“I Know We Were the Chosen Few”: An Interview with SaySo The Mac

Steven Louis talks with the Stinc Team rapper and street legend about learning to skate by necessity, drawing the bloodthirsty ire of L.A. prosecutors, reconciling with addiction and more.
By    February 15, 2023

Image via SaySo The Mac/Instagram

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Steven Louis is gonna do everything he said he would, but he’s gonna find the time first.

It’s impossible to tell the story of contemporary Los Angeles without saluting The Stinc Team. The back-half of the 2010s found many of L.A.’s standard-bearers hard to reach: Kendrick was winning Pulitzers and releasing songs with Bono; YG went fully corporate; radio all but abandoned local artists. The Stinc Team, meanwhile, filled this space and earned devoted fans with the wildest crew slang since Wu Tang. Each new drop was an amphetamine rush: lurching, bouncing and loaded with paranoia, known by the Stincs themselves as “nervous music.” Second verses were sometimes skipped for Wockhardt-steeped shit talk. Home invasions, extendo guns and credit card scams were coded as both surreal and totally hilarious.

Drakeo The Ruler led the way, first as a breakout critical success, then as a folk hero after he became the target of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. His younger brother Ralfy the Plug supplied the drug talk with a smirk, while his foil Ketchy the Great created high voltage through a gravely and claustrophobic flow. And with flowing braids and velvet pimp talk, SaySo The Mac aptly brought the pimp talk like a rightful heir to Suga Free.

The years that passed have been both triumphant and tragic. Each member of the Stinc Team was locked up on bullshit, then regained their freedom. Drakeo played sold-out shows, boosted his streaming numbers and starred in Drake’s OVO collection. Ketchy’s life was stolen in February 2021, and Drakeo was assassinated that December. Ralfy has both carried his brother’s legacy and leveled up as a rapper with millions of views on his own songs. But we haven’t heard as much from SaySo which perversely built up his mystique. Despite facing lesser charges of vandalism and fraud, he was punished with seven-figure bail and aggressive gang enhancements. He also had to fight for his sobriety, which he describes as a generational curse.

Still, real Stincs know, ain’t no such thing as halfway hoes. Who would be audacious enough to not only flip “Shook Ones Part II” into a pandering anthem, but somehow make Prodigy feel a bit tame in subject matter? Perhaps SaySo is the closest thing we’ll get to 2020s Suga Free. The word disrespectful would be doing too much lifting; SaySo’s pimp-strutted punchlines are humiliating. Rattling bass, cool flows that don’t lay neatly between beats, funky street energy that recalls the heights of Tha Dogg Pound. This guy isn’t just going away like that.

To try and really make sense of SaySo The Mac is to atomically wedgie yourself into oblivion. The contradictions aren’t there to be wrestled with nor romanticized. They just are. SaySo is proudly celebrating his sobriety, and also acknowledging that he and the Stinc Team are responsible for popularizing opiates and codeine in Los Angeles. He skated to System of a Down and also knew Sticky Fingaz freestyles by heart. He was unfairly targeted by police raids and prosecutors, literally represented by Christopher Darden in what became West Coast Hip Hop’s biggest trial since Snoop went platinum off acquittal, and he was also very much on the blade. He was a youth model for Stussy, and was also an outcast at school for being biracial. He traversed battlegrounds and ecosystems while hardly leaving Los Angeles County. He intro’d an album that had Drake on it, the same year he tormented himself for not focusing on rap. There’s a lot going on with SaySo The Mac, and it’s time to finally hear it all in his words.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

Before the release of your biggest solo project to date, and before we get to the triumphs and tragedies of The Stinc Team, I’d like to walk it back a bit. Where did you grow up, and what was childhood like?

SaySo: I grew up basically all over L.A. South Central, midtown, even Koreatown. I went to high school in Inglewood.

Why were you always moving around?

