Who: Tristan Paul Wilds, 24, most immediately recognizable as Michael from David Simon's Dickensian drug trade epic, The Wire, or, if you prefer lighter TV fare, as Dixon on the new 90210. In the recording booth, though, Tristan is "Mack" Wilds, a boom-bap crooner and melodically attuned MC working closely with legendary beatmaker Salaam Remi, best known for his pop-leaning work for Amy Winehouse, Nas, and many others. "Salaam is like my big brother, man," Wilds says, proudly. "He was a fan of mine from The Wire and recognized me and we started talking and it went from there." Wilds cannily mentioned to Remi that he was also pursuing music, and the producer decided to workshop with him. "Last December, he brought me out to Miami, like, 'Let me see what you can really do," Wilds says, still a little incredulous. The result of their collaboration is New York: A Love Story, Wilds' confident, compelling, recently released debut album.
Soulful Roots: Although Wilds' transition from acting seems sudden, it's music that's "always been the main form of expression in [his] life." His father was an R&B singer, and both of his grandfathers were jazz vocalists. As a result, Wilds' vocal stylings are, in his words, "deeply rooted in soulful music." New York: A Love Story skews reflective, thanks to Remi's orchestrated samples and cameos by hip-hop legends Method Man, Raekwon, and Doug E. Fresh. But Wilds contends that "boom-bap" – the catch-all term for 1990s New York's hard-edged, sample-based production style – shouldn't be restricted to a specific era: "The reason people would say it's '90s is because we haven't heard the New York sound like that since the '90s. But that is our sound." It's an approach that Wilds gently tweaks — on "The Sober Up," he bemoans a night of heavy drinking over an Illmatic march that wobbles and woozes all Drake-like.
Hit Your Mark: "Acting came into the picture, professionally, around eighth grade or so," Wilds recalls. "I saw a lot of my friends going on auditions and they're coming back and telling me how much money they're making. Five thousand dollars to run around and act crazy and have fun sounded like a pretty good job." Though choosing acting over "summer camp" would delay his musical aspirations, the skills Wilds learned on-set helped him become comfortable as a performer. "You learn how to conduct yourself [when delivering dialogue]," he says, "and you have to move around so the audience feels your energy." Playing a much-beloved role on a hip-hop-approved show like The Wire certainly doesn't hurt either.
New York State of Mind: New York: A Love Story was born, in part, out of Wilds feeling homesick as a New York-bred performer stuck in Los Angeles. And conversations with Remi, a fellow L.A. transplant, inspired the project: "We would constantly talk about how much we miss, just, the soundscapes of New York," Wilds explains. They wanted to address "a void [in current popular music] that expressed how [their] city feels" but didn't want the project to be too NYC-centric. The album makes a case for "that New York swing," while communicating a more universal concept of "running around your city and learning a lot of life lessons through your city." Album closer "Duck Sauce" is a blast of hard-spitting bravado and teenaged reminiscing that juxtaposes Wilds' current success with days as a teen spent eating chicken wings from a Chinese carry-out.