China Mac, whose government name is Raymond Yu, grew up in Brooklyn, engulfed in one of the most infamous Chinese-American gangs in the city’s history, the Flying Dragons. Yu’s father was a highly active member of the Flying Dragons, which led Yu to resent his father as a largely absent criminal. By the time Yu was 12 years old, he had realized a juvenile fantasy of becoming a gangster and joined the Ghost Shadows gang, a rival organization in relation to his family ties.
In addition to his exposure to gang activity, Yu was also introduced to hip hop as a young child and grew up rapping and freestyling with fellow inmates in the juvenile detention centers of New York. Yu rapped and engaged in violent and lucrative street activity for most of his life, until 2003, when he shot a rival rapper in a New York City nightclub.
At that point, Yu had been released from prison just five months prior, after completing a three-year prison sentence that he received at age 18 in 2000. The shooting left Christopher Louie partially paralyzed and earned Yu, 21 at the time, an 11-year prison sentence. Over the course of his life, Yu, 36, has spent a total of 25 years behind bars, whether in prison or detention centers. Today, however, his situation has changed dramatically from his days as “G Kay”, a well-respected member of the Ghost Shadows Gang.
Now, he goes by China Mac, and is known as a veteran street rapper and social media star. You may recognize him from this 2018 viral Instagram video, in which he checked Lil Pump for ridiculing the Asian culture; while demanding an apology on behalf of the Asian community. Mac currently hosts multiple YouTube shows, like the increasingly popular Mac Eats, in addition to grinding as a street-tested NYC gangster rapper. I got the chance to talk to China Mac this week and asked him about his heavy internet presence, his skincare routine, and of course, prison.
Ryan Leutz: What made you want to start Mac Eats or your YouTube channel in general?
China Mac: Just because I love food. When I was a kid I always watched Anthony Bourdain and shows like that; and I thought it was cool. So I started doin’ that and people are really fucking with it so I’m gonna keep on goin’.
RL: I told my buddy that I was interviewing you and he said he knew you from Mac Eats. He watched every episode in a couple days.
Mac: That’s what’s crazy, a lot of people know me from Mac Eats and don’t even know that I rap. Some people say they like Mac Eats and not my music, but that doesn’t offend me. As long as people are watching and listening to it then it doesn’t matter why. Let’s say I get a whole bunch of subscribers through Mac Eats. They’re there for the show and don’t know about the music. Okay sure, they don’t know the music now, but let’s say I drop that one song that everybody really fucks with. If I keep the fans there with entertainment and then I have that one song that everybody fucks with, then it’s all worth it.
RL: I really started following you after the Lil Pump video, in which you checked him for ridiculing Asian culture. Are you happy with the outcome of that video, now that some time has passed?
Mac: I’m definitely happy with my video. It got a lot of attention and exposure; and it helped in making him take down the video. It also helped promote Asians in a different light and that was the whole point.
RL: How did your 11-year prison sentence affect how you move now, professionally? Especially in regards to your social media exposure.
Mac: Social media definitely created a whole other lane for people like myself. It’s good to have the opportunity to amass a great following. Release a couple good videos and next thing you know, you got a bunch of followers. I was thinking about social media when I was inside and when I got home. It took me some time to get the grasp of it, but once I got the grasp of it I feel like it’s the best tool ever.
RL: I was going to ask that too, when you were in prison were you thinking about marketing yourself on the internet?
Mac: I really didn’t fully understand the internet, so it wasn’t like I couldn’t wait to get on it. I didn’t really know what to expect, I just knew the internet was gonna be a big thing for me. Once I got on it and started realizing how I could use my talents on social media, that’s when I realized I could really do something with it.
RL: I know much of your popularity has included exposing the masses to the realities of prison and gang activity in NYC. Are you sick of talking about your prison time in interviews?
Mac: I don’t get sick and tired of it. I’m not sick of talking about it, because it’s a big part of my story so, I expect for people to ask me about it. People ask me if I’m sick of talking about it, but if I’m on VladTV and I don’t have a crazy hit record at the moment, they might not ask about that music. They wanna hear about a story that’s going to intrigue the people, right? So, I understand that, and I know that I can use that to help me. Like, if I do an interview on Vlad, and then I go somewhere else, that other platform might have a bunch of listeners that don’t watch Vlad. They wouldn’t know my story. I feel like I’m just gonna keep repeating myself for a while.
RL: I was telling my friend that I was going to interview you, and I showed her the infamous photo of you in 2001, in front of the coffee table. Then I showed her a pic of you now and she was like “This fool looks the same!” So, I’ve heard of ‘black don’t crack’ but what about ‘Asian ain’t changin’? Do you have a skincare routine or is it just good genes? I know prison really ages some people.
Mac: *Laughs* I’m not gonna front, I drink a lot of water. I get a lot of rest too, I like to rest up. I get facials and shit too bro, I wear masks and all that.
RL: What kind of masks do you wear?
Mac: I don’t know *laughs*, some shit. Girls get ‘em for me, but I actually go to places to get facials and shit too. Honestly, the skin routine is cool, and it helps, but I really think it’s my lack of stress. I don’t allow myself to stress out much, and I don’t do drugs either. I think drugs have a lot to do with people aging.
RL: So, in the future would you rather be a poppin’ rapper, or a TV personality like on some Viceland shit? Or the Action Bronson thing, where he does it all at once.
Mac: Right now, I want to do it all at once, especially because I got some music coming that’s really crazy.
RL: You said you have a lot of stuff on the way, are there any projects or collabs you can talk about it?
Mac: I got a few things, man. This is gonna be a big summer for me, and summer has already started. I just dropped that ABG Neal song called HUH RYTE, and that’s just a little appetizer. I did a collab with a Latin artist, his name is Tali Goya, we did a Latin record where I’m rapping in Chinese and Spanish. That shit is fucking crazy, I just shot the video for it yesterday. I think out of everyone I’m the most versatile. I can get on an ABG Neal record and shine, then I can do a really hard New York rap record; and then I can do a Spanish joint.
RL: I saw you were out here in LA with Adam 22. How’d you like California?
Mac: LA was cool. It was a little slow for me, though. In LA you gotta be in the loop, but in New York you can walk around and find shit to do at any time. I linked up with Adam 22, because he reached out after the Lil Pump shit. So we were talking for some time, and then I told him I was coming out to LA and we did the interview. Did you see that interview?
RL: I didn’t have a chance to watch the whole thing, but that’s part of the reason why I asked if you were sick of talking about prison, because that was the first thing that got brought up in the interview.
Mac: Well that’s part of my story; like, if you’re an ex-NBA player and you don’t play basketball anymore, people are still gonna ask you about basketball until you change your narrative. So, that’s what I’m doin’ right now. I’m changing my narrative.