Born in Brooklyn under the name Raymond Yu, Mac discovered hip-hop at the age of 8, just four years prior to joining his first gang. His father was part of the Flying Dragons, a well-known and extremely violent Chinese American gang which inducted China Mac into the streets at a young age. In and out of juvenile detention facilities, he honed much of his skill through freestyle battles with inmates. Inspired by legends like Tupac and Nas, hip-hop was a way to bridge the differences between him and other kids. “It gave me the opportunity to be accepted, and to express myself when no one wanted to listen.”

Mac spent over a decade serving time behind bars: first, a three-year bid for gang-related crimes; then a 10-year sentence for shooting someone at an NYC nightclub. In this viral interview with DJ Vlad, China Mac reflects on his 10-year bid for the shooting of Jin’s associate.

Upon his release in November 2013, Mac had saved $7,000 which he used as capital to launch his own recording studio and label, Red Money Records. In a short time, he’s put out several videos online which have collectively garnered close to two million views on YouTube. Videos like “0-100,” where he took to the streets of Harlem to perform his freestyle over the Drake track, went viral in days, receiving thousands of likes and comments. Then there’s the fan favorite “Buck A Cop,” a ruthless anthem that speaks out against injustices imposed by the long-standing adversary of urban minorities: the police.

Unfortunately, a parole violation landed Mac back in prison where the meaning of “Buck A Cop” would be dissected in hearings, and Mac’s alleged inclusion of reputed gang members in several videos would also be brought into question. But this past May, he walked out of Sing Sing prison after he served 16 months for a parole violation in January of 2016. But being behind bars didn’t stop him this time, as Mac’s buzz continued to grow. He received hundreds of letters from his fans, released his “Free China Mac” mixtape, his 0-100 video went viral on Facebook getting him 5000 likes in 24 hours, and he even did an interview with Riot Sound magazine where he laid out his situation in detail.

Paradoxical as it sounds, his time in prison had an upside: he was able to transform himself and learn several invaluable lessons. “I used my time wisely, reading every book that I could find in regards to the music business and anything else that would help me attain my goal.” His goal being hustling enough money in prison to launch a music career as China Mac, a moniker assigned to him by a gang leader during his sentence. Since his second release, Mac has also taken on the role of being an inspiration to those who are in the streets, releasing motivational videos that he calls #Mactivational.

“My music is proof that no matter how much people count you out, you can still come back.”