Rooted… with Lil Macks
23 Dec 2022
Producers: Hiba Hassan + Akeal Iqbal
Journalist: Tom Atkinson
Photographer: Oliver Buckle
Lil Macks is a rising star in the scene, who having been raised in London, now resides in Milton Keynes. He broke onto the scene in 2020 after the release of his debut single ‘Top Floor.’ His popularity has only increased since then has gone viral with his most popular song ‘Oslo‘ and his feature on Mixtape Madness’ very own Mad About Bars freestyle series. We recently visited him in Milton Keynes, taking some photos and exploring the city he calls home.
He brings a smooth melodic flow and a variety of topics in his music, which have made him stand out. 2023 is looking like a big one for him and he is set to release a mixtape in the future. As 2022 draws to a close, we chatted with Lil Macks and discussed his roots and how they made him the artist he is today. Our chat discusses many different layers of the man, and after reading this maybe he’ll be your new favourite artist.
First of all, who is Lil Macks, and whereabouts in the U.K. are you from?
Lil Macks is a Somali artist. He was raised in London and I moved to Milton Keynes.
I don’t know much about Milton Keynes. What’s it like there compared to London?
It is smaller. It’s like a bunch of people from London living in a smaller city. It’s pretty much similar, you’ve got the same kind of culture, but it is less (busy). But, Milton Keynes has started to get a bit busier over the last couple of years.
Was there anyone in Milton Keynes who inspired you to get into rapping, or was it artists from outside the area?
It was actually someone from my own home, it was my brother. He used to make music and then when he went to jail, I almost picked up the baton. His rap name was Macks.
What was growing up in that area like and how did it influence you as a person?
When I first moved here, you expect it to be (like the) countryside or something. I was thinking I ain’t trying to hear this. Then when I get here, it’s the same things I see in London. There wasn’t much of a difference. Everyone was doing the same thing that they’d be doing in any hood that you will see around the U.K. It’s almost like you are seeing the same things and you’re still growing up in a similar environment. You just got to think outside the box and do something else. It was a challenge and still is a challenge, but you got to (try and) win every day.
When you were growing up, what was the music you grew up around and how did it influence your own sound?
I grew up listening to Chicago music, all the Drill music back then everyone around me was listening to it. When I first started making music I was imitating that and talking bare Drill s**t. But then, I wanted to develop as an artist myself and I started really, really being vulnerable and sensitive. It started off like that (making Drill), then I have almost gone off into a ‘ you know what, let me do my own thing.’ The artists like Lil Durk and La Capone, it was (those) kind of artists I was trying to imitate when I first started rapping. It’s unreleased, (the) music (from) when I first started going studio. I (was) trying to do what they do and talk (that) s**t. But, you then understand people want relatable things as well. It’s about expanding.
You’ve talked about it a bit already, but when did you realise music was going to be the path for you and how did you get into creating music? Was it your brother’s influence, or was it other factors as well?
From young, three of my brothers in a room would be just freestyling. Music was a thing in my household. Actually taking a step towards making music that I am thinking about releasing, it wasn’t a lightbulb-in-the-dark kind of moment, it just happened. I came across my manager who I’ve known for years and it was almost ‘shall we do it?’ As it started going on, for a good year and a half it wasn’t like I was feeling ‘music is my ting, I’m going to fully commit to it.’ But, I always loved music and realised man can actually excel in something I love doing and it was going good.
Now, I have got that approval this year, where I was like ‘you know what it’s that time, why not go for it.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I’m here and I have done two years (of) groundwork, man has put in the foundation, let me take it to the whole world. That’s the mood I am in right now.
With music, it’s not going to be an overnight thing. You build up your success, you build up towards that moment where you go viral. It is not something that happens overnight. To know that and to see it come to fruition, must be a good feeling.
It is a good feeling. But, I don’t like the moments where everything seems too simple because it seems like I am doing something wrong. It’s not an easy thing to be doing. It is the moments when you have to keep working because any minute now, I don’t know who can come out of this game, pop out and start overtaking us. You have to be on your ball 24/7. That’s the type of s**t that I love. I love the pressure and the competition as I know I’m the hardest. On the outside looking in, it seems impossible, almost like ‘can my man do it?’
Your track ‘Oslo‘ has had a lot of viral success, I believe it is your most-played track on Spotify. Did you approach this any differently from how you normally make music?
