From Lawrence McKenzie to Mac Irv
Star Gopher basketball player turned rapper says, "You need to keep your mind strong."
IIf you hear a Mac Irv hip-hop song coursing through the concourses of Williams Arena during a Gopher men’s basketball game, consider it good news for the maroon and gold. When the rapper unleashed two versions of “Gametime”— changing the lyrics to name-check different players on the rosters of first the 2011-12 team and then the 2012-13 squad— the Gophs won more than 20 games each season. And last year he sprung “Minnesota March” in honor of the 2016-17 team’s surprising leap into the “March Madness” of the NCAA tournament.
Injuries have shelved that possibility this season. Nevertheless, “If they ask me for another song I’ll definitely put something together to help out,” he says. “It combines the two things I love: rapping and basketball.”
Indeed. Mac Irv is the artist formerly known as Lawrence McKenzie (B.S. ’08), a star guard for the University of Minnesota from 2006 to 2008 who once held the school record for most 3-pointers made in a season. By then he was already a local hoops legend, having won four straight Minnesota state basketball titles at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis.
Growing up, McKenzie patterned his game after his first hero, Penny Hardaway, the charismatic NBA guard known for slick passes and attacking the rim. Unfortunately, like Hardaway, McKenzie was waylaid by an assortment of painful injuries. By 2011, the athlete with “never” and “quit” tattooed on his biceps was following the advice of his mother, Dianne McKenzie, on the best way to confront the inevitability of career-ending hip surgery.
“I get very emotional and I don’t like people to see me like that,” he says. “My mom got me into writing down what I feel. When I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, that’s when I really started writing. Then I started putting it to different beats and instrumentals.”
Mac Irv was born, named from abbreviations of his last name and his Irving Avenue home. The role model switched from Hardaway to Jay-Z, a word slinger who, as Mac puts it, “wasn’t bragging and boasting as much as storytelling, making people understand your emotions and transferring that energy.”
Mac Irv’s best hip-hop material does that, whether addressing police tensions in the black community on “Change,” or most of his autobiographical album, Misfit 55411. But there are banging party anthems too, such as the recent “Can’t Stop This” and of course the songs celebrating Gopher hoops.
Basketball isn’t the only thing connecting Mac Irv to the U. Through the influence of his father, also Lawrence McKenzie, Mac Irv learned the value of education. “As your legs get weaker, you need to keep your mind strong,” he says, explaining why he got a degree in business marketing. “When I was playing basketball, I didn’t know how or why I would use it. But now I run my own business—Pilot Life Entertainment is my LLC with a couple of partners—and I market myself.”
Case in point: “Minnesota March.” “It’s got 400,000 plays on YouTube, a lot of dope comments, and it is one of my highest played songs on Spotify,” Mac Irv proclaims. “People love it.” Whenever it comes, he’s ready for round two.