The Mac Miller Interview

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Photos by Robert Adam Mayer.

 

Originally published in Wax Poetics Issue 56, 2013.

Mac Miller (real name Malcolm James McCormick) called while he was in the middle of eating a cup of Easy Mac, leaving him wide open for an obvious stab at his former persona. After all, the young rap aficionado started his career with the name “EZ Mac” at the ripe age of fifteen.

“Hello, this is Mac Miller. I’m calling for an interview with Kyle.”

“This is she.”

[silence]

“No offense, this isn’t like a sexist thing, but I thought maybe you were a secretary, so I tried to be very professional. Didn’t I sound professional?” He chuckles. “I was like, ‘Hello. This is Mac Miller calling in for an interview with Kyle.’ ”

Meet Mac. There’s a slight undertone in his voice that seems to channel Eddie Haskell or Dennis the Menace. From a twenty-one-year-old male, who just happens to be a multimillionaire, this is to be expected.
Over the past few years, Miller has become more of a household name. His show, Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family, is one of the highest-rated shows in MTV2 history and was recently picked up for a second season. His debut album on Rostrum Records, 2011’s Blue Slide Park, shattered expectations when it debuted at number one on the Billboard charts and sold over 144,000 copies in its first week. Since then, he’s been riding the wave of superstardom and enjoying every single second of it.

Miller says there’s a misconception that he grew up in the wealthy suburbs, but that he actually lived on the east side of Pittsburgh in the Point Breeze area, which is actually in the city, he explains. Growing up, there was never any doubt Miller was musically gifted. At the age of six, he taught himself how to play piano, drums, bass, and guitar. His older brother was getting into hip-hop in the mid-’90s, and soon little Mac was pilfering his albums.

“The Beastie Boys were like my first people. I guess for a lot of White kids, maybe their first rappers are Eminem or other White rappers, but the first rap album I got was OutKast’s Aquemini. I stole it off my brother,” he confesses. “My brother did go through this one phase where he was a huge Ja Rule and DMX fan. He used to have this sleeveless Ja Rule shirt. It was pretty awesome.”

Throughout the conversation, he mentions the word “White” like it’s a four-letter word. Whether it’s a subconscious insecurity or something he’s simply used to dealing with in the press, he’s quick to point out that his race really never entered his mind when trying to pursue a rap career.

“When I was fifteen, I realized the fact that there were not a lot of White rappers out there, but I tried not to think about it as much as possible because everybody else was thinking about it,” he says. “To me, I just really enjoyed writing and I enjoyed rapping. I fell in love with writing verses. I had this dresser in my basement, and it was filled with so many verses, it was ridiculous. My first raps were big-word-only raps like, ‘The article barnacle anticartigal [sic] phenomenal Geronimo.’ ”

Whatever that means, it was the first sign of an unquenchable thirst for rhyming. Miller attended Winchester Thurston School (a private prep school) and Taylor Allderdice High School (public) in Pittsburgh. He became less enthralled with school and more obsessed with hip-hop once he realized his aim in life was to become a rapper. At first, his focus was all over the place due to his unruly lifestyle.

“I started smoking weed when I was ten,” he explains. “I started smoking cigarettes when I was eight. All of my friends were older than me. I used to be at parties in middle school. In high school, when I started rapping, I didn’t do anything else. We weren’t allowed at people’s parties anymore anyway. We used to be those assholes that would break and steal stuff. We were those guys.

“We would leave parties with iPods and things like that,” he adds. “We would start fights, too, so we weren’t allowed to come back. Instead, we would kick it in the attic, do drugs, and write raps.”

In 2007, he released his first mixtape under the moniker EZ Mac called But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy. After officially changing his name to Mac Miller in 2009, he released two more mixtapes, The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown and The High Life, which caught the attention of Rostrum Records.

“Obviously, the one thing you hear about the music industry is that it’s slimy and don’t trust anyone, yadda yadda yadda, but being from Pittsburgh, Rostrum was like the gatekeeper,” he says. “They had the connects. When we started getting offers from people, I used to bring it to them. They would say, ‘I don’t think it’s tight, or I don’t think it’s a good one.’ I didn’t feel comfortable working with people I didn’t know. I had known them for three years before we even worked together. When I was about to put out K.I.D.S., Benjy [Grinberg, founder of Rostrum] heard it and they wanted to sign me.”

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.

 

For most teenagers, this would seem like an appropriate time to explode with anticipation, but Miller was practically unfazed. For him, this was always the plan and how his life was supposed to go.

“I wasn’t really set up to go to college,” he says. “So my goal was to make rapping a profession for real so I could make money and survive. By the time I was seventeen, I started to get a little buzz, so I barely went to school. My teachers were pretty cool though. They didn’t trip on me too much. At my school, you could basically choose if you wanted to learn or not. Senior year, I had an apartment right across the street from school. I would go to class sometimes, sometimes not. I barely finished at the end. I was pretty intelligent, so I was okay just getting by with the bare minimum.”

With his high school diploma firmly in hand, Miller was now free to devote all of his time to his career. Along with Grinberg and Rostrum vice president Arthur Pitt, he had a solid strategy for how to execute his first official full-length. So when Blue Slide Park dropped on November 8, 2011, the chaos that ensued was anticipated. It was the first independently distributed debut album to top the charts since Tha Dogg Pound’s 1995 release, Dogg Food. Again, Miller stayed grounded. In fact, he was just happy he finally had proof he wasn’t all Internet hype.

“The whole thing was, ‘Oh, Mac Miller is just some Internet White kid. He has YouTube views, but he can’t sell albums.’ I wanted to have an independent number one album; that’s what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “So we put a good plan of attack together and we did it. When it happened, I was excited and everything, but that’s what I set out to do.

