Paterson's Mack combining two talents at Bucknell
Three years ago, Paterson's Holland Mack roomed with Charles Lee when both were freshmen on the Bucknell men's basketball team. Mack was an aspiring rapper and hip-hop artist and Lee had to listen to his roommate's noisy riffs day after day after day.
"I'm kind of sick of all the rapping because I heard so much of it freshmen year in the dorm room," Lee, a senior guard/forward who is the team's co-leading scorer, cracked during a recent conference call.
Three years later, Mack is no longer just an aspiring artist. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound senior forward has made two hip-hop albums, contributed to two compilation CDs and recorded a cut called the "Bison Anthem" that has been featured on ESPN's "The Season" and is played during pregame warm-ups at home.
Mack is sure to be spouting some lyrics today when the No. 9-seeded Bison (26-4) meet No. 8 Arkansas (22-9) in a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Dallas. The winner will likely get No. 1 seed Memphis, which takes on No. 16 Oral Roberts in the second game of the doubleheader.
While playing CYO ball and growing up in the "Silk City," Mack played against Marquis Webb, now starting for Rutgers in the NIT, and Darryl "Mookie" Watkins, now starting for Syracuse in NCAAs. He played his high school ball at Paramus Catholic and plans to return as an assistant to Paladins head coach Tony Campbell next season.
He doesn't get a whole lot of playing time with the Patriot League champions, who went a perfect 14-0 during conference play. Mack played in 17 of 30 games this season, starting just once and scoring two points in Bucknell's final regular season home game, a 70-47 win over Army.
Yet Mack said he is pleased to be a member of a team that is headed to the NCAAs for the second straight season. A year ago, the Bison became the first Patriot League team ever to win an NCAA Tournament game when, as the No. 14 seed, they shocked No. 3 Kansas in the first round.
"As a player you always want to play more, but just to be part of something so special, you say it's not about me, it's about what's best for the team," Mack said. "And my role is about making the team better. I'll do whatever it takes. Not a lot of people get to be in my shoes. I know they would do whatever it takes to get here."
Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery and the starters all rave about Mack's attitude and his ability to contribute on the scout team. He is known for cheering hard from the bench and for giving his all when he does get into games. One of the lyrics to the "Bison Anthem" sums up Mack's attitude, "Bison never lay down."
"Holland is kid that if you were too see us, he's in the middle of everything that goes on," Flannery said. "He's a very popular kid. He's a good athlete. Sometimes he's a little overmatched with skill. But he puts his nose in there from day one. The school loves him."
Kevin Bettencourt is Bucknell's third-leading scorer and the man who hit six 3-pointers in the Patriot League championship win over Holy Cross. Asked how Mack approached his role as a practice player, Bettencourt said: "He'd probably much rather be on the floor than on the bench, but he doesn't let it bother him. He's the first guy to tell us what we're doing wrong, 'Do this or do that.' He's really involved in it even if he doesn't get in the game."
Mack might not get into too many basketball games, but he has gotten heavily into the hip-hop game. His stage name is "Hoffa," based on the former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa who disappeared without a trace in 1975.
"But they're not getting rid of me," Mack joked.
Working with Leonia-based producer Ryan "Knockout" Nach, Mack has made two albums, "Built For This" and "What If?" with his partner Blas Santana, a fellow Patersonian who attended Newark Academy. Mack said he has sold more than 600 records.
Mack totes a black notebook around with him wherever he goes, and is even writing material during the trip to Dallas.
"I was writing on the plane when we came down here, some reflective stuff," he said. "I'm doing a commemorative song for these four years."
Mack and some friends have soundproofed a dorm room at school and done their best to turn it into a recording studio. Mack can often be found there working on his songs.
"I don't understand what he's saying, but he's tremendous," Flannery joked.
Yet Mack says the message of his music is aimed at inner-city kids and it is simple.
"You have options," he said. "There is always something positive you can take out of anything; that's what I'm trying to bring about with my music."
After he graduates, Mack said he plans on trying to get a record deal. He already has the material written for his third album.
Before shooting for the big time, however, Mack plans to contribute as he always has as the Bison try to make a run in the Big Dance.
