Mac Lethal's a grab bag of earnest positivity and put-downs. It's been more than a decade since the 31-year-old Kansas City rapper won Scribble Jam, HBO's old emcee battle competition, and he's now poised on the brink of mass culture infiltration.
Most know Lethal (born David Sheldon) as the "pancake rapper," who last year cooked pancakes while busting a humorous fast rap to Chris Brown's "Look at Me Now" that, among other things, lambasted the pugilistic pop star: "I wish that he was man enough to get inside the octagon / I'd kick him in the noggin like I'm Lyoto Machida / Front kick to the face just by me throwin' my feet up," he raps. "Your fate is imminent, Imma diminish it."
That video showcased Lethal's culinary bona fides and Twista-league speed, scoring more than 25 million views. But it wasn't his greatest viral sensation. That's Texts From Bennett, a tumblr feed featuring texts from his (fictional) 17-year old unemployed wannabe-Crip cousin. Started around the same time, it attracted more than 40 million hits, and a book deal from Simon & Schuster.
Even more bizarre is the video for "You're vs. Your," a grammar-Nazi rap delivered in front of a large canvas print bearing the image of the acerbic late comedian Bill Hicks.
"Any day of the week I'm going to have a different vibe going," says Lethal during a phone interview while driving to his neighborhood liquor store. "Just depends. Maybe I'm on this revolution where I walk door-to-door and smack everybody in the mouth. Today I just want to help people and be positive. The Bill Hicks side is turned down today."
Well, maybe. Moments later, he's pausing our conversation to yell out the car window at a woman he's passing by: "Don't litter, you fucking bitch."
As for his career trajectory, Lethal figures he didn't hit his stride until 2007, when the Rhymesayers label released 11:11 and sent him on tour with their flagship act, Atmosphere. Lethal chalks up comparisons between himself and Atmosphere emcee Slug to "the experiences of being a Midwestern, Caucasian man that is trying to be genuine and rap about things that you know."
While Lethal may be much more of a novelty rapper than Slug, he does have his serious moments. Recorded in the aftermath of his mother's death, 11:11 was dramatically reworked from the originals.
Last year brought Lethal's third official release, Irish Goodbye, on his own Black Clover Records imprint. Next came an 11-month hiatus spent working on his 225-page novel, after which he returned to the studio this month and released the track "Marijuana Plants on Saturn." He says the new lyrics came quickly, with little need for revision.
"I'm not sure what exactly happened, but I did something to my brain," he enthuses. "When I went back to the main discipline, it's so much developed now. The amount of strain and just torture I went through writing the book was just psychotic."
But just because he's opened his mind — and heart, judging from his recent marriage and impending fatherhood — doesn't mean he's softened. He's still ready to go UFC on Chris Brown.
"He doesn't have martial arts experience and I do, so he's probably not going to have a good time," Lethal boasts. "But if he wants to step to me, you can tell him I've got it right here for him."