Ro$$ Mac scatters bills like confetti in the music video for his song “Billions,” just like many other hip-hop artists. But there the similarities end. For while his peers may rap about partying and good times in their music, Mac’s lyrics are about things like budgets and balance sheets.
“What is glorified in rap music today? Sometimes it could be violence, sometimes it could be fancy lifestyle—big cars, the jewelry,” says the Ivy League graduate and artist born Shareef McDonald. “What I glorify is investing . . . I’m bragging about things that the average person would never know about. I’m talking about million-dollar deals, reading prospectuses.”
His music is part of a wide-ranging effort to help others in the Black community break through the long-standing barriers that have kept them from accumulating and sharing wealth, such that the median net worth of a white family is 10 times that of a Black family.
“The idea is, let me educate you where you’re at,” Mac tells WayMaker Journal. “I’m talking about crypto, talking about stocks . . . everything Wall Street could even imagine. I want to have a young kid who’s listening to my music say, ‘Yo, wait, what is that? Rewind that.’ And then they go and do research on it.”
Mac says it’s all about bridging what he calls the exposure gap—introducing people to opportunities they never knew existed so they can imagine a bigger future. “If you’re not exposed to different career paths, then you are going to have a ceiling in your own imagination.” By way of illustration, he recalls seeing a fellow student day-trading during an Econ 101 class at the University of Pennsylvania back in 2008. “I had no idea what he was doing,” he says, “knew nothing about investing. That was my first introduction.”
What might be called Mac’s “stealth wealth lessons” have been shared on albums like Maconomics 101 and in song placements on shows on HBO, Showtime, BET and the like. One of his biggest platforms has been on the popular NBA 2k21 video game, which featured his song “A Dub.”
His instructional Maconomics videos can be found on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and his own website (www.maconomics.com). He also has a show on Revolt TV and is one of four financial advisers featured in the recent Netflix documentary Get Smart With Money, where he is followed helping former NFL player Teez Tabor get his finances in order. Then there’s the SiriusXM podcast he hosts with NFLer Brandon Copeland, Money Music Culture.
It’s not just in his music that Mac dispels the stuffiness typically associated with the financial world. Though you may see him in a suit and tie in some of his videos, you’re just as likely to find him in a hoodie, dispensing wisdom on social media from the driver’s seat of his car, with his baby daughter strapped in the rear.
Besides all the free content he offers, Mac has corporate clients such as SoFi, State Farm and Target for whom he produces financial literacy content. He also runs a $49.99-a-month private investment club.
In “Billions” and other videos, Mac can be seen sporting a T-shirt declaring Black Wealth Matters, a rallying cry he coined in the wake of George Floyd’s 2020 murder. He was struck by how “Black people were marching for the exact same thing” they had been out in the streets for more than a half-century earlier. “And I said that Black lives won’t matter until black wealth matters,” he says.
“What I meant by that is in this capitalist society, those with capital have power and we have strategically been kept out of a point of attaining wealth, therefore we have not truly been in a position to have power and [bring about] real change. Because money, sadly as it is, is what runs the world. I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican; you need money.”
By the year 2053, he says, Black median net worth is projected to be zero. That “crazy statistic” is based on factors such as having more debt and making less money. He and others working in the same space of financial literacy are “trying to reverse those unfortunate statistics.”
Having marched for George Floyd and Eric Garner (who died in 2014 after a New York City police officer put him in an illegal choke hold), Mac wondered “if we are having the exact marches that our ancestors did 70 years ago, 60, 50 years ago, then what can we do that can change that? This is my lane: educating Black people on financial well-being, financial wellness. Building generational wealth is my contribution to a better society for my community.”
On his agenda, things like the importance of life insurance, investments, retirement planning, understanding the stock market and Federal Housing Administration programs that can help you become a property owner—all areas from which many Black people have been excluded for too long.
Mac traces those barriers back to slavery, down through Jim Crow, to redlining practices that kept minorities from owning property. The result, Black people were kept from attaining and building generational wealth, “because one of the greatest things is the ability of compounded interest. When you have your money being invested in over years and years, your interest is making interest.”
If old ways of thinking locked people out of financial markets, new technology has helped open doors, Mac says. “Thirty years ago, a lot of people wouldn’t even have access to buying stocks,” he points out. “Then comes the Charles Schwabs and the E*Trades of the world, but then you might have to pay $13 in commission fees to buy and then another for selling. And now luckily through the democratization of technology, you can buy and sell for zero commission fees.”