Nah I didn’t. You know what the funny thing is when I first made that song it was bare of the mandem in the studio and it wasn’t a proper studio session. I remember I heard that beat in a session, laid down three lines at first and I left that session and I swear to you I said ‘that was the worst studio session I have had in my life.’ I remember saying that to my bredren. We’ve left now and my friend keeps talking about it, saying ‘try make that song, trust me.’ I have gone back and made a little chorus and a verse and it has gone to a certain point.
I’m on Live now and just playing the song, it’s playing in the back and I am just singing to it. Next few weeks, it’s just going off and at that point, the song isn’t even finished. I’ve had to go back to the studio and finish it. It was a song at first (that) I didn’t think was all that, but it just started blowing up. That just shows you don’t know which of your songs the fans will take to and will end up taking to the world and back. It showed me you never really know what your music is until you put it out there and let them judge it and receive it. It was a good feeling.
You didn’t approach it differently, but something different happened compared to your normal stuff. As you said, you didn’t expect it to be a big hit and you weren’t happy with it. That’s one of the other things, I imagine having other people with you in the studio, it can be a good thing. They can be there to say ‘no, no this is good, keep at it,’ when you doubt yourself.
Up until that point, I have never made a song with that kind of sound. I feel like it’s another pointer to say, yeah keep expanding because you can try something else that can be that different sound that people take to again. It was different from what we normally hear of Lil Macks, but it is hard and that is what people like. You have to keep expanding and growing as an artist and try new things.
From what I could see with your music, you seem to have your own musical pathway compared to a lot of U.K. artists. Was this planned or was it just the natural progression of your music?
I feel like it’s just me because there’s only one me. I have really lived my experiences and gone through my life. I’m not trying to portray anything else other than that. You couldn’t sound like me if you wanted to because you have to go through what I went through to really say what I am trying to say. It’s something you can’t imitate unless you jump in my shoes and go live the life I have lived.
It has been two years since you first released music. What has changed for you during that time period?
A lot of things. I feel like my whole life changed in the sense of how people are starting to move, the way your friendship dynamic changes. You start looking at people in a different light because they looked at you in a different light. It completely made me realise the environment I had been living in and how negative it can be in someone’s life. When you get put in another environment that’s positive for you, where people are working towards something, when you come back to the environment you grew up in you see the difference. You can level it out and not everyone has the chance to do that in life. They’re stuck with the environment they have to fight, but you can never win.
It’s changed a lot and it’s let my dreams come to a plan. It’s not just dreaming about something, it is about waking up and planning something. You can make that happen if you put in the work. It’s been life-changing in all aspects of my life.
When you have the ability to move away from where you are from and go out and explore the world a bit, it does open your eyes and expand your mind. There are other places out there, other stuff going on and you take that knowledge and you can bring it back to people your friends with at home. I can imagine being a music artist and successful, it re-evaluates your friendships. You realise who’s really there for you and who is there for you for a specific reason.
I’m not successful though. It’s almost to the point where people have built in their minds that the people around you, who know exactly where you’re going they plant those seeds that you are successful, to say you’ve done it. It’s a negative environment to be around. I would rather be around people telling me ‘no, you should be doing this, you’re not where you are supposed to be.’ If people are always happy with where you are at that current moment in time, it is not the right people to have around you.
You don’t want that negativity around you. You want people around you who are there to give you criticism when you need to, but who are positive and happy for you. If somebody is not feeling good for you, that’s not a good friend.
You said you are not a success. At the end of the day, you might not have reached the peak of your career, but you have songs people know and you’re living your dream. That’s a success man, you should be proud of that.
I’ll say it is a success story.
What have your interactions with your fans been like and have you noticed any commonality between them and yourself?
You know what’s so funny, I feel like my fans are like me in a way. They troll the same way I do. It’s people that I know love my music and (have) been supporting me for so long. They message me like ‘put this song out’ and they’ll troll me in a way. I feel like I’ve really related to my fans, given them enough of my time for them to understand who I am and where I am trying to go. But, there are still some things that I am withholding that are private in my life.
That’s another thing that reminds me how important that is because there are people (who) support me and put their time into my music. I think you see it with Spotify Wrapped. The people I have come across, it is crazy. Some conversations I have had are life-changing and you really speak to people. They talk about their experiences and certain lyrics that have made them feel good. It’s a good feeling man.
What are your thoughts on the current U.K. music scene?
That’s a good question. It’s not something I really look at a lot. It matters more to me what I am doing. In a sense of the music industry, people are just waiting for a little bit of originality in (how) things are being done. I feel like U.K. music is a strange one because the U.K. don’t allow themselves to have an identity. They will only be behind someone when they’ve gotten to that place, where it’s undeniable that they have blown up. I feel that U.K. music has a negative mindset, but that isn’t going to hold me back because I don’t make music for just the people from the country I’m in. If I was, what are you even doing? Music is for the whole world.
