Interview: Harry Mack on the Creative Process
In this interview, we go behind the scenes with Harry Mack. You’ll learn about his daily routine, mindset, what he reads, and the grind of a creative/enterpreneur.
For those who don’t know him, Harry has a legitimate claim to the title of best freestyle rapper in the world. By freestyle, I mean true “off-the-top” rapping.
Don’t take my word from it, watch him yourself. His most popular videos include rhyming about what we sees on the boardwalks of Venice or Santa Monica, taking cues from Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$, and Ellen DeGeneres.
Like improv acting/theatre, an off-the-top freestyle is created in the present. You enter a vulnerable state, trusting your brain to produce in the moment.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Matt: Tell me about your daily routine. What’s a day in the life of Harry Mack?
Harry Mack: Well, it varies from day to day. I end up having to wear a lot of different hats. In addition to being a rapper, I’m also a content creator, I’m also an educator, I teach lessons and create educational materials. So, there’s a lot that goes into it, but I do try to keep a certain daily routine where the first half of my day is really precious, that’s kind of my creative time. When I wake up, I make coffee, and then I go straight to doing the morning pages, which is basically journaling in the morning.
And from there, I go into a writing phase where I’m working on my songs for a couple of hours and try to generate ideas. And on days when I have time, I also try to include a freestyle practice session where I’m just working on my freestyle techniques and trying to keep the skill set sharp. That’s really holy to me, the first part of the day, where I can really focus on my creativity and being a artist, and I try to keep that part intact no matter how busy the other things are getting.
And then from there, the second half of the day is sometimes more administrative, working with Lisa my day-to-day manager on emails, and scheduling, and planning or editing videos from my Guerrilla Bars series, or creating beats for me to use in my Wordplay Wednesday weekly livestream on YouTube.
Yeah, it’s really busy and it varies a lot from day to day, but I think the most important thing for me is keeping that first half of the day sacred as my creative time.
Matt: Freestyling depends largely on the mind and body. You have mentioned more than once that you avoid cigarettes. What’s your diet and exercise like?
Harry Mack: Yeah. Well, I love going on walks, so for exercise, that’s always been a staple for me. I go on really long walks. Nowadays, I don’t have time to go on as long of walks as I used to, but back in the day I would go on two to three-hour walks, that wasn’t unusual for me at all. Nowadays, it’s more like an hour or an hour-and-a-half, but I really love going on walks, especially as a break in the middle of my day to help me clear my head and reset and get ready for the next phase.
And I’ve also gone through phases of being a runner. It’s something that I would like to incorporate more, but it’s been hard for me to instill that as a permanent routine, but there have been phases of my life for three to six months where I’m running every day. And then as far as diet goes, I don’t have a really strict regimen. I can’t really eat dairy, so that sucks because I love pizza and I love cheese, but I’m trying to avoid it as much as possible.
I make exceptions sometimes because I’m only human, but we try to buy groceries and cook mostly for ourselves at home. We try not to eat out that much just because it’s a good way to spend a lot of money and eat really rich food that’s heavy and weighs you down, and isn’t the most healthy. Yeah, basically long walks and cooking my own meals at home defines the gist of my exercise and diet routine.
Matt: Do you find cannabis helps you perform? If so, how often do you use it? Regular? Occasionally? Before performances?
Harry Mack: I think that cannabis, in the right amount, with the appropriate dosage, can definitely help with creativity and can help you be in the moment, and in a strange way help you focus on the task at hand. I’ve definitely used it both in the studio and in live performance situations, but I do go through periods of time where I take a break from cannabis entirely.
I’m actually in a phase like that right now, where I’m not drinking any alcohol or smoking any cannabis whatsoever. And I just feel that taking those breaks and being in a state of sobriety for an extended period of time, whether it’s a couple of weeks or a couple of months, it just really helps me focus on my work and achieve this really high level of clarity where I can really notice my own progress and focus on the work that needs to be done.
For me, it’s just a balance, it’s about using it in moderation, not using too much to the point where I feel paranoid, but just using the right amount to where it helps you channel into that deeper level of creativity and spirituality and helps you really be in the moment.
Matt: Being an artist, musician, YouTube content creator, from a numbers standpoint, it’s a hard way to make an easy living. I believe a million YouTube views only pays roughly $2,000. That’s a lot of views. What is the hardest part about what you do?
Harry Mack: Yeah. The hardest part is figuring out how you’re going to make a stable living and be comfortable financially. And so I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve been a full-time professional musician for the last, I guess, six or seven years now.
So, I feel very fortunate that I’m able to make my living entirely from music, but I’ve really had to hustle and pull together a lot of different revenue streams. And I think that’s really the key, is you can’t rely on just one revenue stream to keep the ship afloat. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a rapper, so obviously I create albums and I tour and perform and do live events.
But in addition to that, as you mentioned, creating content for YouTube and for digital distribution is really important as well. I do livestreams once a week, where people are able to donate during the stream and support me in that sense, it’s a form of crowdfunding for me.