SaySo: I had a single mom. Dad was in prison most of my life. Drug addiction is sad, bro. I remember my pops leaving for the first time on Christmas, when I was five years old. Ever since then, I just heard that he was loaded, popping windows out of cars, stealing and all that. Eventually it caught up with him and he went to prison.

I remember, my dad thought I was a soft little kid. So I just wanted to be real tough around my mom, even if I didn’t understand what was going down. I have a specific memory, a couple nights before I started kindergarten. He’s like, he needs to learn how to be tough so the kids don’t bully him. He pantsed me, basically, so I went and socked him in the eye. Then I had this stigma about myself, all that time he was gone. Like I gotta puff my chest out. I was a skateboarder, I liked alternative rock and shit like that, but he was like a gangster. So from there, I went out of my way to be a tough guy.

How did you fall into skating and rock music?

SaySo: Skating was a form of transportation, you know? I had to get everywhere by myself. Mom was always working, so I went back and forth from school skating. But I just always had a thrill for extreme sports. My dad was the president of a motorcycle club. I was trying on my mom’s rubber blades all the time, shit like that. I like the nature of free-flowing movement, it relaxes me. This was before Terry Kennedy and Kareem Campbell and dudes like that, who made it acceptable to be kinda dirty and ghetto with it. With the music, I was listening to like, System of a Down and Eminem.

With all that going on, what was your relationship like with mom?

SaySo: She was my best friend. It’s weird, at the time she could do no wrong, but right now we’re going through it a lil bit just because I’m realizing that some of the shit we went through wasn’t normal. Like, she gave me my first drop of liquor at nine years old. That’s not a normal relationship. I was picking thorns off her dress because she was drunk and fell down into a rose bush.

Even ‘til I was like 19, 20, I would drive down to Long Beach and find her at the dope man’s house, shooting shit up. I’m young and dumb and all I know is that I need to protect my mom. If she calls and says she needs help, I’m coming. But now that I’m 29, 30 years old, I see the co-dependency thing and a gang of other shit that I can’t fully deal with right now, because I’m trying to stay clean myself. I have relationships with my three siblings, but I’m kind of the only adult male figure in their life, and that can be tough.

It sounds like you’ve had to assume a lot of roles and responsibilities from an early age, before you met your chosen brothers.

SaySo: I kind of felt like growing up, I was too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids, too Asian for everyone and shit like that. And with dad gone, it was hard to find kids I was comfortable with. That’s why I was down with Ketchy right away, because when we hung out, shit was always regular. “Rego shit,” that’s where the term came from. With him and with Drakeo, we would go steal and drink and do things we probably shouldn’t do, but I was definitely conscious of who I was hanging out with. I didn’t know it was going to turn into some crazy shit like this, but we were a click of thieves who ain’t had nothing. We wanted to have a good time. We’d go to Third Street Promenade, looking all dusty and not having no money, and we’d run out of Nordstrom with a gang of clothes and run out of Ralph’s with a bottle, smoking weed and making this a daily routine.

Do you remember when you went from the click of thieves looking all dusty to the cool kids, or at least kids with some talent and taste?

SaySo: I was getting money at a really young age. I pink slipped a CLS Benz at like 20 years old, and Drakeo had a gang of jewelry. At some point we looked around, like, the type of shit we were doing, kids ain’t doing now. Buying $40K cars, $50K in our pocket. When I noticed that we were the young n***** in the city having money, not needing to gang bang but still respected? That’s when I realized we had the sauce. One day at Drakeo’s mamma’s house, just seeing how many blowers were stashed under the couch. Everything was gravitating toward us now because we had the money. It was envy, wanting to be around us to get something, but I know we were the chosen few and that shit felt good. N***** was wearing skinny jeans when we had Ralph Lauren puffer jackets with the True Religions. We went downtown, spending thousands on some fly shit like that. We were going to Neiman Marcus while everybody else was wearing Vans and shopping at Hot Topic.

How did you know what was fly, what was worth the high fashion and the price tag and all that? How did you develop your sense of fashion?