Mac’s time on Wall Street opened his eyes to some of the reasons long-standing financial disparity between minority and white communities continues. “Many financial institutions look at certain people as prey,” he says. “How can we make more money on certain people?” He recalls learning how some cash advance businesses were charging Black, brown and Hispanic [people] 2,000%: “When I took a step back, I was like, ‘Wow, they’re literally making crazy money on us.’”
Financial inequality isn’t just about having less money, he emphasizes. It’s also about having less opportunities as a result. “One of the things that I was able to witness from peers is when you come from wealth, you have the luxury of truly going into a passion that you want as opposed to taking a job for survival mode,” Mac notes. “You have the ability to dream bigger when you have a real safety net.”
Some of his peers at UPenn’s prestigious Wharton School for business came from backgrounds that meant they could take a year off after graduating to travel the world and figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. Not him, from Chicago’s South Side, and others like him. “Nah, when we already got out, we already had college debt. Some of us might have already had bad credit card debt. So the whole thing for me is how do we educate our community so that the kids can have those chances?”
Mac has his younger self in mind when he’s producing content. “I don’t need those kids to have to go through and make the same mistakes I made,” he says. “I’d much rather let them know, yo, this is what I learned and now you guys can take this and run with it.” By reaching them in their early teens, “they already will be four or five years ahead of me.”
Talking of his younger self, what’s one thing he wishes he had known? “What I would’ve told myself going to school is, ‘Listen here, buddy, you’re gonna hear about this thing called Bitcoin. Buy a thousand dollars’ worth.’” He would also have advised learning different skill sets. “I would have said, ‘Take a step back and ask yourself, what’s the world going to look like five and 10 years from now?’”
He learned a lot from his years on Wall Street, but the best time to have been there was back in the 80s and early 90s, he says; by the time he arrived, tech was on the rise. Had he been more financially aware when he was starting out, he would have thought more about learning to code; could he develop a tech platform? He took some coding classes, but found them hard. Had he known more, he would have kept at it “and still looked at life through that lens.”
Though he is now a man on a mission, Mac didn’t set out to change the financial world for the Black community. Arriving at UPenn, “I had no idea what I was doing,” he admits. “I just knew that I didn’t like reading, I didn’t like science, so math was my strongest suit.” Then he stumbled across a career fair where he learned about a freshman program with investment banking giant Morgan Stanley, applied and got accepted. He was off to the races.
Graduating from Wharton in 2012, he joined Morgan Stanley in New York as the first Black person on the company’s high-yield sales and trading desk. After three years there he joined hedge fund group Grosvenor Capital Management, a move that brought him back to Chicago.
Reconnecting with some of the friends he had grown up with, he recognized how what he had learned had put him ahead of many of them financially. “I realized I was in a very lucky position, so one of the things that I wanted to do was bring what I was exposed to to my community,” he says. “I wanted to bring Wall Street to Main Street.”
There was a time before he started billing himself as “the Wall Street Rapper” that he kept the two worlds separate. Mac made music when he was working in New York, but he was careful to keep it apart from his day job. “I was scared to let people know” for a couple of reasons: He didn’t want to be seen as “the typical Black guy.” And there was more corporate dislike for “OBEs,” outside business interests: “He’s not putting 110% into the job.” Only on returning to Chicago, when he began to hear his music on the radio, did he begin to feel “more confident, more comfortable with being in my skin.”
As he preaches his gospel of Maconomics, Mac says that being savvy financially also means having an eye on the future. It’s important to have an idea of which industries are going to grow and which ones are going to dwindle, because that will determine where you want to pursue a career and where you want to invest. “The world is going robotic,” he says. “When you think about automation as a whole, about a third of jobs are going to be replaced by robots in 20 years or so. So, ask yourself, how can you get on the good side of that?”
You don’t have to be entrepreneurially minded to build wealth, he says. What matters is diversifying. “Only having one stream of income is too close to having zero,” he says. “What you want is to have multiple streams. If you’re a person that works a job, you might need to have investment income, you might need to have real estate income… the main thing is saying, ‘How can I allow my money to make money for me?’ It could be selling a product, or it could be investing to make more money.”
Mac observes that many people have the mindset that they want to give their kids what they themselves didn’t have. Better, he believes, is “to teach them what they didn’t know.” He doesn’t want his two children to graduate from college with student loans like he did. So he’s opened 529 accounts for them, tax-free college savings plans.
Part of building generational wealth means taking the long view. “It’s about how can I be selfless?” says Mac. “One of the first things you’ve got to say to yourself is, ‘OK, at some point in my life, I’m going to die,’ flat out.” That means you need life insurance—“one of the easiest ways to ensure your family is taken care of when you pass away.”