As you mentioned, it’s not the quickest way to make money, but it’s something that is running in the background and helping keep things afloat. And I’m also a teacher, so I teach private lessons and I plan to create educational materials, which I’ll monetize and sell later in the year.
You kinda have to do a little bit of everything in order to make it work as an independent musician, but that’s also really cool for me because it’s always different, it’s always exciting, there’s always something new to learn. And I love learning, so I’m happy.
Matt: Going on Ellen in front of Kendrick Lamar, are you nervous at all? In the zone? Both?
Harry Mack: Yeah, I was definitely nervous for both of those opportunities because there were obviously really huge opportunities for me. I’m a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar. I listen to his music all the time, and he’s a huge inspiration for me, so that was really daunting just to even be in the same room as him, let alone rap for him.
And then I’m a huge fan of Ellen as well, and that’s just a really massive platform. And that was the first time that I was on national television, so both of those were huge moments for me. I get nervous, but I do think that, in a strange way, the nervousness kind of helps you focus and get in the zone.
So, it’s a little bit of both. When I’m really nervous and it’s time to perform, I realize that I don’t really have the mental capacity to be distracted or focus on anything other than the task at hand, which is performing to the highest level of my capabilities.
I was able to kind of enter this flow state where I wasn’t really thinking about anything at all. And because I’ve practiced so much for so many years, I know that the skill set is always there and it’s going to serve me, so I was able to just lose myself in the moment and do what I do.
In both cases, I almost didn’t remember what I had just said. As soon as the performance was finished, it was almost like I blacked out for the performance because I was so focused and so in the zone.
Matt: You have a song called Napoleon Hill, so you’ve obviously read “Think and Grow Rich.” What other authors have you read or studied?
Harry Mack: Yeah, “Think and Grow Rich” was great. I love Napoleon Hill. I like reading a lot of non-fiction, so I’ve read a lot of Malcolm Gladwell, who I love. I also just read “21 Lessons for the 21st Century” by Yuval Noah Harari, who’s the author of Sapiens, which I haven’t yet read but I’m excited to read at some point. I think he’s great.
I also really love Questlove’s writing. I’m a huge fan of Questlove as a musician. I’m actually a drummer myself, that’s my background, so I love The Roots and I love Questlove’s drumming. But his writing is also really great, I’ve read a lot of his books. And another book that was big for me was “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and also “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. Yeah. I like to read a mix of non-fiction and fiction as well. I also love Stephen King and fiction authors as well, but I just think reading is really great for keeping the mind sharp and helping to inspire new ideas.
Matt: For someone who wants to improve their freestyling skills, what are the most important things to practice?
Harry Mack: Well, the most important thing for anyone that wants to learn how to freestyle is to overcome the judgment and self-consciousness that goes into just diving in and starting. Because I think what a lot of people don’t realize is I wasn’t born with this miraculous natural gift. My first freestyles were not good at all. I didn’t know how to freestyle at all when I first tried. It just so happens that was back when I was 12 years old.
And I just turned 30, so I’ve been practicing consistently for more than 15 years, and honing my skill set, and working towards being a great freestyler, and trying to improve every day. I think the biggest thing that holds people back is when they first start trying to freestyle, they hear themselves not sounding very good, and they don’t like that feeling of not sounding good, so they just stop right there and they don’t continue on their journey. So, I think that’s the most important thing.
The second most important thing is listening to a ton of rap music and really absorbing the lyrics of the greats and the people who are the architects who help create this language of rap, and you really absorb as much as you can through osmosis, and then that informs your choices and your vocabulary as a lyricist. Overcoming the fear to get started and listening to as much hip-hop as possible are the two most important things that somebody can do.
Matt: Do you have any experience in improv acting? Like freestyling, you have to put yourself in a vulnerable, open mind space. After all, you are in LA.
Harry Mack: Yeah. That’s a great question, a lot of people ask me that. I actually haven’t ever done any improv acting in a formal capacity, but I’m always improvising. Before, I was freestyling, I was working as a jazz drummer, and gigging in LA, playing improvisational instrumental music. I also am always walking around the house, going in and out of different characters and improvising different jokes and ideas on a daily basis.
I’m always trying to live in that child-like, playful state of improv where I’m trying to be creative every day as much as possible. That’s what I love to do. It influences everything I do.
Matt: Not sure if you’ve heard of the streaming app Twitch, but a gamer recently received 20 bitcoin in donations, roughly $200,000. I think you could do pretty well enabling cryptocurrency donations. I bring this up because you mentioned bitcoin in the Napoleon Hill song. What’s your involvement, interest in the bitcoin movement?
Harry Mack: Well, as of now, I don’t really have any involvement in the bitcoin movement, I don’t know all that much about it. But that’s amazing that somebody on Twitch was donated 20 bitcoins or $200,000. I would love for that to happen to me, so I definitely need to look into enabling cryptocurrency donations.
And actually a lot of people who are fans of my YouTube livestreams have told me that I should check out Twitch because it’s another great platform for going live. And I think it’s more specifically tailored to livestreaming, so I definitely plan on investigating that a little bit more this year.
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