SaySo: When we first started this nervous movement, there were a couple people we looked up to at that time. Chief Keef was a big one, we see him having money and rocking Ferragamo. But I grew up wearing shit because my grandfather would get storage units and sell stuff. Saint Laurent and Gucci and stuff like that, so I tried to educate myself and look different. Plus, I used to model for companies, some local ones and Stussy and shit, when I was a kid. When I was skating, I was plugged to a lot of different people.

And by then, you had transitioned from alternative rock and nu-metal to rapping?

SaySo: I remember the moment. It was a house party in middle school, and folks were having a dance battle or some other shit. And I spit a freestyle, even though it was bitten from Sticky Fingaz. I knew in my heart it wasn’t honest, but no one knew I did that type of shit. I’d go to the studio with Ketchup and the homies just to support. I’d sit there and listen, until Ketchy was like, bro, get your ass up here and rap. I told him I wasn’t a rapper, but he told me I was a pimp, that I was talking that hot shit every day in real life. He said that damn near everything that came out my mouth was a rhyme, so I might as well try it.

That’s how we made our first song, called “Just Listen.” We both felt that shit was top tier elite, so we kept going and made “Pressure.” That’s when shit was all cool, there was no snitching or whatever. I worked with 2$hitty and Denero the Dough Hunter too. And after a while, they saw I had a little bit of sauce about myself. That’s when Ralfy and everyone else saw it. There was no stigma back then, we were just rapping for fun.

This was around the time I found your music, like 2017 with Ketchy.

SaySo: Those were some magical moments bro. Ketchy wasn’t a pimp at first. The pimp persona drip was me, I guess, because I had him listening to Suga Free and Mac Dre and Too $hort and shit like that. When I was on the blade getting, like, five bands a day and shit was really popping, he became intrigued by the culture and the game. He wasn’t having no money at that time, and it was a way for us to do something we already knew how to do. We got to talk fly shit and know that we were telling the truth. We were friends in real life, not just on tracks, bro. He lived with me for a year at the Hollywood condo. It was a dynamic duo. I trusted him with my life. The song “600 Bars” was named that because me and him robbed somebody for 1,000 bars and I touched 600 on him. He found out and he wasn’t even mad. It was really effortless, he was a really good man. I really don’t know how to find nobody else like him. That was my best friend.

Were you at the infamous “Chunky Monkey” shoot as well?

SaySo: Hell no! [Laughing]

But in general, did you ever imagine that all those days around the city and in the studio would become, like, court evidence?

SaySo: Honestly yes and no. I didn’t expect it to really happen, but it was always in the back of my mind because I’m a paranoid person. Before this happened, I went to jail for pimping and pandering. I saw the way they caught me, how the courts work. The police aren’t stupid, they’ve got technology and they will do some bullshit, bro. So it was always in the back of my mind, like why the hell are we getting pulled over so much? Not just by black and white cars, but by CRASH units. We’re not registered gang members, so why the f*ck are they bothering us? I kinda did see it coming, and I should’ve just been thinking more.

We was out doing a video shoot called “Right Decision” and there were some taggers out there. My mamma and my daddy were both taggers. So I was like, where the fat cans at? I just hit STINC TEAM big as f*ck on camera. And I never would’ve thought the detective was gonna raid the cameraman’s house for that footage, bro. That put a label on us, doing vandalism with common names and hand signs and symbols. You’re a gangmember too, SaySo! I told them, I’m a pimp I promise! Look at my record, I’m not a gangbanger!

At this point, did you feel spiritual connection to the original LA gangsta rappers, like N.W.A? That’s inevitably part of the culture and the story out here. Songs like “F*ck Tha Police” were about the same cops and sheriffs you’re dealing with now.

SaySo: Once I realized my bail would’ve been like $1.2 million, I realized they were not playing with us. They were f*cking harassing us. I’ve got Christopher Darden as my lawyer, and he was trying to put O. J. away. So once I’m walking into court seeing Chris Darden and all types of detectives, I’m thinking, this is a movie bro. I was really pissed off about how long it took the state to pass the law about not criminalizing people over their music and lyrics. It really doesn’t matter still, because they’re zooming in on videos and posts for serial numbers and shit.

