The musical difference between Mac Mall’s latest and its predecessor manifests itself also in the artwork. While both play on classic Hollywood blockbusters, the cover for “Thizziana Stoned and the Temple of Shrooms” was as realistic as it was absurd, our hero swinging Indy-style through a fungus-infested stone arch, the Temple of Doom, pardon, Shrooms looming in the background. “Mac to the Future” pictures him as Marty McFly getting out of the DeLorean, having just crossed the Bay Bridge, not so much checking his watch in surprise as posing for the artist. It’s still an eye-catcher, but from a visual viewpoint the somewhat crude illustration lacks the touch of class I’ve come to associate with Mac Mall.
The album’s intro sticks to the ‘Back to the Future’ theme with a short but creative reenactment of one of those dramatic scenes before the time-jump. Things get rolling with “I Don’t Get Mad.” Longtime collaborator Tone Capone helms the board for this airy composition of clacking drums and synthesized keys, horns, and flutes. Mall spins the usual yarn about getting money and letting others get mad: “When this record drop I’ma cop me a Bentley / better yet spend my bread on fullies and semis cause many suckers envy.”
“Nothin Bout Thizz” introduces the album’s other producer, Louieville Slugga (no relation to Boot Camp Clik member Louieville Sluggah). With these crashing drums and cutting synths he may be on some next shit, but for now they sound ear-splittingly cheap. Mac doesn’t seem to mind, stating in the hook that the “world look beautiful through my stunna lens,” but in my opinion you’d have to alter your perception chemically to appreciate this beat.
Nothing new so far. But even if you consider yourself a Mac Mall expert, “Alley Oop” will come as a surprise. While individualists like MURS (“Transitionz az a Ridah”), Lupe Fiasco (“Kick Push”) and Skateboard P AKA Pharrell (who guested on the remix to “Kick Push”) wrote about skateboarding, with Mac Mall it is a notorious player who pays hommage to hip-hop’s distant subcultural cousin:
“I call my board a stunt wood
cause I be dumbin’, stuntin’ when I’m rollin’ through my hood
I’m a dirty ghetto Thizz kid
I keep my trucks loose, same way I dig my chicks
Ridin’ on my deck I get nuff respect
Little cuddies watch me like, ‘What he gon’ do next?’
Kickflip lipslide to a five-o
Wallie 180 darkslide, yeah though
Kickflip frontside, noseslide handled
Did a hardflip the hard way, man though
Backside lipslide to a backwards Smith grind
Ahead of my time, pop and shove it, get mine
Man, I ain’t lyin’, I bust my ass a couple times
Mackin did a Madonna, swear it felt like I was flyin’
Quickly I shiftie, fools can’t get with me
Did a sick tre-flip to a nasty nose wheelie
For really, I get silly
Big spinflip to a switch tre; gimme
my propers, or the crew gon’ molly whop ya
Man, we hate posers like we hate rent-a-coppers”
He dedicates the middle verse to gear and the closer to San Francisco skate spots (Hubba Hideout, China Banks, Pier 7, Hunters Point dish) and selected riders (Keenan Milton, Jovontae Turner, Mike and Greg Carroll), all set to a persistently funky Tone & Louieville co-production. Mac Mall may not be one of the usual suspects when it comes to this sort of thing, but “Alley Oop” better turn up in one of those skate videos. Skaters, consider yourselves notified.
The album continues with “Fresh,” consisting of hard drums, fluttering bass synths and a simplistic three-key piano. Lyrically, the song starts off vintage Mac Mall, but with Shigady and Ray Luv riding shotgun it doesn’t really go anywhere afterwards:
“I said: ‘Biiitch, I’m goin’ to the moon, I be back in a couple of days’
She said: ‘Mackin daddy, please be safe
and don’t call me a bitch front the kids, okay?’
Fo sho ho, no time to waste
Got expensive taste, I got money to make
I got bitches to break, I got papers to case
got suckers to shake, got fakers that hate
I got weapon on waist that can’t wait to eat your face”
“Mac Dre T-Shirt” features engaging, hyphy-informed production by Tone Capone and tells of how – also through fashion statements – “Mac Dre gon’ live forever, Crest Side make sure of that.” “Fire Remix” revises a 1999 collaboration between Dre and Tone (with Mall replacing Big Lurch). Employing a sinister, slow piano roll and adding a variety of funky details, Capone, in conjunction with Mall’s contribution, takes the song to the next level, turning it into a sterling memorial. The veteran producer is also responsible for another highlight, the reggae-tinged “Tell Dem,” which borrows from Barrington Levy and some famous melody whose origin escapes me at the moment.
The rest of the tracks are all Louieville Slugga’s, ranging from the skewed keyboard attack “Pimparistic” to the okay guitar application “Hubble High”. But don’t blame him exclusively for the relative failure that is “Mac to the Future,” the fault is equally with the uninspired host and his run-of-the-mill guests.
It’s almost Bay Area tradition for high-profile artists to release subpar albums among stellar ones. Mac Mall has been there before. His ’09 album contains only a handful of candidates eventually eligible for classic status (“Alley Oop,” “Mac Dre T-Shirt,” “Fire Remix,” “Tell Dem”). There are countless anonymous hip-hop musicians who would be able to take Mac Mall to the future with exciting beats, perhaps he will run into some of them on his time travels. If not he can always come back to Tone Capone as his Doc Brown.