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EXCLUSIVE: Mack Wilds Discusses Remaking A Michael Jackson Classic & Weird “The Wire” Stalkers

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(AllHipHop Features) Though many have tried, the list of actors that have been able to successfully jump into making music professionally is a rather short one.

Jamie Foxx, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Lopez are a few award-winning music artists whose faces became famous first for their roles on television and film, and now Mack Wilds is one young star that is off to a great start to adding his name to that conversation.

Appearing as Tristan Wilds, the Staten Island born entertainer first broke on the scene as one of the bright teenage talents on season four of HBO’s The Wire. He later starred as Dixon Wilson on The CW’s reboot of 90210 and was seen in major motion pictures The Secret Life of Bees and Red Tails.

Last year, Wilds dropped Tristan and picked up Mack when he made the decision to pursue a career in music full-time. Mack Wilds’ turn as a Hip Hop/R&B performer was a hit right out the gate as his Salaam Remi-helmed debut album New York: A Love Story earned the 24-year-old critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.

The “Own It” singer did not take home the Grammy in January, but Wilds is up for Best New Artist against Ariana Grande, August Alsina, Rich Homie Quan, and Schoolboy Q at the 2014 BET Awards this month.

AllHipHop.com spoke with Wilds about his impressive year, his New York album, and his experience with a crazed fan of The Wire in part one of an exclusive interview.

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Congratulations on all your success. It’s been a big year for you.

Thank you. It’s crazy. I feel like I’m just now starting to scratch the surface for real. So honestly, it’s been a crazy ride, but I’m loving it.

You’ve gotten some big award nominations this year – the Grammy nom, the BET Award nom. When you first decided to make that transition from acting to recording music, did you expect your first album to make such an impact?

Honestly, I didn’t. I’m not even going to lie to you. I didn’t know what to expect. It was a toss-up, because I knew the music that we were making was completely different from anything that was on the marketplace at the moment. With that being said, it was like the people will love this or I’m not going to hear anything from this. Thank God it was the first and not the latter. It took time though.

I think me in my artist ways - the whole artist mindset - I changed my name because it’s more personal and people were going to appreciate the first [album] being more close to me. It actually worked in my favor as well, giving people a fresh chance to digest the music instead of automatically saying, “Oh, this is another actor doing music.” They didn’t get a chance to, because they didn’t know Mack Wilds was Tristan Wilds.

Speaking of being an actor who became a musician. A lot of entertainers have tried that in the past to varying success. Was there anyone who said to you, “Tristan, you’re crazy. People aren’t going to accept you as a singer”?

Yeah, I’ve gotten that a lot, and not even from regular people. I’ve gotten that from friends and family. I was like, “Really? You guys are scared that they won’t accept me?” I’ve always been the kid that does what he wants, so that’s one of the things that I always wanted to do. So as soon as the opportunity came – and I already knew the caliber of music that I could make – I kept going to see how that would translate into working with someone who has been a mentor to me since the age of 19 – Salaam. It turned out amazing.

The album features production from a lot of well-known producers in Hip Hop and music in general. Did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like before you started recording or did you listen to the tracks and that then motivated you on what direction to take?

I didn’t. Salaam is a genius, so maybe he knew. Honestly, I don’t even think he knew. Our main thought was we wanted to make music that no matter where we are in the world – because we were both traveling like crazy – this album would bring us right back home. It would transport us back to New York. That’s what we wanted. We wanted something that feels, smells, tastes, and looks like New York. We wanted to make an album that’s an ode to our city. Something that you can listen to no matter where you are in the world, and you’ll be transported right back to New York.

One of the standout tracks on the album is your remake of Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time.” His fans are very protective of his legacy. Were you ever apprehensive about covering such a classic MJ song?

Absolutely! 200%! I myself am a huge Michael Jackson fan. I know how we protect his legacy. You know how they say online, “I ain’t with it” - I ain’t with it. If it’s not Michael, it’s not it. Don’t try to recreate it.

With that being said, it was right in the beginning of me writing “Henny,” and I remember Salaam telling me, “Stop, just relax. Why don’t you sing ‘Remember The Time’ over this beat first? Just to clear your head. Get yourself warmed up to what you have to do.” I said, “I don’t got a problem with that. Let’s do it.” I did it, and we had fun with it.

I didn’t hear nothing about it for maybe three months or so. Next thing you know we’re putting together the album, and Salaam said, “We’re going to use this song. We’ll probably put this here. And we’re going to do ‘Remember The Time’.” I said, “I don’t remember doing a song called ‘Remember The Time’.” “Yes, you do. The Michael Jackson song.” I was like, “Wait a minute. You know these Michael Jackson fans will rip me limb from limb?” He said, “Listen, you did a good job at it. The people want to see ‘the real,’ so we got to show them ‘the real’.” I said, “Alright, I trust you bruh.”

So I can’t even take credit for that. That was all Salaam. It was one of those - he threw me in the pool and hoped that I swam.

As a fan, what did you think about the Michael Jackson hologram performance at the Billboard Awards?

I give them an “A” for effort. Again, I’m a fan, and it felt good to see something like that, but I felt bad after watching it. This isn’t Michael. It was just weird to me. You know what it felt like? It felt like the first time I heard Rick Ross do “You’re Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You).” I liked it, but it’s weird. That’s B.I.G. You’re not suppose to touch certain things.

Was that coming from a New York resident’s perspective – growing up on New York Hip Hop and Biggie, and then you hear another artist try their take on it?

Yeah, Ross did an amazing job at it, so hats off to him. Again, I’m a New York Hip Hop head. So the first time I heard it, I kind of turned my nose up at it.

The Boys Of Summer: Jermaine Crawford, Maestro Harrell, Tristan Wilds & Julito McCullum From "The Wire" Season 4

The Boys Of Summer: Jermaine Crawford, Maestro Harrell, Tristan Wilds & Julito McCullum From “The Wire” Season 4

Speaking of a devoted fan base, I wanted to go back to “The Wire.” What’s one of the craziest things a fan of “The Wire” has ever said to you about the show?

It’s nuts. Even years later people love [the show] still. It’s a part of popular culture now. The craziest thing a fan has said to me about it? I don’t know. I had a lady stalk me one time when I was about 16 or 17 off the show. That was weird. I was 16-17, and she was like 30-something. She was definitely at every event that I went. It was very, very weird.

Do people still call you “Michael”?

Absolutely. People call me “Dixon” now just as much as they call me “Michael.” When I’m walking up to somebody I never know which I’m going to get.

Do you have any plans to return to movies or television?

Yeah, I’m still very active in the acting world. There’s some things coming up that I’m not at liberty to discuss as of yet, but just know that I’m still very active in acting.

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Download Mack Wilds’ New York: A Love Story from iTunes.

Follow Mack Wilds on Twitter @MACKWILDS and Instagram @mackwilds.

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