That needs to be called The Stinc Team Law, or the Drakeo the Ruler/Ketchy the Great Act.

SaySo: Hell yeah. That was us.

How did it feel to watch the rest of the city more or less ignore that struggle?

SaySo: Well I wasn’t as connected to the important people as Drakeo. Like, who’s gonna step in? Even if people were paying attention, we’re talking about the D.A. and the police. Obama and Kim Kardashian don’t know me. I honestly just thought I was another n**** in a bad predicament, and if I get f*cked over for it, this is what it is. I’ve been shot five times, bro. I’m used to taking losses.

How would you describe that feeling to someone who never went through it? How did you survive on the other side of the wall?

SaySo: I’d say it was the craziest experience of my life. Every day is a battle to stay alive. You don’t know what can happen, and you have to be on point at all times. Ain’t no space for little boy shit, you better turn into a grown man real fast. Even when you mind your business, someone will be trying to hurt you. You’re gonna lose motherf*ckers while you’re in there. You’re gonna be disappointed by motherf*ckers, lose b*****. I had to remind myself that God gives his strongest soldiers the hardest battles, and that I had to take it one day at a time rather than look at the whole time. I was tripping over shit I had no control over. I should’ve gone crazy. But I worked out like crazy. I read 120 books while I was there. I read Iceberg Slim, all the Sister Souljah books. Sun Tzu, a lot of murder mysteries.

Getting out must be an indescribable feeling, but I’m gonna ask you to try here.

SaySo: Well, we all got out at different times. We all took our time separately, but the day I got out I didn’t think anybody was gonna be there for me. I thought I was gonna take the train home, but my pops pulled up and it was just a cool feeling that he actually picked me up. I got butt ass naked in the motherf*cking truck, because I needed to change out of those jail clothes. My dad brought me the same shit I had on the day I went to jail! It was all I got, he reminded me. I stayed at his house for the night and drank up all his Hennessy. I got too drunk, I called a b**** over to his house and she came over with some weed. I was way too high because I hadn’t smoked in two f*cking years.

It sounds like you were forced to rebuild everything you had been working for.

SaySo: Bro, I always used to tell Ketchup this when I was having a lot of money living in Hollywood. I said bro, I deserve this shit, n****. If you can’t lose it and get it back, you don’t deserve it in the first place. I told myself, I’m get everything back, and slowly but surely I’m now doing better than I ever have. I got the bust down Rollie and my own spot again. I just had to stay on top of my game and really believe in myself, which is the opposite of what happens in L.A. because ain’t nobody gonna believe in you here.

If you can bounce back after incarceration and the nightmare that was 2021, I’d think you can do anything.

SaySo: Oh yeah, 2021 was rough. Everything was pretty rough until about June of last year. As soon as Ketchup died, I was instantly spiraling. It was hell, bro. Let’s just say opiate addiction starts all pretty and pink but it ends real f*cked up. This rock album I’m dropping is on the anniversary of Ketchy’s passing, Valentine’s Day, dedicated to him. I have to keep going for Ketchup, and for Drakeo. I just saw Drakeo’s mom for her birthday. They’re always going to be my family. The family you actually get to choose, you still don’t choose when you love them, whether it’s bittersweet or not.

You can hear both of their influences all over today’s stuff, especially here in California.

SaySo: That makes me laugh, honestly, no cap. Y’all studied us so much. The n***** biting Stinc Team, biting Ketchup, please try again. I mean, put your tweak on it, don’t embarrass yourself trying to sound like him. It’s cool if you pay homage, but I don’t know how I feel about it. Depends on the day I guess.

On a more positive side, 2022 seemed excellent for you guys. Ralfy is popping, OTM is popping, and y’all just went on a national Stinc Team tour?

