When people talk about Detroit, cars and bankruptcy are probably the first words to enter the conversation. It seems as though people forget that the “Motor City” also breeds legends or as Willie puts it, legends who still living. The birthplace of Motown Records, the hometown of rapper Eminem, and the city that’s currently on the shoulders of Big Sean, it’s clear that Detroit is home to those who use music as a way to get out and tell their stories. However, I’m only here to shed light on their diamonds in the rough. Getting radio play after only 3 months of rapping, it’s no surprise Willie was able to snag an interview with Life in a Pile. We discussed everything from celebrity crushes and lessons he learned from his grandfather to when he really became Willie Mac Jr:
Life in a Pile: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what helped you realize music was for you.
Willie Mac Jr.: Well, I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, basketball is my thing. I never really even considered the idea of going into music until it just happened. It was kind of like the tape, it was when I found myself. I was focused on basketball my whole life, but I’ve always loved music. I’m the youngest of two older brothers who had great success in basketball [NBA stars Joe & Jordan Crawford]. So with me, I loved basketball but there was always doubt because I didn’t know if I could live up to what they did.
LP: Where did you hoop on scholarship?
WJ: The first two years I went to Bradley University in Illinois, it’s a division I. I transferred to Valdosta State, a division II school in Georgia.
LP: What were you doing when you heard your song on the radio for the first time?
WJ: I was headed to open gym; I was headed to play basketball and I was with my brother. We were expecting it to come on but we were still questioning it to see if it was really going to happen. It came on and we pulled over and got out of the car. We were in a white neighborhood too and we turned the music all the way up. Yeah, that was fun though!
LP: When did you become Willie Mac Jr.? What happened in your life that confirmed you were unapologetically you?
WJ: I had just finished my junior season at Valdosta and that spring, I had to pass a certain amount of classes because I dropped a few classes that fall. I passed them all except one and it was mainly because of my attendance. I failed that class so I lost my scholarship. I didn’t know what was next because I had already transferred once and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to find another school after that. I just so happen to be living with my brothers in LA that summer, and for some reason they just sent me the Black Grammys beat and told me, “write to this.” I wrote to it and recorded myself rapping but it was just for fun. They plugged it into the car and listened to it while they were driving and shit. I didn’t even think it was that good because I had wrote it in like a minute! After that, I wrote to two of the beats that was in my older brother’s email in one night. He texted D Digital for more beats and I ended up writing like 13 songs in 7 days. I was really just doing them for fun and we were going to be the ones listening to them [but] we started playing them at kickbacks just to see how people would react to them and they liked them! The worst thing anyone said to me about rap was that they could tell I just started and there’s room for improvement, and that’s not bad at all. After that summer I fell in love with it and I ran with it because I wasn’t just rapping, I was really telling my story. I wasn’t just rapping about money, cars, and hoes. I was really telling what I was going through and that aspect of it made me fall in love with it. I was like, “aight, I’m cool on basketball. I love it but I don’t love it as much as this.”
L.P: How old were you when your granddad passed and what kind of effect did it have on you?
WJ: When my granddad passed, I was at Valdosta so I was 21 going on 22 because it was about two years ago. I knew it was coming so I kind of prepared myself for it; he was 95-96. It was still devastating for me because it was only the second time I had lost someone close to me and [he] was one of my idols. It definitely hurt but I was so prepared for it that I bounced back pretty quickly. It also happened during the middle of the basketball season so I had something to take my mind off it even if it was only for two hours. I was prepared for it but when I sat back and thought about that summer I was in LA, it made me want to pursue rap more because I knew I could help him live on. It helped me find myself, honestly.
LP: What’s one thing your grandfather taught you that you will cherish forever?
WJ: He wasn’t a person who gave you lectures, he was more of a “by example” kind of person. Just watching him everyday – the way he loved my grandmother, the way he loved us, the way he protected us, he wasn’t scared of nothing or no one. He was like that protective wall in our lives.
LP: You said growing up in a two-parent home is rare and I agree. What do you think is the biggest plus when growing up with both parents?
WJ: Even the people who grow up with two parents, it’s different for everyone because people instill different things in their kids. For us, it was the support system. No matter what happened, they had our backs. Even when I got kicked out of school that last time, of course [my mom] yelled at me and she was hurt but she quickly moved on to what’s next. She had me focused on what’s next instead of sulking in my pain. They all taught us right and wrong and disciplined us but it was the fact that they had our backs through everything. Even when we were in the wrong, they would let us know that but when we were out in public they showed that they were with us instead of whoever. They supported the hell out of us.
LP: How does it feel being the brother of two NBA players?
WJ: It had its pluses. You focus on the pluses more because it’s rare for a family to have two NBA stars. It still showed me that I could do anything, but the pressure when I was young was unbearable. I was young so I wasn’t confident enough to be like, “yeah, I’m just as good as them.” Even they would say it but I would still question it. So when I would go to barbershops or go to school, people would say, “you’ll never be as good as them.” That had a crazy toll on me, but it made me stronger because through all of that I still performed when it was time to perform. That gave me the confidence to say I’m cool on basketball when I found music. Im strong and confident enough in myself now to put the basketball down and pick up the mic.
LP: Is music your way of creating a separate lane from your brothers?
