A New Era: An Interview with Mackenzie Nicole

Mackenzie Nicole ages in dog years.

The year she was born, 1999, a record label started in the basement of her childhood home. Strange Music, Inc. is where she would listen in on conference calls, fold t-shirts in the warehouse and at just 9 years old, be featured on a track for Tech N9ne and Three 6 Mafia. From there, Tech N9ne (born Aaron Dontez Yates) and producer Michael “Seven” Summers became her mentors, her friends and her heroes.

Her first single as Mackenzie Nicole was “Actin’ Like You Know”, released when she was 15 years old. The track featured Tech N9ne and has since seen millions of views on YouTube and has been the top selling track off the label’s collaboration album, Strangeulation Vol. II.

Although she was doing well in the music industry, she had other plans in terms of her future. While still in high school, her routine was as follows: wake up at 3 a.m. to finish homework and/or extracurricular work, apply for scholarships, drive an hour to school, stay there until 9 p.m. depending on the extracurriculars, go to bed at 1 a.m. and do it all over again at 3 a.m. Her plans involved an Ivy League school, a degree in neuropsychology and maybe pursuing music. Once “Actin’ Like You Know” happened, her trajectory changed a bit.

After releasing her second single, “Deleted”, and working on her solo album immediately after graduating high school, she was encouraged by Summers to focus on her music versus going the conventional route.

“That was something that was a hard realization to come to because I was one of those people whose entire life was academics,” she said. “My entire life was trying to get into the school with the grades and the extracurriculars. To depart from that after dedicating years of my life to it was very hard for me even if music was my passion.I figured when I was little that I would just figure out a way to do both at the same time and obviously I realized that it wasn’t doing either of them justice.”

At just 18 years old, Mackenzie Nicole found herself making a drastic change in her career path and enduring another situation of growing wise beyond her years. Behind closed doors, however, was a young girl with an undiagnosed mental illness that brought her inches away from taking her own life.

She’s not afraid to talk about the worst six months of her life and the extreme mental breakdown that brought her to where she is today. It’s the theme behind her next studio album, Mystic, due out later this year. It covers the stages of mental health and tells her story in a way that she never has before.

“I had no other outlet but music after it was all done,” she said. “I had to document it somehow to make sure it counted because while it did lead to some tangible things like me going to therapy, getting on medication, having a diagnosis; it still felt like in order to justify going through all this I had to do something to commemorate it.”

It helped her realize that creating music is more difficult than it seems. As a songwriter, she now takes these steps to ensure she’s creating music that is 100% authentic to her.
1. Acknowledging her feelings, which for her as a suppressive person both physically and mentally is very difficult
2. Articulating those feelings, which is more difficult than step one because not only does she have to feel those feelings but now have to put words to them
3. Saying those feelings out loud, which is more difficult than steps one and two because hearing her own voice say something either pretty or ugly is hard to listen to
4. Playing those thoughts for other people, which is more difficult than anything so far because “now you have to take this personal part of you, rip open your skin, take your heart through your ribcage and hand it to someone.”
5. Have even more people hear it by putting it out into the world, which can bring up the feeling of second-guessing because now she has to relive this period of her life essentially for the rest of her life
Releasing Mystic is something that has been making her think - what is more important, her comfort or artistic integrity? The choice was simple. While the songs on the album are painful memories, it’s also her way of saying that she survived it once and she can survive it again.

“Even when I do second guess, I know it was worth it because if I can do this once I can do it now with better reason,” she said. “It’s worth something now more than ever to talk about it; to live this over and over again. I think that passion about this project is what made it, in my opinion, really good art.”

This passionate, wise teenager has grown up in an unconventional yet inspirational environment that has shown her the highs and lows of life. As she continues to find a better understanding of herself and others, the release of Mystic is an introduction to a new era and a new Mackenzie Nicole.