Tristan “Mack” Wilds knows just how important recent history is. On VH1’s The Breaks — the new series that is a spinoff of the network's faithful '90s hip-hop movie — Wilds plays aspiring producer DeeVee, one of the characters that made the jump from the film to the show. The role is perfect for Wilds, who shows off his skills as a triple threat: an actor, a singer, and a songwriter.
The 27-year-old Staten Island native occupies a unique space, reliving his childhood through an adult character’s eyes: “There was a certain feeling back then… the time, the music, everything felt different, the love felt different.” He told The FADER. “So to go back to that time as an adult, you get to see all of the little things you didn’t get to see.”
Wilds talked to The FADER about the show’s all star cast, growing up around the Wu-Tang Clan, and what the industry can learn from one of New York rap's most fruitful periods.
How did you feel being approached to do a second installation of The Breaks film as a series?
It was really, really dope. There’s so much more to the story of hip-hop than you can’t show in just an hour and a half or two hours. There are so many facets and stories — the different people that it encompasses, the difference between the business and the streets, and how they came together to create the cultural phenomenon that it is today. When we first did the film, we knew it was going to be hard to try to capture the entire hip hop story in a movie. We figured that if they were going to give us an opportunity to really tell the story, we would try to go for the gusto, and that’s getting a show.
Now that the series format is giving us more content and airtime to process these different concepts, what does the show flesh out that the film didn’t?
One of the biggest things is the impact of women in this business. How scarce it is to be a woman in music at the time, let alone hip-hop. You see how amazing these women had to be to be able to conquer the men, let alone for spots in the hip-hop community. Everything else just gets deeper—we see how deep the hood stories are, what our favorite artists had to go through before hip hop was a thing, before they could actually say, “I want to do this instead of selling drugs,” or anything else they were doing. The stories get deeper, they get heavier, they get realer.
Given you’re both an actor and musician, how does being in this specific series enrich you? Does this role directly feed into your music?
It’s dope. It is. In acting, you get to jump into so many different lifestyles and so many different versions of yourself. Even something you thought you never could be, you get to become that. You get to see life through their eyes — see how they walk, how they talk, and then you can bring back what you’ve learned. The experiences that you go through, whether you’re this character for a month, or for a year, you get to bring these experiences back that you may have not gone through yourself and really create something. It does something to my music, especially my writing, I get a chance to write from different perspectives all the time because I’m actually living through these different characters that I’m playing.
Tell us more about DeeVee — how do you feel like he and his script relate to your personal life?
He’s a dreamer, first and foremost. He’s like one of those guys who will jump off the deep end before checking to see if there’s water in the pool. There’s nothing that can stop him. Throughout this season you get to follow him and how much he loves hip-hop and creating music. And all of the bumps and bruises that come along the way for him. It gets pretty hectic, for him, because he has a hard head. He doesn’t like to listen. I’m pretty much the same. I think that was one of the main things when I was starting to put together DeeVee, I kind of hung on to that to make him realer for me. There’s a certain level of respect for the game and a search, a hunger for more. He’s already so knowledgeable and so intelligent about what he can do — about being a producer and all the little nuances that he can teach as they’re going along. He’s always trying to figure out another way to be better. And that’s one thing me and him absolutely have in common.
You’re a New Yorker acting in a show based out there. What does it feel like, essentially putting yourself in a time machine and experiencing the city in the 1990s, as an adult, through this character?
I remember growing up in the '90s — of course I was young, I was very young, but even being young, you can’t deny the feeling. There was a certain feeling back then that, anyone back then could feel. It just felt different. The time, the music, everything felt different, the love felt different. I grew up in Staten Island where Wu Tang came from. Seeing them around, being a kid and hearing their music on the radio, like, those were my superheroes. To every kid in the neighborhood, they were superheroes. So to go back to that time as an adult, you get to see all of the little things you didn’t get to see. First off, I was too young and second off, we didn’t have social media, so you would have to listen to what you hear on those weird star magazine joints. Or, you’d listen to the radio, and hopefully Angie Martinez and Wendy Williams would be at a party and tell you about Da Lench Mob fighting someone at the new music seminar, or something. There was no way you could get pictures like you can right now with Twitter or Instagram, nobody catching videos of certain things. It was kinda crazy to go back in time in my own city, where I was born and raised, to recreate that time. And to do it justice.
How have you been getting to know some of the other musicians on the cast, like T.I. and Method Man?
It’s pretty fun. One of the best things I can say is because this show has such an ensemble cast, and you have everybody who people love attached to this, from Method Man, to DJ Premier doing the music, to Phonte Coleman writing lyrics. You’ve got T.I. playing a lawyer, you’ve got Teyana Taylor ripping everyone to shreds as a female rapper. It’s dope. A lot of these people, I’ve met and known before through being musicians, but to actually sit down and recreate something like this and to work together is when you kind of start to come together as family.
Why do you think The Breaks in particular is important in the world of music, right now?
I think right now, we’re in a time that’s the closest to the '90s in a long time. With the quality of music coming out, the consistency of music coming out, it wasn’t like this before. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have J. Cole and Big Sean and Kendrick and Future coming out with music that’s at the top of the top. It’s amazing right now. This is what I believe hip-hop felt back then. This is the perfect moment to pay homage to the time that created everything we have right now.