A nine-to-five day of school and work followed by producing songs in a dorm closet is just another typical day for UCLA student, rapper and producer Maurice Wheatley.
Wheatley, a first-year business economics student, is better known by his stage name Ace Mack, and has been writing, rapping and producing his own beats since the age of 9. And his pursuit of music continues today: Since starting school at UCLA, he has performed five shows on campus and his next mixtape, “Immaculate Circumstances,” will be released around mid-April on his website.
“It’s crazy to think I’m still here today making music, because I feel like I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Wheatley said. “Early on, I was surrounded by hip-hop music, but my dad is really the one who got me into it.”
Ace Mack, a title handed down to him by his father (a retired rapper), said it was his father who allowed him to produce his first beat at 9 years old at his in-home studio his father built. And at 12, he became strongly inspired by Nas’ album “I Am…” to pursue rapping seriously.
With musical influences ranging from modern artists such as Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar to old hip-hop like Run-DMC and Rakim, Wheatley said he tries to cultivate his own sound, without losing major old-school hip-hop sounds.
Wheatley said his biggest influences, both musically and personally, have always been and still are his family members.
Jason Gil, a videographer who met Wheatley through a mutual friend, said it was Wheatley’s lyrical content of familial struggles that attracted him to collaborate together.
“I can relate clearly to much of (Wheatley’s) music as it addresses family members experiencing financial hardship which is something I’ve personally experienced,” Gil said.
However, Wheatley’s music, which he categorizes as hip-hop, does not focus on one topic but rather several, ranging from substance abuse to financial and family issues.
“In my music, I don’t talk too much about one specific issue or issues that I find cliche in the hip-hop scene (like substance abuse or racial issues), but more so, about the things I see and experience or anything that is just humanly relatable,” Wheatley said.
One topic Wheatley raps about that he said others may find cliche is faith. He said faith is such a significant and powerful part of his life that he said he cannnot ignore it in his music. His song “No Faith” on his mixtape “Under the Influence” is written in two perspectives. The first portion of the song speaks largely about Wheatley’s distorted daily mentality he may have without faith in his life. The latter portion speaks of another individual’s same obstacles.
Wheatley said the central theme, however, is that these two people deal with the same struggles and in doing so, realize they ultimately just need one thing: faith.
“Having a fear of the unknown is something we all might have experienced,” Wheatley said. “By describing my experiences and my imperfections, I want to emphasize how similar we all are on a fundamental level. Because although we’re helpless in determining our future, hope is what gets us to our destination.”
His latest mixtape, “Immaculate Circumstances,” offers an even more personal perspective on himself, as it focuses on a broader insight on his life, like on relationships.
“Something I talk about on this mixtape is something I’ve learned this past quarter with people,” Wheatley said. “Through my relationships here at UCLA, I’ve realized that people often go into any relationship somewhat selfishly: We always want to benefit ourselves.”
Wheatley said this mixtape also shows much progression because it has a completely different, indescribable sound compared to any other mixtape he has done in the past.
Still categorized under hip-hop, a large portion of this new sound can be attributed to the fact that Wheatley has now produced and engineered many of the beats and sounds himself. In the past, he simply had pulled many of the beats from other independent artists and rapped over them.
Samuel Goldberg, a first-year electrical engineering student, close friend and music collaborator of Wheatley, said it is Wheatley’s progression and his willingness to explore musically that really attracts his audience.
“He is constantly learning and experimenting with different sounds. He’s not stagnant,” Goldberg said. “He’s always wanting to push himself further both as a musician and as a producer.”
Wheatley also said the theme of his new mixtape concentrates on goals and ambition, as he has discovered more of what he wants to do in the future both as a creative individual and as a businessman.
Unlike many rappers in the scene today, Wheatley said he hopes to graduate and further his career by creating a record label. He said he chose the business economics major to receive a better understanding and foundation of the business world that is needed to establish a record label.
“Right when I met him, he was very clear on what he wanted to do and how he wanted to create his own record label,” Gil said. “It was because he was so driven as well as his musical content that we worked well together.”
Although surrounded by a mixture of different rappers and artists throughout his life, Wheatley said he finds no inspiration from one certain artist.
“When I was first developing my sound, I used to be inspired by a lot of artists and still am,” Wheatley said. “However, now I’m definitely trying to be more myself and find who I am as an artist. At this point, I’m listening to a lot of my own music and how I sound.”
Like with many artists, however, Wheatley said he finds it difficult to avoid comparisons of his music to those of other artists in the music scene today. Some of the most common comparisons are Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky.
“I definitely understand where people are coming from with those comparisons, but whatever comparisons are made, I find that they’re unintentional, on my part,” Wheatley said. “For me, it’s always been about bettering myself as an artist and exploring different avenues.”