WJ: Yeah, but it more so just became that for me. It’s not like I was searching for it because I got to a point with basketball where I was confident enough to keep chasing that. The music just came out of nowhere. There was never anything in my life that I could compare to the love I had for basketball so when I found music and it was the same or stronger, it was like “oh, this is my lane.” I prayed on it, and talked to the closest people in my life about it and it just felt right.
LP: Right Now seems as though it’s dedicated to someone special. Are you currently in a relationship?
WJ: Ah, you gonna do that to me? That was based on a true situation but that’s as deep as I’m going. [laughs]
LP: Who are your 3 celebrity crushes? Which one are you f*cking? Marrying? Killing?
WJ: I’m marrying Jhene Aiko for sure. Fuck Rihanna. My third? I guess I gotta kill Beyonce because she’s married.
LP: What is the significance of 5522?
WJ: To answer that I gotta tell you how it came about. The skit that’s on the mixtape came before the song. Before I got to LA, my brothers were in Vegas for my oldest brother’s birthday. [The skit came from] somebody pulling out an iPhone, talking shit on the camera. That was before I started rapping so a month or so later, I guess that skit was just subconsciously in my head or something because it just came about. That was also the summer when I bought my first pair of woods. My brother bought like his 6th pair. It came about naturally but it was also the first song I made that people really got hyped to. I have a video on my computer where we played the rough version and everybody just went crazy! That was the first time I seen anyone do that to any of my songs. It was the first time I felt like, “aight, I can really do this.”
LP: Who’s apart of inć? How much does your crew motivate you?
WJ: It’s a lot of us; it’s like 12 people total. You want me to name them all? I’ll give you Ace, he’s a clothing designer for LEF. Cash, he got a vintage site and it’s called M.I.A Vintage. I’ll just say those two because they’re the two who already got their things moving. It’s about 12-13 of us total. Ace motivate me to stay creative, that’s his lane with designing clothes because you have to be creative with that. I compete with him on the daily. Cash is more like the business side; he knows the money and the grind. I can go on about everybody but with those two, we push each other and we motivate each other. Not everyone grew up with a support system like mine, but if we don’t motivate each other then we won’t reach the dreams we want to reach.
LP: As a black man who faces adversity daily, what do you say to those who respond to black lives matter with “all lives matter?”
WJ: I mean, I understand it and I get what they’re trying to say but I don’t think they get what we’re trying to say. When we say black lives matter, we don’t mean all lives don’t matter. If you look at what’s happen just in the past year, it seems like society doesnt know black lives matter. When we say it, it’s more for them to realize that we matter not for us to say they don’t. That’s how I look at it.
LP: What’s your favorite song on the project? Where did you get the inspiration to make it?
WJ: It’s hard for me to pick one because this is the first [mixtape]. Half of the songs on the mixtape are what I wrote the first week I started rapping and the other half are what I wrote a couple of months down the line. If I had to pick one, I would say memory lane because it was the first time I wrote a meaningful song. The lyrics are truly my life. When I wrote that song, I realized that I don’t have to just make 5522 or songs like that; I can also go a little bit deeper and I’m still testing that lane to see how deep I can go.
LP: What are 3 things you absolutely need with you in the studio as you record a song?
WJ: Well I need my phone because I gotta use the Notepad. I need some Hennessy. Um, I can’t really pick a third.
LP: Who do you listen to when you’re not listening to your own work?
WJ: J. Cole, Kanye, Jay-Z. Those are the top 3 and I listen to Pac.
LP: In “I Aint Perfect” you said you were close to crying. Why was that song so emotional for you?
WJ: When I wrote it, I was in a place of confusion. I had just been arrested, my court date was like a week away, my parents and my oldest brother were pissed at me. A lot of people were upset with me at the time, and I was upset with myself. I just wrote about it. When I wrote it, I didn’t plan on recording it; I wrote it to get the feelings out but it ended up making the tape. That’s one of my favorites too.
LP: How’s China? Will we be hearing about your experience in any new songs?
WJ: China is crazy, but yeah I’ve already written some stuff about it. It’s been a great experience for me; it’s my first time out of the country besides Canada but I don’t really count Canada because it’s across the street. [China’s] been new. It’s been tough for me. I’ve been here since two days before Thanksgiving. It’s been tough but I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it a lot more.
LP: What was it like growing up in Detroit? How much of an impact has it had on who you are today?
WJ: It was great for me because I feel like I’ve seen more sides than a lot of people. When I was young, my oldest brother was in HS and he was like the biggest person in the city. He was in HS 2000-2004 and he was on the best basketball team in the state and they were like #7 in the country, and he was ranked like #6 in the country overall. When they had a game, the whole city showed up. When they played the city championship game, Kwame Kilpatrick postponed one of his meetings so he could attend the game, it was THAT big. So I seen that side of Detroit at an early age where everybody in the city showing you love then I seen the other side where you’re running around the streets with your friends. I’ve experienced everything I possibly could growing up in the city. Now that I’ve moved on into this lane, it allows me to speak on what I’ve seen. It made me tougher and smarter. Everything I’ve learned, I can give credit to the city in someway and that’s not a good answer, I really mean that.
You can check out When I Really Became Willie here!
But in the meantime, here’s a song you can’t find on the tape:
Thanks for reading!