When I first heard McChicken I was more than a bit confused. The simple post we threw up a little over two years ago ended up blowing up. The video, featuring McChicken and friends rapping and partying at the river, was infinitely relatable to those who have brought a mixed beverage to Richmond’s favorite water-side party spot.
Love it or hate it, McChicken turned into a very polarizing figure. The video got thousands of youtube plays and was the talk of town for a bit – but that was two years ago. And McChicken, the later ego of Arlington native Macon Mann, a 23-year-old musical with a solid background in song craft, is set to drop his first record – Grease Trap – and it should not be overlooked.
Mann’s journey with music started when he was eight-years-old, taking piano lessons in his NOVA home. By 13, he was writing music and listening to a lot of pop – he still credits Eiffel 65 as a major influence thanks to the catchy electronic beats of tracks like “I’m Blue.”
He doubled down on music and spent high school in jazz and symphonic band. That carried into college where he went to VCU’s School of Music for jazz piano. He found himself diving into the jazz genre, with a focus John Coltrane and Miles Davis; he idolized their ability to improvise, calling it “magic.”
“The people who are doing it don’t do anything wrong,” he said. “it’s all organic, the process in which improv music comes out, you open your spiritual gate and let God flow through.”
That love of improv stuck with him, saying it’s a large part of how he writes McChicken songs. It starts with the beats, always trap beats, which involve heavy kick drums with thin high hats and sharp snares. Next comes the bass lines and melodies.
“That’s the perfect background to improvise over,” Mann said. “You can make a dope trap beat that sounds better than 90% of the jazz musicians in the world.”
Before he finished school he was playing roles in prominent RVA jazz projects like Devil’s Workshop and Pressure Fit. These aren’t bands you end up in without a high level of commitment to the medium – and live shows I’ve caught featuring Mann tickling the keys show just how committed he is to a broad range of tunes.
So where does McChicken, a gimmicky grease-lover who raps about lipids and sexy chickies, come from?
It started as a joke from high school band; he’d always come to practice with McDonald’s McChicken sandwiches in his pocket. Other jokes followed, developing this alter ego who forever remained on the back burner. Towards the end of undergrad, he started playing with it again.
While those early recordings may not be much to listen to, it took a twisty day on the James to give birth to his break out track.
“I wrote everything at the river, really quick. I didn’t even think about it,” he said, noting he usually takes a lot more time with tracks, mapping and writing things out.
But after the chicken scratches at the river, he got home and started working on the beat. He spent the next two days working out the specifics until his roommate and best friend come in on the track. A bit twisty again, McChicken left his roommate to record while taking a quick chickie-nap. When he woke up, the song was done.
“When we finished it, everyone was just geeking out about it,” he said, laughing at people’s initial responses. He hit up some other friends and bought some party supplies and spent the day partying near Texas Beach with a camera.
“People were showing up so confused as to what we were doing,” he said.
Sure enough, between our write up and the catchiness of the track, he’s since reached almost 40,000 views on the video.
But he’s past that now, and he’s honed McChicken into a developed character with his own desires, dreams and backstory. As I ask more about McChicken, Mann slides into the sloppy, slippery drawl McChicken is known for.
“If you control the grease, you have all the power,” McChicken said. “Not only do people love to eat grease, but all our cells are surrounded by layers of grease; the phospholipid bi-layer. Without grease we’d be nothing but a pile of mush. If families don’t get their grease refilled, pumped into them every day, then you die. You turn into a pile of mush.”
McChicken explains how he purchased the world’s grease fields years ago and he uses orphan labor to help collect it all. PS, the orphans live in jail cells.
“But I adopt them from precarious places,” McChicken clarifies. “So if you think about it, they owe me a favor.”
I snap Mann back to real life and he tells me McChicken is really “a combination of my strengths – song writing and presentation.”
“He’s a shiesty character,” he said. “He goes through a lot of scenarios, or maybe I do… Even though I do see the horror of McChicken’s orphan labor, who can blame a man for working hard and making money?”
And what does the grease magnate think of his split personality’s jazz skills?
“All the grease your give returns as the grease you shall receive,” he drawls out.
All this hard work, between Mann and McChicken, has culminated in a new, full length record dropping today, Grease Trap. The album, across 10 tracks, offers a glimpse into the bizarre McChicken ethos, but also into Mann’s talents as a songwriter and producer. He had help from friend DJ Gringo and mix/mastering at TME 360 Studios and Good Peeples studios here in RVA.
There’s highs and lows, creepy tracks and uplifting jams, but throughout is an uncanny love and devotion to the trap music genre.
“I just want people to listen to it and like the music. I want it to make them happy,” Mann said. “I don’t have an agenda, for me its all about the way the music sounds. If you get a laugh out of it, if it can make you smile, then I’ve done my job.”
But he’s ready to embrace the haters as well – even if they are disgusted by the bizarre presentation.
“Maybe the horrible grease monster creeps you out, but its supposed to be a bit creepy,” he said. “Not all art is supposed to be pleasant. Its like when you watch ha scary movie, it feels hard, but it feels good. I’m into that creepy shit. It’s fine line you have to tread, and maybe that’s a skill i’m still learning.”
Your chance to judge for yourself happens tonight at Vagabond with Chance Fischer opening. Find out more here.
And keep up with McChicken on facebook here.
Words by Brad Kutner, photo by Kai Eason