Hassaan Mackey: The ACT:LIVE Interview 05.28.08
werd: james niche
“Today’s listener is afraid of hearing something that makes you think, that’s all it boils down to.”
- Hassaan Mackey
Wednesday night, where else would I be besides Dubland Underground?
The lyrical soup du jour that evening, you ask? Hassaan Mackey, quoted as being “The Godfather of Hip-Hop” in this city. Hassaan is a humble man and I don’t think he gives that name two thoughts or cares, but like any good grandfather to their children, he has a lot to teach you. And like any good grandchild, MC’s best pay attention.
I haven’t seen Hassaan perform in quite a while. I do know he has been getting on the mic at nearly all open mic events in the city, not just at Dubland, but I have also seen him perform at Venu with Black August, a local funk and soul group made up of family.
I’ve spent a lot of my days walking in this city and have spotted Hassaan floating by, with his headphones on, moving to the beat of the street. I too enjoy walking with my music (thank Luda, for the iPod) and beating the pavement, taking in the city streets, the people, the air and the atmosphere as I listen to the beats that move me. Hassaan seems to also share this passion and I can see how that could be a major influence in not only his music, but his perception of the world, his ability to see the beauty and the best in people. All the while, he is able to acknowledge the ugly, but build towards a better future out of that rubble.
Maybe it’s the pains he has endured losing his family members at such a young age and banding with those beside him to create new life from the lost.
To suffer is nothing new, we all lose loved ones, but Hassaan’s music, message and story is that of perseverance, God and grace.
It took me a few minutes to get Hassaan alone for this interview, but he finished his set and kindly gave a few minutes to talk to him while his people hated me for it. Jokingly hated me for it, but still hated me.
I wasn’t sure where to start with this interview, but as I approached, he asked me if I had the “Soul for Sale” album, which I did not. I picked it up and noticed it was the artwork he had whipped together just before the show for the inlay of the CD. So, I asked him if he went to school for art at all. This is where it went…
“Going to school…..Well, I didn’t feel like it was a waste of time, I’m just the type of person that gets antsy. It was like I was learning, but I had to go through stuff I already knew to get to the stuff I wanted to learn. It was like back-pedaling to move forward. During that time of going back to school I learned a lot about myself though. It was a lesson for me, I was going through a lot at the time. I just wanted to do something better with my time instead of working a dead end job."
ACT:LIVE: I think that happens to a lot of young people who may be frustrated or stuck in life. They go back to school to regain their passions.
“If I could do anything with a degree, I would be an art teacher for like, little kids. I’m real good with kids. There’s something special about the imagination of a child, they are more advanced then we are and they are unhampered with.
Rather than try to shape it, if I was a teacher, I would let them all get loose because I never had that opportunity when I was growing up as kid in school. It’s like the majority of teachers were there to get a check. If you’re going to teach someone you have to enjoy doing it. You have to tailor yourself to different people’s personalities. “
“They have the attitude of if you learn, you learn. If you don’t, you don’t. That shit is bogus.”
ACT:LIVE: So you were moving toward the future? Where did you see yourself going? I know you went back for art, but where with the music?
“For me, everyday of the future is now. For real. I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I hope for, pray for and wish for, but you know, I’m living within the moment. I’m living in right now. I just know that any day could be my last. The gift that I have, I could lose it tomorrow. We take a lot for granted, the gifts we have. I might not be able to have what we don’t normally pay attention to, like the ability to pick up a spoon, put the spoon in some food and scoop food in my mouth, stuff like that, you know?”
“You know, a lot of people usually ask me questions about music, I guess it’s because I’m a musician, but I’d rather talk about what inspires me instead."
ACT:LIVE: Well, what inspires you? I’ve heard you reference your brothers, who are you speaking of?
“My older brother Bobby, he was here tonight. He’s probably like 13 years older than me. We have a sister too, my sister got killed when I was like six though. Quarterpound, well he’s my brother, but he’s my best friend. He’s like family, so he is my brother from another mother.
I was inspired without even knowing I was inspired. Bobby helped shape my knowledge of music, anything he did, I did. I was his little brother so he was gonna try to get me into what he was into. Like Yo! MTV Raps, he used to tape all the rap videos, he would go and buy whatever was out like every week. When he was in the service, he would come home and give me a walkman and a new tape.
I don’t really feel like it’s even mine (the music). (The music) is cultivating me, and I’m cultivating it. It gives me more than I could ever give it. I try to match the size of that shadow. I never feel like I will ever be the best, even when I get to a point where I feel like I am good, I have another step to get better. People think that I’m at a certain level and they think, “Oh, Hassaan is mad good man”, but this shit is a struggle. Anyone with a creative mind will tell you this shit don’t just flow out. If dudes tell you they can just do this that and the third, they are straight up lying. There are times when I get up on stage and I can’t think of anything. To the audience it’s like, “Oh Shit, he’s goin’ in on that!”, but to me the whole time I’m rhyming, I’m thinking to myself, “I’ve said that before."
