Entrepreneur and artist Shareef “Ross Mac” McDonald W12 has a lot going on these days. Since appearing last month in the Netflix documentary Get Smart With Money, the Chicago native also dropped his latest rap single, “Money Gang,” and released more than half a dozen new episodes of Money Music Culture, the SiriusXM podcast he hosts with fellow Wharton alumnus Brandon Copeland W13. That’s besides the guidance he’s providing through his private investment group and the personal-finance lessons he teaches his two-year-old daughter on the way to daycare each morning, to name a few other projects. All of them have one thing in common: Mac’s goal to help others build generational wealth by introducing financial concepts in accessible ways.

“My purpose is to bring that same level of exposure to people who look like me who weren’t necessarily lucky enough to attend a school like Wharton or work on Wall Street,” Mac says. Some of the first content he created to move the needle was his Maconomics video series, short clips on his social media answering callers’ financial questions. That series has since been picked up by Sean “Diddy” Combs’s Revolt TV and has been a catalyst for Mac’s vast content lineup. Wharton Magazine caught up with the ever-busy multi-hyphenate to discuss his work’s impact and more.

Wharton Magazine: What initially inspired you to start talking about financial literacy?

Ross Mac: Going to Wharton. One of the greatest teachers in society is what you’re exposed to. I’m from the South Side of Chicago, and what I was exposed to at Penn at the age of 18 — coming from a middle-class background — was a culture shock. There weren’t many Black students at Penn at the time. I was in an economics class, and there was a kid genuinely day trading in the middle of class. I was on a laptop that I was gifted by the Chicago Urban League, and it was just insane; I’m sitting there like “Dude, what are you doing?” If I hadn’t been in class with that gentleman, I probably wouldn’t have gotten so excited about investing.

“Financial literacy depends on everyday access. Conversations at the dinner tables are different when you come from different backgrounds.”

Fast-forward through graduating from Penn and working on Wall Street at Morgan Stanley for three years. I ended up coming back home to Chicago to work full-time at Grosvenor Capital. Being back in Chicago made me think, “Wow, now I’m back in touch with a lot of people that I grew up with that I haven’t really seen since leaving for Penn.” It made me realize that I took a lot of the information I had gained for granted — that people where I grew up weren’t exposed to the same information. I wanted to bring what I was exposed to through Wall Street and the Ivy League back to where I come from. For me, it was asking how I could make it mainstream and easy to digest — that’s what my Maconomics brand is.

WM: What do you consider to be some of the biggest barriers to financial literacy for people who don’t have the same business background that you’ve attained?

RM: Fortunately, I’m happy with how access to information has truly been democratized through YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram. But the problem originally was exposure: These concepts aren’t taught in our American education system. It’s even more amplified for people from lower socioeconomic statuses in America, because when you’re in a certain community, a lot of people in those environments are in survival mode, so they don’t have the foresight to think about retirement planning or what their lives will look like 20 years from now, because they aren’t making much money.

Cover image for an episode of Maconoimcs titled "NFTs and the Future of Business".
The latest episode of Maconomics on Revolt TV

In another way, financial literacy depends on everyday access. Conversations at the dinner tables are different when you come from different backgrounds. A middle- to upper-class family might have a conversation about a grandparent’s will, or they may have inherited a home. These things aren’t happening at lower socioeconomic dinner tables, and so the conversations are different. Now, social media is giving us the ability to do that in an easier format, because your grandfather didn’t need to have a $2 million life-insurance policy for you to learn about life insurance. We’re breaking the barriers to information and bridging the information gap.

WM: In the Netflix documentary Get Smart With Money, you’re one of a handful of financial advisers who gives practical advice to folks from a variety of backgrounds. What was your experience like providing guidance to Teez Tabor of the Seattle Seahawks for the documentary?

RM: Teez’s story is very representative of most young athletes, getting thrust into making a ton of money — and, in most instances, we’re talking about a Black athlete from a lower-class background. The reality often is that these guys lose a lot of their money. Many of them, after they retire, experience financial hardships. So with Teez, it was helping him change his overall relationship with money to make sure he would never go broke.

WM: You’re also currently working with another NFL pro, Brandon Copeland W13, in a different capacity on the podcast Money Music Culture. How did the wide-ranging concept for the podcast come together?

RM: Brandon and I were friends in college; we’ve been buddies for a while. He’s never been a guy who’s just lived for the day. He’s always thinking ahead, and he’s always wanted to try to give back in the same way as me, so it’s a no-brainer to do a podcast together. The idea is to talk about all things money through the lens of music, sports, and culture in general. We’ve hosted billionaires, team owners, athletes. In general, the idea is “How can we take our life experiences, make it fun to listen to, and actually educate our audience?” One episode that stands out that a lot of people learned from is one talking about LLCs; I’ve gotten tons of DMs about it.

WM: Through all of your success as a financial expert, you’ve continued to release new music. How do you see your music and financial expertise complementing each other?

RM: I go by the moniker “The Wall Street Rapper.” My music is all about financial literacy and investing. When you think about rappers, they glorify different things. I glorify buying stocks as opposed to buying a chain or a car. One of the lyrics of my new song, “Money Gang,” is “Million-dollar deal, just read the prospectus.” The same way a kid might Google a drug they hear in a song, I want kids to Google what a prospectus is.

I also found my niche: I make very upbeat music that’s led to me getting “syncs” — meaning, when you watch a commercial or a movie and hear music, they have to pay the artists for that to happen. One of my biggest licensing agreements is for the videogame NBA 2K21. One of my songs [“A Dub”] is on the official soundtrack. My music’s also on Outer Banks on Netflix, The Chi on Showtime, and several shows on BET.

WM: The talks with your daughter Rossi on Instagram are adorable. What made you start them up?

RM: They’re called “Conversations With Rossi.” A lot of those videos have gone viral. I talk to her about what’s going on in the market. She’s two, but I talk to her like she’s a grown person, because if I’m able to have those conversations with my daughter, then you as an adult should feel comfortable having those conversations, and you should also have those conversations with your kids. I’m giving you the blueprint.