"It feels great," he said. "We're just happy to be back here trying to go deeper then we did last year."
Reach Adam Zagoria at (973) 569-7156 or email@example.com.
The University music scene will soon find itself to be the launching pad for a rising star in the world of hip-hop music. With the release of “What If,” rapper Holland Mack ’06 and producer Ryan Nach ’07 will “use the ‘bubble’” to launch their careers as professional musicians.
Mack aka “Hoffa” and Nach aka “Knockout” recorded the album at Nach’s home studio in Leonia, N.J. The studio serves as the base for Nach’s label, Knock It Out Records. Nach and Mack have collaborated on between 25 and 30 tracks in the past year. Nineteen of those tracks will appear on “What If,” a full-length rap album slated for release on Sept. 28 in the University Bookstore.
Mack, along with friends Blas and Macho from his hometown of Paterson, N.J. record under the name Ill-Famed. The previous album put out by this musical group, “Built for This,” spawned the single “Bison Anthem,” heard at basketball games at Sojka Pavilion this year.
Mack’s interest in music dates back to learning lyrics to his father’s favorite albums. He began rapping during elementary school, “just freestyling with my friend at recess and in between class.”
When Mack reached high school, he recorded some tracks in a studio. Mack got involved with recording hip-hop music during his first year, laying down several tracks with Nate Zapata ’03 on his independent label, Notion Records. This first musical collaboration led to the filming of a music video on campus for the song “Let’s Get It Hot.”
“I’m trying to make a career out of it,” Mack said. “This is just the start for me.”
As musicians and entrepreneurs, both Mack and Nach revere Jay-Z, the owner of Roc-a-fella Records and recently named president of Def Jam Recordings.
Currently, Mack is listening to a lot of Jay-Z’s records for inspiration in writing his lyrics. He said that he writes something everyday, “because you never know when someone is going to give you your shot, when they’ll point to you and say ‘Do something.’”
On the production side, Nach has turned a rudimentary education in music into a passionate pursuit, working on beats and developing sounds constantly. Nach initially mastered a computer program designed for producing music, though it was “not meant for hip-hop.” He has since bought new pieces of equipment and continued to experiment with different sounds.
Nach’s most versatile piece of equipment is a Triton LE keyboard. It can control sounds on the computer and be played during live performances. He has been open to using “off-the-wall samples” in trying to find his “trademark sound” as a producer.
“We work as a joint effort, and we work best when we sit down and do a song from scratch,” Nach said. “People can tell when music doesn’t sound authentic.”
For the song “Symphony,” which appears on “What If,” Mack was interested in a classical feel. A song he heard in a music class with Associate Professor of Music Annie J. Randall inspired him. He was interested in “putting a hip-hop twist” on a classic piece. After working out the song with Nach, Mack performed the song for his class.
“Every album is like pieces of a puzzle. You have to think about how a song is going to fit in – whether it’s something people will want to dance to, if it’s something they’ll have to sit and listen to the lyrics,” Mack said. “Anybody can make a hot song, but when you try make a good album, it really has to flow together.”
With this cohesive musical vision in mind, Ill-Famed has put together an album with the tight production and intense focus that belies the collective’s amateur status.
“Everything we did with this album, we wanted to make it professional,” Nach said.
Mack and Nach have a long list of major supporters of their musical endeavors: John Blake ’05, with whom Mack performed on the “Buckdown” rap compilation; former student Jamal Rose; Jason Nyrop ’07, the graphic designer for Knock It Out Records; several officials at Def Jam Recordings where Nach interned this summer; Alex Numeroff ’07 and Amanda Brecker ’06, who contributed vocals to the album; and Jonathan Shechtman ’07 aka DJ Shec who has promoted the album on his show on WVBU.
With the release of “What If,” Mack and Nach are looking to establish a fan base for their music.
“You can’t branch out if you don’t have the streets behind you,” Mack said.
Knock It Out Records has recruited several University students as a street team to help sell the record. Flyers and posters for the album will soon be seen all over campus.
Mack has plans for performances on campus and at other colleges in the area in support of the album, but chiefly wants the University to help launch his career and make a mark as a music scene where hip-hop can take hold.
© David Allen