At just 18 years old, Mackenzie Nicole has accomplished what some artists dream of doing their whole lives: worked with the legendary Tech N9ne. In addition to Tech starting one of the most successful independent labels of all-time, Strange Music, it’s his influence in the music industry as a whole that she hopes to emulate. Read more…
Hailing from Kansas City, Mackenzie has been blazing her own path as a singer-songwriter, delivering a unique and refreshing blend of pop, R&B, and hip-hop. While being daughter to the Strange Music CEO certainly helped get her feet wet, it’s her hard work, dedication, and passion for music that brings fans to The Edge of their seat.
For those don’t know who is Mackenzie Nicole?
This is always a weird question for me because as a young artist, as an 18-year-old, it’s hard to say exactly who I am. I’m not going to pretend to have a good idea or some perfect quote. If I had to sum up what I’m trying to do, I always say that I’m an opera singer signed to a rap label inspired by a rock band that’s trying to do pop music. That’s the best display of the amalgamation we’re trying to work with here.
Where do you fit within the realm of hip-hop and R&B?
I grew up hip-hop. Hip-hop and rap were my passion and my love, but I think what’s missing from pop right now is that more urban influence. Not missing, but I feel like has been missing and is finally coming to light. Really, I think everybody in music can agree that hip-hop is a new pop. I’d like to take that and really ride that. I would love to continue that trend of urban-influenced pop that’s going so beautifully now.
You’re from Kansas City how does that play into in your life and career?
Being from Kansas City and trying to do what we’re doing is so much different than being in LA, or being in New York and trying to do what we’re doing. Because in Kansas City, if I ask you to name the people that are trying to do my job and be a musician, I can probably name all of them off the top of my head. If I go in any restaurant in LA and say, “Who’s trying to be the pop singer?”
The hostess, the chef in the back, and all the patrons will stand up and say “me!” So that’s the difference, is that there’s a much smaller pond. Are there less people to network with in some ways? Of course, but there’s also this clean slate of opportunity in front of you that you don’t necessarily have in a place like LA.
How important is it to come to LA as I’ve become an up-and-coming artist?
So important because as much as I love Kansas City for the efficiency and the kind of nice isolation that we have, there’s so much networking here. Everyone is a creative here in LA. If an artist is going to do a pop-up shop or any event that’s music-related, it’s going to be in LA or New York. It’s not going to be in Kansas City. It’s so important to be able to have that mobility and I’m really fortunate to have that through my label because we have this wonderful space, the Strange Music Hollywood space which I know you’ve been to.
Yeah, it’s beautiful!
Thank you. It’s been a really fantastic way to expand what we have in Kansas City in a new and innovative way on to the West Coast. It’s become a new home for us as we try to do pop because more so than ever, we need to be in LA.
You’ve been surrounded by music your whole life at what point did you realize that it was for real for real?
I remember this exact moment. I never realized how important music was to me, because you don’t really realize how important oxygen is to you and you breathe it all the time. Music was always around me all the time. I didn’t realize how necessary it was until I was at this point when I was a junior in high school. I was on the verge of either going to college and getting a career and doing that for four years, going off and doing what would have been expected OR doing something else. I didn’t know what that something else could be but this just didn’t feel right over here.
I remember I was on an airplane with my best friend and my family flying from Hawaii to LA and I was watching Straight Outta Compton. This is so silly because I’m watching this movie, and I’m watching the portrayal of people that we actually know. I’m watching Suge Knight who my dad hangs out with. I’m watching these people that we know in the stories that I know the other side to and realizing, “Oh my God, we’re a part of this narrative.” Maybe not this narrative specifically, but NWA, Eazy-E, those are all the loves of my life. We are a part of this scene, this culture.
How has being the daughter of Strange Music founder Travis O’Guin benefited your career?
It’s obviously benefited my career, I’m not going to pretend like it doesn’t give me a foot in the door. It’s given me an opportunity to sign to this label because obviously the label knew me. It gave me the opportunity to meet Tech and for Tech to feature me when I was 9 years old.
I was 9 years old when I started my singing with Tech — that’s when I started recording professionally and I started my solo career at 15. There’s a difference between recognizing the benefit that a situation has caused you. Being in the right place at the right time and being my dad’s daughter at the particular time I was born did benefit me but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t nepotism.
If you met my dad, he’s a shrewd businessman and he’s not going to spare my feelings. I promise you that he’s not going to waste money or resources sparing my feelings, so if he didn’t feel like I deserve to be here, I wouldn’t be here. Me being his daughter means I get it harder, because how many people live with their boss? Exactly. [laughs]
I was going to say, do you feel pressure?
There’s a lot of pressure, indeed. Because your livelihood is the label’s livelihood, is now my family’s livelihood. My success directly affects my family in a way that isn’t necessarily true when you’re signed to a label that you’re not related to by blood. You want your label to do well obviously, because it means you do well and everyone’s sharing the wealth — but when you bring blood and family into that, there’s a new urgency.