I’m inspired by life to do this. I know life is greater than me. I know there’s somebody out there that’s ten times better than I am, so I try to do things to the best of my capacity. I know there’s somebody out there that’s studying me, just like as a child, I looked up people the same way to find routes to try to surpass them."
"The gift to be able to give is amazing. That’s what I feel like I’m doing more than just rapping for people, I feel like I’m giving people ideas.”
ACT:LIVE: Your influence is also giving people a platform, giving validity to what you do in the hip-hop art. You’re showing others that people want this, I think.
“People want it, and a lot of people don’t even know they want it.”
"I get a kick out of being able to say that I do this. It ain't about fame, it ain't about money, it ain't about being better than anybody or nothing like that, I’m just glad that god chose me."
"Music is a universal language and life is a universal language."
"I feel that to be able to do any art form in this life, you have to be able to appreciate somebody else’s art.”
"Realistically, we don’t know everything. People need to step out of that “god” complex. I’m being taught, every time I listen to a beat, every time I listen to anything, even if I don’t normally like it. If I listen to it, it might spark an idea."
"Life is like LEGOs. It’s all these parts that I pull from, they are all essential to the outcome.”
ACT:LIVE: I totally agree. What keeps it fresh for you?
“When I started my set tonight, I did like four or five songs off the head, but when it comes to written material I don’t like to do it a lot because I know it too well. I always want to say some new shit. I might see somebody looking at me a certain way, so I’ll give them something to look at me for. I like to give people something everybody in the room can relate to, like some Saturday morning cartoons or some shit. “
ACT:LIVE: That came close to a question of mine down the line but I’ll ask now, what were your favorite cartoons?
“I used to watch Comic Strip, remember that? That shit that used to come out on ABC. Beetle Bailey and all that shit. Street Frogs, Thundercats, Tom and Jerry…because I’m an artist at heart man, I used to always watch cartoons. A lot of that Japanimation shit I can’t get in to. The art is great, but it puts me to sleep. That ain’t my type of thinking. I like the art though."
ACT:LIVE: What was your favorite cereal to eat while watching?
“I used to rotate, man. I’d go from liking Cinnamon Toast Crunch, to Fruity Pebbles, to Apple Jacks, all those."
ACT:LIVE: What are the projects in the works?
“Me and Mo Producto are getting ready to do part two of the “Everything” mixtape. We’re thinking about calling it “Everything Else”, but I doubt that will be the name of it. This one’s gonna have some features on it. My boy FINALE, from Detroit… my man Scribe, who is another cat that’s my brother. Scribe’s from Rochester. Scribe and Mo Producto have another joint coming to look our for. Invincible, she’s from a group called The Anomalies, a crew of all girls in Detroit. They all know Dilla and everything, they all came up together. Matter of fact, she’s in the group, The Platinum Pied Pipers."
"I like talking about other people than I do myself", he laughs.
"I’m doing some feature shit too. I’m getting ready to be on this dude Crisis’ tape, he’s from The Justice League. He does production for them. I’m getting ready to get on some joints with my man Oddisee from Maryland/DC area. I’ll be on that compilation. I got one of the tracks done already, I just gotta buff out the kinks."
“And, my fingers are crossed, but DITC is doing another album. They are doing it with Boss Money and my man JB, he manages Minnesota and Minnesota has done production on Mos Def’s last two projects. He also does a lot of the music for Def Poets."
“The man I would love to run back into is Common. He is one of my favorite MC’s. He and Black Thought. They are a few of the dudes that are still innovative. Black Thought is from that class of dudes like Kane and them, he’s nasty."
ACT:LIVE: Are you going to try and stop in and say hi when the Roots come to the Rochester Music Fest?
“Oh, yeah man. I’ve never missed a Roots show that came close to Rochester. I feel sorry for people that don’t try to expand their horizons and check out these artists. It’s not even about their show; it’s about how much they appreciate music. The energy is fucking ridiculous."
"Today’s listener is afraid of hearing something that makes you think, that’s all it boils down to.”
ACT:LIVE: Everyone’s yelling for you, so last question, everybody’s got a superhero name, what’s yours?
“I don’t have a superhero name, but a lot of people call me “The Two Mic Specialist”, live via satellite…thanks man, peace.”
I want to thank Hassaan again for giving some time and also thank Provide and Frank at the door for helping me out again. Drew, the proprietor of Dub Land Underground, you’re a good dude and you’re doing a great job. Shout out to Kristin at the bar downstairs, keep the Tully comin’. While I have your attention though, what the fuck is up with my $18 tab for two drinks?!
To quickly recap the show, well Hassaan kicked it for a straight hour at least. He started with a clip of freestyles for the first half and went back into some album cuts from the Soul for Sale disc, including the title track. That song is the real ish and was produced by the well-known Kev Brown. His DJ, and house DJ for Wednesday nights, Rodeo Fab kills it every week. It’s nice to have an old-school head down there rocking for the crowd. Props to DJ Private Eye for keeping the warm-up.
I didn’t get to talk ask Hassaan about the Emilio Rojas and M-Phazes connection, but, next time kiddies. Next time.
Right now we're listening to:
Reece Q "Anthrax Face" ("Quote To Self", 2008, ACT:LIVE)