OG Maco, the 22-year-old screamo-rap firebrand, bursts into Atlanta's Quality Control studios exactly how you'd hope, a bare-chested, heavily tattooed whoosh of energy, offering a huge high-five to fellow QC signee Skippa Da Flippa.
"Let me put my shirt on, so you know I'm in professional [mode]," he says.
He pops on a black shirt, but he is probably more recognizable shirtless. In his video for "U Guessed It," Maco plays the kinetic, spasmodic ringleader of an a impromptu moshpit held in a hotel elevator. The clip is currently at more than 10 million YouTube views, the single is riding up and down the lower reaches of the Hot 100 and Vine has made it a go-to anthem for six-second parodies (his favorite is "Hump Day Camel").
The infectious track, little more than a blippy beat and a vocal performance that builds from a mumble to shout, the verse rage-stumbling into the chorus, was inspired by an angry night returning from a night drinking at Hooters.
"I was actually talking to them about how my engineer was lazy as shit," says Maco. "I was sitting there like, 'Man, I bet this nigga ain't done no beats.' We got back in the house and sure enough. . .So I slap him in the back of the head. I went upstairs and I tried to sit and not do nothin'; but I was just so mad I was like, 'Fuck it!'"
Maco says that, at about 1 a.m., he got up, went back downstairs, slapped his engineer on the head again, grabbed the headphones and told him to press record. He angrily freestyled over the minimal, barely-there piano-creep, inventing lyrics as he heard the beat for the very first time.
"I didn't even hear the song for real for real until the next day. I was drunk as shit. I woke up like, 'Oh, I did something last night, huh?'"
Tapping into his rage was a turning point for Maco, who had been uploading more traditionally lyrical, occasionally Auto-Tune-crooned music to Soundcloud for about 11 months prior.
"Like in life, I was always aggro, always angry, yelling and shit," he says, adding that he's seen friends die or get locked up. "So when it was time to make my music, I was calm — that was my calm. Then I couldn't be angry in life no more because I had a bunch of situations going on. Me just losing it? I'll be gone. I'll go in prison for a long time. So I couldn't just be as wild as I used to be. But I'm still angry, though. I got to put it somewhere."
Maco credits his father — a systems engineer and first-generation Nigerian whose tastes run the gamut from 2Pac to Abba to Sarah MacLachlan — for raising him with open ears. While Maco was bumping Atlanta staples like Ludacris, he was also attuned to metalcore bands like the Devil Wears Prada and Emarosa.
"I was just happy my dad was a foreigner, because I never had that box — 'I can't listen to that, I can't listen to that.' All these rock stars and shit were like superheroes," says Maco. "I think I was maybe one of the first person to realize [rappers were] gonna be the new rock stars. I seen Coolio's retarded ass, he got the weird-ass hair. 'That nigga's weird as shit!' But you got to feel him, though! And that's when it started clicking."
Maco's first success was with "Road Running," a woozy sing-song that started getting burn in Atlanta clubs. At the time, Maco was making his money "in the streets" (he won't elaborate, but says he would run into members of Migos before they were famous for rapping). He worked with Atlanta's raspy Rome Fortune and, while they were in Washington, D.C. for the Trillectro music festival this summer, they shot a music video for "Four Seasons," off Fortune's most recent mixtape, at the Renaissance Hotel. At the end, they sat around tired and someone suggested they shoot a video for Maco's "U Guessed It," a song whose performance that weekend "turned a growing crowd on its ear," according to HipHopWired.
"I'm like, 'Shit, How we going to shoot a video? We don't have shit.' They're like, 'Man, we got this hotel, we got this camera, and we got you.' So I was like, 'Fuck it — let's shoot a video.'
Maco wagers that the video took about 10 minutes to shoot, in two takes.
"Started on a floor, went around, fucked that floor up. Went up a floor, poured everything into the elevator going up, fucked the floor up above us. Recorded everything on that floor, fucked the floor up coming back down. I slid off and the cops were right there. I was like, 'Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you.' They're like, 'We're obviously cops,' but I obviously didn't give a fuck. Like, I had just had the most amazing day of my life — I never performed at Trillectro, I had crowds that was just ready for me, shit like that. So I was just feelin' on top of the world!"
Once the video took off, Maco signed to Quality Control, the label on the cutting edge of "New Atlanta," joining established stars such as Migos and rising talents like Skippa Da Flippa and Rich the Kid. Inviting Rolling Stone inside in early October, the Quality Control studios is about two weeks old and still has that new studio smell. The speakers are new, sleek and plentiful. MTV Jams plays on a monster flatscreen — other ones show a security system thorough enough to protect Dr. No. The vibe is friendly and laidback, seeming less like a hit factory and more like a clubhouse for creativity.
"The fame and attention; I don't care about that. For real, that shit don't mean nothing bro. The thing is, nobody [at QC] care about it," says Maco. "It's not like it's a culture of, 'You gotta do this and that.' None of us give a fuck. Like, we're mad at each other for not talking to each other for four days, five days — that's how hungry we is, 'cause we always working. I've never had to feel like I'm around superstars. We really all right in there together, because like I said, we all came from the same shit. We all remember each other from the streets, before a fuckin' record ever got recorded."
Expanding on this work ethic, Maco explains he has three albums already done. His recent mixtape, Live Life 2, made in two days, dropped late last month, serving as a reprimand and catch-up for people who weren't down before "U Guessed It." He wants to start doing more traditional rapping as "Maco Maddox," and makes sure to hammer home a distinction between Maddox and his OG Maco persona.
"[OG Maco] is the high-energy, you go get fucked up, fuck the club up, beat that nigga up you don't like, fuck the bitches you do like to it. All that to OG Maco, all of that. Fuck your life up to OG Maco. For real. OG Maco is really what almost got me sent away for 20 years. As good as the music is that comes from releasing the struggle that way, you can't do that all the time.
"But right now, I just got out of it. I'm just happy I'm rapping. I just stopped carrying a gun every day. I just stopped having situations. Look, man. You don't understand how recent this "just" is…I just got out of it. So I have a real appreciation for it, because a lot of my niggas is still in for it. The only way to continue past that is to continue past it. And I speak for more than just niggas who out here trappin'; I speak for everybody. If you're in a struggle or you in a hustle and you trying to do better for yourself, that's what I speak for…I'm not a rapper, so I don't want them to label me a rapper. That ain't me."
So what are you?
"I'm a rock star," he says. "I'm an artist."