Shit talking with Mac Lethal
Mac Lethal talks a lot of shit.
“I don’t hate any one person,” says Lethal, born David McCleary Sheldon. “I just hate all people. I just fucking hate people. I hate people collectively.”
Within a half-hour phone interview, this Kansas City rapper has managed to talk shit about Fergie, emo kids, Applebees, and some random lady in a van driving down the road.
“You fucking whore!” Lethal is screaming from his tour van. “You can’t spell ‘Idaho’ without ‘ho’! You bitch!”
It’s a verbal tongue-lashing that he lets loose even at his fellow Rhymesayers tour mates—Atmosphere, Greyskul, and Luckyiam—with whom Lethal will be performing Thursday night at the Conservatory.
“Fuck Slug! Fuck Luckiam,” Lethal says. “Everything about the tour is going well, save for the fact that Luckyiam is on the tour. He’s bigger than me and could probably whip my ass. But he’ll never know I said that, because he never reads.”
Luckyiam is giggling in the background.
It’s that same shit-talking mastery that helped Lethal win the 2002 Scribble Jam MC battle championship—a task at which even Eminem infamously failed. It’s that angry-white-boy notoriety that prompted the producers of ego trip’s The (White) Rapper Show to approach him—only for him to flatly refuse their offer. It’s the same don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that has gained Lethal credibility with a growing fan base that waited eagerly for Lethal’s new album, released earlier this month.
On “11:11,” nothing is sacred—literally. From Christianity to Tool to Nike Dunks, no topic, trend, or thing too safe from the attention of Lethal’s fiery tongue.
“My name is Mac Sheldon, I’m a fire sign Leo/ Alcoholic, anti-mall, anti-hero/ Anti-soccer mom, anti-hipster/ Pro-eating Captain Crunch cereal for dinner/ Pro-taking bong hits to cure your depression/ And pro-demo CD, if you got one, let me check it/ But never ask me what the hell you’re laughing about/ See ya later, I’ma go take a nap on the couch/” he rhymes on “Calm Down Baby”—a track on which he also denounces the concept of marriage and pokes fun at his own white-Kansan accent.
His mouth does, however, sometimes get him in trouble.
For instance, Lethal says, while on stage (and stoned) in St. Louis earlier this tour, he suddenly remembered a YouTube video he saw where Chuck Liddell (of Ultimate Fighting Championship fame) was “fucked up on sleeping pills and sedatives and shit.” So he did what any other bald Irish rapper would do—he began to talk about how Quinton “Rampage” Jackson dominated Liddell.
Little did Lethal know that Liddell was upstairs, listening to his every haterific word.
“I go upstairs, and Chuck Liddell and Lucky are basically grabbing each others’ shirts,” Lethal says. “Lucky’s saying, ‘I understand you’re a martial arts fighter, but I wasn’t that dude on stage.’ And [Liddell] said, ‘I don’t care, you are affiliated with that motherfucker.’ I had to sit there and apologize to Chuck Liddell and 19 of his fucking cronies. I had to fucking lie. But now that I’m gone, I’ll say Rampage Jackson fucked his ass up.”
But Lethal’s vulgar insults are more than obscene novelties—his words are indicative not just of his lyrics, but also of his contradictory thought patterns.
“Hold on,” Lethal suddenly says, interrupting himself. After about half a minute, he continues, “I said, ‘Yo bitch, lemme call you back.’ I didn’t say that. She said, ‘Okay, baby,’ and I said, ‘Okay, baby, I’m sorry.’ But I will after I get off the phone. I’m gonna super man that ho.”
It’s not that he’s really that unhappy or mean-spirited; the major release of Lethal’s album on Rhymesayers and the opportunity to tour with the likes of Atmosphere are the fruit of years of hard work in the underground community.
At the same time, the jokes and insults also serve to cover up an internal tension that Lethal disguises through humor. Many of the original songs that never made it onto “11:11” dealt with Lethal’s depression in dealing with his mother’s death.
“11:11” does little to shed light onto Lethal’s personal problems. He doesn’t attribute his baldness to alopecia areata, a condition of hair-loss attributed to stress surrounding his mother. The much-snarkier final version of the album only mentions his mother once.
“I held my mom as she died in my hands/ I had to cancel the tour, I hope you guys understand/ That the life of a man’s gonna crack in the eyes of his fans/ When he fails to supply the demand,” he laments on the album’s opener entitled “Backward.”
It’s those more serious moments that spur some critics to label him as an “emo rapper”—a title that Lethal hates and addresses on “11:11” when he says that he knows that “emo and emotional and different.”
“Rappers that were getting attention that were alternative sounding or a little less commercial sounding were labeled as ‘emo rap’ because they were getting tied in with 15-year-old Warped Tour kids with black hair and pink Converse,” Lethal explains. “Why is rap supposed to be emotionally unavailable? Because Young Jeezy isn’t? Some songs get emotional. So there’s song dealing with girls. How many 2Pac? How many Pete Rock and CL Smooth songs are there where they’re serenading some imaginary girl? And ‘I Need Love’? LL Cool J starts rapping, and how many rappers are allowed to say they’re alone in room and stare at the wall? That shit was one of the first emo rap songs.”
But it’s the total package of the overall collision of Lethal’s serious and joking sides that calls for an explosive result. It’s what drives him to do things like making his audience members do push ups at shows. Sometimes he makes everyone sit down for “hip-hop storytime.”
The results are always interesting, if not confusing. The introspective songs and performances can at times seem like hip-hop from The Twilight Zone—Weird Al making fun of his own song that makes fun of his own song, or something to that effect.
At times, it’s difficult to tell if Lethal is serious or joking amidst his contradictory statements that name check everyone from Kirk Cameron to Kurt Vonnegut.
For example, Lethal openly criticizes the “mainstream” radio gangsta rap movement. But he also hates on the “underground” sound of snobby independent MCs. This juxtaposition results in songs like “Die Slow” where he mocks other rappers’ rhymes schemes over very un-underground sounding beats.
“Now are your fans so stupid that you talk this slow/ So they can understand what the hell you’re sayin’?/” Lethal asks. “If that’s the case, answer me one question/ How’s it feel to have a fan base that still uses crayons?/ I’m a rapper and I don’t really like rap/ So I’ma leave the show and probably go get a night cap/ And if you disagree then we can just agree to disagree/ But listening to this egregious bitch MC is sickening/”
It’s a unique perspective that Lethal hopes will perpetuate his reputation and career.
“I’d like to see this as a Willie-Nelson-Merle-Haggard type of deal where we go on tour when we’re in our fucking 60s and have bands and do records and where kids and families can come out,” he says. “I would like to see this last more than anything. I don’t care how big it gets. I talked to Sage Francis and he’s considering retiring. He’s got enough money from the independent game to tour once a year and live on it the rest of his life. I’d like to see that for all of us.”
But for now, there’s more rhymes to write, more cities to tour, and more celebrities to shit-talk.
And Lethal’s list of strange tales from this tour still has room to grow, even with his story of how Billy Bob Thornton recognized Greyskul at an In-N-Out Burger in Las Vegas and picked up the ticket for the entire crew’s meals.
And he still needs to talk more shit. As the half-hour interview draws to an end, he’s asked if there’s anything he wants to add.
“Yeah,” he says. “Fuck Luckyiam. Fuckyiam.”