Your debut single with Tech N9ne, “Actin Like You Know,” is at over 5.7 million views. Did you foresee it blowing up like this?
No. It’s weird because it’s the song that was written in light of some treatment I received, because I went to a very, very conservative grade school and I was not treated kindly due to the fact that my parents owned a rap label. I remember at one point, a teacher told me when I was 7 that my family was damned to hell for perpetuating satanic worship, so it’s pretty harsh. It’s a very angry song and even when it was recorded, I actually didn’t have a voice. I was very sick. It makes me mad to listen to it ‘cause I’m mad about what it’s about.
Then Tech put his verse on it and I loved it, but I still had a hard time with the song. I was like, “It’s fine though, I don’t need to be in love with it. It’s not like this is going to be a big deal.” And then certainly, the song ended up bringing me out on my first work trip to LA. It brought me to Red Rocks for the first time within the first year of my career, thanks to the people around me and thanks to that song landing with the fans the way it did.
What’s the dynamic like in the studio with a legend such as Tech?
Tech and I are family, really. He’s at my house every Thanksgiving and Christmas. We even go on family vacations together, we were just on a cruise last summer. Me and Tech are very close, he’s like a second father to me. I don’t think we’ve ever recorded a song in the same room though. It’s always been: he’ll write something and be like, “Okay, this is how I was feeling, go!” Or vice versa. Sometimes, we miss the mark with each other, and sometimes we hit it perfectly. Tech is a very unique artist to work with because he has such an interesting and intricate vision and he definitely needs to see that brought to fruition.
You recently released your debut album titled The Edge. What is it you want fans to get from your story?
More than anything, I can’t say there’s a moral of the story at the end of the album that I need the fans to understand. I can’t control what they take away from it. But if anything, I just want them to leave feeling like we know each other better and feeling like there’s now a dialogue between us. My favorite thing about my job is that I meet people and I get to be around people, because I am a people person. I really love that this album has introduced me to so many wonderful people, so many creatives.
I had a girl walk up to me back before the album was released, she heard a few of the singles and said to me, “I just wanted to let you know that your music saved my life.” It’s very crazy for people to feel like they have that familiarity with you, because that’s a really personal thing. I like that there’s a friendship between you and a artist you love. I hope to be that for someone.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I’ve been going through some things personally for the past few months, so tour has been a nice escape. On our last stop in Denver, I had this girl come up to me and she hands me this bag of stuff. There were wonderful things: sunglasses, a bracelet, and a necklace that said “crybaby” on it. It meant so much to me because I had complimented that necklace on her at Red Rocks not that long ago. It was so weird to have someone give you a piece of their life. I don’t know why this stuck out to me but it made me cry.
I love the necklace because for me, it was a Lil Peep reference — because obviously the crybaby tattoo. It was very grounding ‘cause it was a reminder that even though I’m going through a right a lot right now — and even though I always kind of feel like a crybaby and take ownership in that — to have a piece of someone to do that with, it was a very cool thing. That was sentimental between me and the fan. Because as an artist, you’re struggling, and I’m not going to pretend that I know how to keep myself alive. I think every artist is borderline suicidal. I definitely am borderline and to have someone say “you saved me” when I can’t say I save myself is a really incredible thing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I would be working in publications somewhere. I love graphic design, that’s my side job actually. When I’m not at the office working on music, I’m at home reformatting PDFs for shipping companies and things like that. [laughs] I literally pick up Craigslist design ads just because I like to do it.
Do you do your own graphics for your artistry?
I creatively directed and designed the look, with assistants occasionally. This album was super basic because the album art was like my signature. I do the art and I’ve done some of the merch in the past. I’ve always helped design for Strange, even when it’s just internal stuff like designing or editing photos. I would love to have my own magazine someday. It would be really, really beautiful.
3 things you need in the studio?
First one is coffee. Second is something to draw with because I love to doodle and draw little monsters. That’s my favorite thing. And the third thing would be… I’m pretty low maintenance, so I would say a big, cozy sweatshirt. It’s a necessity for me. I usually steal them from the guys downstairs. The head of the video department is like 6’7” and I always steal his jackets. I waddle around in them like a little dress and then go up to the mic and sing.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
Because of how much I listen to her over the years, probably Maria and the Diamonds. Most recently, probably Lil Peep. If we’re talking overall and all-time — besides obviously Strange Music — all-time, Marina and the Diamonds, and most recently, Lil Peep or Halsey.
Oh my God. I will say this in every interview until it happens, I want to work with Flume so bad. I’ve said it in every interview for like 2 and a half years. One of these days, it’s going to get back to him. Every time I tag him, he’s going to be like, “I just want to work with her so she can shut up.”
Is there anything else you want us to know?
I chew gum in the shower sometimes and I hula hoop.