SaySo: I got clean June 17th, 2022. That’s when I was finally able to think clear enough, like, I had to be there for the family. In 2022 I think I did more than any other year of my career. I didn’t get the exposure I expected or probably deserve, but what do you expect when you return from prison, don’t rap for a year and a half, only putting out one song every eight months. I really didn’t take rap seriously until I got sober.

From July to September, I recorded over 100 songs and I recorded that rap album and I showed it to my distribution label. They were like, we’ll give you a quarter million, four-year 70/30 split. I’d still be independent, and I took it because frankly I needed that money. Then right as I’m coming up from the underground, I break my leg. It’s always motherf*cking something. I was only able to go to a few dates of tour because of that, and I couldn’t do shit because of this f*cking wheelchair. In Arizona, the shit got canceled. In Vegas, the fire department tried to shut us down. But I needed to give the fans what they want, and the love was so dearly missed. You feel me? They still with me!

What’s the new music sounding like? Is the rock one something new you’re experimenting with, or a return to your original vibe from back in the day?

SaySo: This rock album was really about me being true to myself and what The Truth is. Everyone’s trying to keep The Truth Alive, and a lot of people wondering what happened. I feel like I’ve unlocked a character, taking the songs I grew up listening to and giving a piece of it to my fans. On one song I used “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers for a sample. It’s talking about, like, heroin withdrawals. I’ve never done heroin before, I’m not gonna say that, but I’m definitely an addict and this is a song about addiction. It could get real ugly, and I had no idea. It was my grandpa’s favorite song. My dad’s too. And I never got it fully until I went to rehab. Now, I can relate to this too.

I ain’t gonna lie, some of these people turned on to drugs and the lean, we had a big part to play. We played a part in the opioid epidemic out here and the L.A. drug scene overall. Shoreline Mafia was on the news for some drank. And that’s part of The Truth on this too. I’m talking about survivor’s guilt, things I’ve had to cope with, fist-fighting demons. I’m trying to be honest and versatile with it, and I would call it a whole new genre entirely. My original title was Punk Rock Bitch, but I want to do billboards and and sell this shit to a different crowd. So I’m taking that back. I might do something with “nervousness” in the title, or something with “survivor’s guilt.”

What matters is the music itself, to drop on the day that Ketchup passed. It’s really hard, bro, and I’m working on making it less hard. I acknowledge the fact that he’s here with me, his spirit is guiding me, Ketch and Drakeo too. They live on. The internet is a weird thing, I can still see my friends moving and dancing and rapping in the song right next to me. And when I see it, the emotions that get released from my brain, it’s f*cking crazy.

You think they’d want you to go this hard for them now?

SaySo: Yeah, definitely. I got Ketchup’s name tattooed on my hands. So, every time I look down, if I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be, I’m reminded that I made an obligation. I made a promise, not just to myself but to him. The last time we were together and he was alive, I was getting high and I told myself no more. I f*cked up a few times on the way, but that’s life.

Do you have any other regrets in your rearview as you drop this new work?

SaySo: I’m regretful that I wasn’t as consistent as I should have been.There were a lot of people who fucked with me when I wasn’t taking music serious. A fan hit my DM right before I got out of treatment, saying, bro, you fucking suck, how are you gonna let us down like that? You got people that love and care about you, people that support you dropping music. Drakeo would be on your b**** ass. I was gonna cuss them out, but I read it and took it and, you know what? Ketchup and Drakeo would’ve been mad. Drakeo was mad that I wasn’t rapping after Ketchup died. I was f*cked up, bro, and Drakeo was out and alive.

The reason why you don’t see me in those videos is because I was fucking grieving. I got that song “Intro” with him, on the same album as Drake. I feel like he did that to show me, bro, you can spick it up and still keep going. If I didn’t believe in you, if I didn’t think you were a good artist, why would I put you on this project with fucking Drake? Like, you have to believe in yourself, and I really didn’t believe in myself for a long time.

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