnation of Maco's sound. This week, as he gears up for his first headlining tour through Europe starting in France Jan. 27, OG Maco spoke to Billboard about Lord of Rage, the frenetic pace of his releases, the delays of his upcoming Capitol/Motown debut Children of the Rage -- now tentatively scheduled for the summer -- and the new iteration of OG Maco.

On your latest project, Lord of Rage, it seems like you're going for a different sound.

We want to create the next level of music. Even if you listen to the progression of Lord of Rage, it's expansive. We don't want to take the easy way out, but we also want people to be ready for the album, and you gotta kind of ease people into that, because a lot of people want me to be one way and the actual artistry is way bigger than that. So to tell the story in the right way we kind of had to start over and get people to a point to start from.

In starting over like that, what were you looking for production-wise?

Well PHRESH PRODUCE is also my engineer, so we did everything from the ground up. Dolan [Beats] is my newest addition to OGG producer-wise, and he did a lot of work with Yung Gleesh and Chief Keef and a few other artists, and a lot of our stuff really meshed. We're doing everything from scratch and we wanted to create almost like a cinematic feel to it. With Lord of Rage, I kind of took my time. We did it pretty fast, relatively; I guess it was like three months. I've been working on the second and third album. I've just been keeping my creative space lit. But I took some time to let it out and actually put it all together.

You released seven projects last year. Did you learn anything from putting out so much material in such a short amount of time?

Yeah, I learned it was easy. And the fact that it was easy was a little bit scarier than I thought it would be, to see how hard the push was to really try and keep pace with what we were actively doing to the music. Now, we got recognition for it only because we put out so much music.

What separates each individual project?

They're all different, and that's the one thing people don't delve into. Live Life is always the starter series, so Live Life 2 is more personal to me. OG Maco was sort of like the introduction for people. But Breathe was completely motivated by the problems that young black people are facing today with law enforcement. And even the collaboration tapes have purpose; those are more freeform tapes, so a lot of times I don't include them. But when you go to OGZAY, that was just literally for the city. Me and Zaytoven did that for the city because there's really not a lot of us here who really motivate the kids, who the kids really stand behind versus just putting out music, you understand? It's actual movements.

And then when you get into something like 15, 15 was moreso showing that I didn't really give a fuck about the opinion of people trying to say I was trying to escape "U Guessed It" or some shit like that. That album, I was a total artist, as well as on Tax Free. I mean, 10 Moons 2 was a fuckin' album, it was just free. You know? So it's moreso, I think, releasing all that music showed me not only that I had the ability to do it myself, but I also realized the drawback to it is that every time an artist does that, we contribute to the depreciation of the music.

When you put out 10 Moons 2 last September, you put it out under the name Maco Mattox. Is that an alter ego for your material?

Maco Mattox is the actual shit, you feel me? Maco Mattox is the fuckin' future. And that's why the album is Maco Mattox, Children of the Rage. But OG Maco, people hold onto it right now. People put a certain connotation to OG Maco, and that comes with "U Guessed It." But Maco Mattox doesn't really have to be attached to that as much. And that's really the purpose of it.

At the time you said your label wouldn't let you release the album. What was going on there?

It was just a few different things. Right now, it's kind of a positive thing why it's not out, even though it's kind of two separate ventures. But you know, we got the single I did with TWRK and it's about to be really massive, it's called "Do What It Do." And that's what everybody wanted to go with, what the whole team wanted to go with as far as the managerial side of shit. And it's not a bad move, so we were like, fuck it. At the same time, everyone agrees that the album is fucking amazing, but at the same time they feel like the single could be just as massive. So you know, you don't want to have tension or anything inside of your label situation or between camps and stuff if you don't have to, but there's just different ways to win, you know what I'm saying? And that's how I think of it.

So what's your relationship like with Capitol/Motown now? Are they the ones who told you not to release the album?

Yeah, it was them. But the relationship was never bad, you know what I'm sayin'? It was never like "Fuck Capitol" or anything like that; it never went like that. It was just there were two different ways to approach the situation, and I feel like they're just taking what they feel like is a safer route just because the difference between "U Guessed It" and my album is so vast that people might be afraid to fuck with it. It's just that much more better. It's a real experience, and people may not be ready for a real experience from me right now. And we're betting on [the idea] that people are ready for a real experience from me, my real fans. But what if my real fans don't come through? What if I need the fluff fans? You don't know. So what do you do? Do you go do the Lord of Rage Tour in Europe and then you come back to America and you do the tour for the shit with TWRK and you hit both sides real quick and you see which side rises up to fuck with you? You know?

So you have to set up the new OG Maco.

Right. You have to escape the ghosts of the past. I mean, "U Guessed It" has done some amazing things, and all that shit, but I've made music that is definitely better than the majority of my peers for the last year, and then on top of that I've made it consistently. And that's not any form of cockiness, that's just an appreciation of where I'm at. Because there are definitely people who go crazy now and then, and that shit's hard; I'm a fan of music just like everybody else, and they go hard as fuck. But I know I'm goin' hard as fuck, too.

When might we see the album then?

It's looking like some time when I come back. The Lord of Rage Tour through Europe, I get back some time in February, and then we'll go on tour, me and TWRK, and that'll be sometime like March through April. So that leaves May and June, so I feel like right around there. Something like June, probably. If not summertime, I will personally -- just because I know this shit is about to go -- I would do it in like August at the latest. Just because of the feel of it; it's some real classic fuckin' rock star shit, and I don't know if the people want their classic rock star shit during the summertime. But hey, fuck it. You never know.

What are you looking forward to with this tour coming up?

My momma always tells me like, I'm doin' all this shit, and she's like, "Baby, don't you ever step back and kind of look at it? Look at what you're doing in just the last year. There's people who have been rapping for six or seven years that ain't done what you did." And this is one of those moments where I actually took a step back and looked at it. You know, this is my first tour and I'm headlining it and it's in fuckin' Europe, you know? There's people who want to act like somehow I've fallen off or some other shit, and I don't see how because I'm headlining a fuckin' tour in Europe. You know what I'm sayin'?

Fuck it. This is one of those moments where you just gotta take it, bruh, accept that shit and flex. 'Cause fuck 'em; somebody's always gonna hate, somebody's always gonna be on some fuck shit, but my fans -- I got the best fans in the world -- they rock with me all over the world. I just came back from fuckin' Korea, we were just in Brussels during the fuckin' terrorist attacks, we were in Amsterdam. Man, fuck 'em, now we're going back, just me.