That’s good that it is not holding you back, you still feel confident to make the music you want to make. I can see what you are saying as when I spoke to D Double E, he said to me ‘I feel like with the U.K. they focus on one thing,’ when there are so many different types of rap or music in general. People need to get behind artists, whatever their level of success because that’s how you make someone successful, pushing their music, getting behind them.
But, at the same time, if you as an artist (see) people aren’t getting behind you, you can’t look at it and say ‘oh it is the U.K. music scene that doesn’t want to get behind it.’ We’ve seen them get behind people when they are actually hard and bringing something to the table. You have to bring something they’re interested in, for them to support you. You can’t just be ‘ I am a music guy, support me,’ you have to think outside the box. But, make them interested and keep them interested because people think making them interested is the only mission. It’s both sides of the coin, but I feel it is more on the artist. I know if you’re doing something original, are really getting out there, and showing them something to be interested in, they will get behind you.
You have got to have that balance where you make music that you think is going to interest people, but you are not just doing it for that reason. It’s got to be original to you.
There’s also a balance, but the hardest thing is you have to make a way to make them both the same. You’ve got to (understand) people’s interests and (enjoy) what you like doing (at) the same (time). That’s why music is a 1-in-a-million kind of chance. There’s no certain way of doing it. They either f**k with you or they don’t.
What do you get up to outside of making music?
Outside of music, I don’t really do a lot, the same thing as your average Joe. I got the gym, I spend a lot of time with my family. But, a lot of my life I put into trying to better my life. So, music is my main focus at this point in my life, it is a lot of music. Outside of music as weird as it sounds, what I like doing is making music. I like going to the studio, even if I don’t make music. More times than not, I will end up making a song anyway. But then, everything has got to move forward in your life, so a lot of the time I am looking for someone to network (with) and do this, do that.
Especially now I’m starting to work on the rollout of my tape. Everything has to be on point (with) what I’m doing, it is tape mode. But, I like doing this, that is my hobby.
You just mentioned there that you are dropping a tape soon, what is going to be the message of this tape, and is there going to be anything different that your fans might not expect?
I think there are one-two sounds in there on the tape that I fully attack and try something new. But, recently I have been consistent with my music and I’ve been really tapping back in with my fans. I have been known to take a few breaks. This tape is almost like a turning point, where after I drop this tape (people will see) I am coming for it. My fans are going to feel that just from listening to my music and they’re understanding. They know, ‘he’s dropped this tape, it’s going good, it’s all bangers.’ I’m just picking up the momentum and making my name the main name of 2023. I don’t care what other artists are dropping, Lil Macks will be at the front of all of that. The music he is putting out, the content he’s putting out is undeniable.
Which artist would you like to collaborate with who would take your sound in a different direction?
I always wanted to work with singers. The R’n’B singers I want to work with (them) because I like their kind of music. People like Ella Mai, I would love to make a song with her. From my kind of sound the people I listen to are Lil Durk, Lil Baby, (and) Young Adz in the U.K. They are the people in my genre that are at the top of it. But, in other genres, (there’s) people you wouldn’t expect me to say. Another U.K. group called FLO they are hard and I like their songs as well. They are proper R’n’B singers.
If you were to collaborate with Ella Mai or FLO, would that be a duet kind of vibe or would you have them on the chorus?
It’s all about catching a vibe, and really seeing what everyone is best at, what makes the most sense. I could say I want a song with Ella Mai and I don’t feel the vibe. It’s all about catching the vibe. I can name whatever artist. There is probably someone I wouldn’t have named that you would say if I got in the studio with them it would be a banger. At the end of the day, it is about catching a vibe with someone in the studio and going off of their vibe, them going off my vibe and both attacking the beat.
My final question is, what are your ambitions for 2023 and beyond?
My main goal is to reach another level. I feel like in 2021 I set the starting blocks, in 2022 I had the chance and just made my name here and there. People are like ‘Lil Macks, yeah I heard of him.’ In 2023, I want to put a face to the name, get out there and start going across different countries, and really put my name down there and then go from there.
That little bit of progression each year, setting a new goal, hitting it. Manageable, workable goals.
Whilst you are doing this, you’re releasing songs and that. Anything can happen within that year to completely speed up the whole process, you never know. But, you have to keep on a schedule because you are not chasing a certain hit, it is going to progress anyway. My music is going to progress quicker than I think it will. We just see how it goes, and stick to the plan.