“We knew everything else we were doing had been promotion for the album,” he continues. “All my mixtapes were promotion for my album. I had singles that weren’t on the album that were selling a lot. A lot of kids liked me because I was the underdog. I wasn’t rapping about being rich. I was just like one of you guys that liked to make music. So I think they kind of just supported me because it was direct from me to the fan, so they went out and bought like nine or ten albums. They knew that I needed it. I didn’t have big business. I didn’t have the funding.”

He has support from his musical peers too. Stephen Bruner, otherwise known as Thundercat, has known Miller for a little over a year, and they’ve both been collaborating with producer Flying Lotus, who produced the lead single “S.D.S.” on Mac’s current album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off. Bruner naturally gravitated towards Miller during a chance encounter and discovered Mac had been playing secret jazz shows in L.A. at Don Randi’s famed jazz club, the Baked Potato, under his pseudonym, Larry Lovestein.

“I could immediately feel that connection with Mac,” Bruner says. “He has a very jazz-orientated mind, so I could sense that from the beginning. Mac is one of the tightest rappers I know and just an all-around cat. He’s very lively and has so much character. He’s like one of the Little Rascals. All he has to do is not get anybody pregnant and he’ll be all right,” Bruner says with a laugh.

“With a guy like Mac,” he continues, “you honestly don’t know what he’ll do next—it’s like Tyler, the Creator. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next.”

No one could predict what followed. Things weren’t as simple as they appeared on the surface. He released his seventh mixtape in 2012 called Macadelic. While on tour in support of the album, Miller experienced a bout with substance abuse that had many of his close friends and family members concerned. He became addicted to a mixture of promethazine and codeine, otherwise known as “purple drank” or “lean.” He put on thirty pounds and was pushing two hundred. “I was really fat,” he says with a laugh. Thankfully, it was short-lived and he quit in November 2012, shortly before MTV2 began shooting his reality show.

“When you’re young and you have a bunch of shit going on, it’s nice to take a vacation,” he says. “That was just my version of a nice vacation. I was zombified and not worried about anybody else. It was kind of nice, but it grew to the point where my friends didn’t know what to say to me anymore. I would just be locked away in my studio. I was gaining a lot of weight. I could just feel that I was very unhealthy. At a certain point, I got sick of the closest people in my life thinking I’m a piece of shit. Everyone thought I was super addicted to it. So I just stopped. It wasn’t like this huge battle.

“No one thought I would beat it,” Mac continues. “One day, two of my friends from Pittsburgh came over. I was in L.A. They were just looking at me, disgusted. They came for a week to work, and they obviously didn’t want to work with me while I was all on drugs. So I didn’t do any drugs when they were here, and I just started feeling better. So I just decided to put it down.”

Miller bounced back and forged ahead with his rap mission. He started eating healthy and working out three times a week. He worked even harder on his latest album, which dropped in June 2013. Miller and the rest of Rostrum are still heavily on the independent grind, pushing the album. The new record delivers more introspective lyrics and concrete production work with high-profile producers like FlyLo, Clams Casino, Earl Sweatshirt, Alchemist, and the ubiquitous Pharrell (while Diplo and Tyler, the Creator contributed the bonus tracks, and Mac himself did a handful of tracks under his pseudonym Larry Fisherman). A few rappers make notable appearances as well—artists such as Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Action Bronson, Jay Electronica, and Tyler, the Creator. This fresh group of collaborators could quite possibly give him more credibility within the hip-hop community, especially for those who initially dismissed him as just an “Internet White kid.”

“It just happened naturally,” he says of the collaborations. “I didn’t go out of the way and be like, ‘Yo, I need to work with Flying Lotus and Earl Sweatshirt because that’s going to be make me cool.’ It was just the actual mutual interest in every aspect of music and that we all like the same style of shit.”

“A lot of times, he can match [clothes] better,” a highly caffeinated Earl Sweatshirt jokes. “I also like his facial hair. I know he hasn’t showered in a minute. No, he’s a sweetheart. It was easy making the record with Mac because he’s my friend. It didn’t have to be some drawn-out process to do music. It was like, once we giggled enough, we could sit down and do music. He’s a genius.”

Lyrically, it seems that Mac Miller is exploring who he is, but not all his lyrics truly reflect who he is as a whole. When he speaks, he seems genuine and thoughtful. He’s goofy. He laughs easily. Behind all of the tattoos, there’s a sense maybe he’s just a kid who is still trying to figure it all out.

“I think everything happening right now is just me getting more comfortable with being myself and not having a brand,” he says. “I’m trying to get rid of the idea of even having a brand.”

As he wrestles with shedding the adolescent, “frat boy” image, working on becoming a more mature man, plenty of evidence of this dichotomy is found throughout the album. He often seems introspective and heartfelt, speaking philosophically about life, fame, love, lost relationships, and the death of a close friend; the next moment, he is immature and hollow, treading well-worn roads of rap misogyny and raunch.
“I think that’s the beauty of music,” he explains (while eating a pretzel). “It can be whatever you want it to be. There are going to be people that dissect the album and they may find some things in there, or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m not as clever as I think I am. I thought the beauty of it was you can just enjoy it at face value, but if you get into it, there’s definitely some shit in there.”

Watching Movies with the Sound Off is another step in the evolution of Mac Miller, who has really just begun his young career. But at this moment, Miller is content being a twenty-one-year-old rapper living the dream. He has the nice house. He has the expensive car. He has two studios. He was recently rated number nineteen on Forbes’ “Hip-Hop’s 20 Top Earners” list. He made over six million dollars last year, which is more than most people earn in a lifetime. However, the most incredible thing about Mac Miller isn’t that he’s hit all of these milestones before the age of twenty-five; it’s that he did it all independently. Billboard called him “a new blueprint of success,” while Forbes questioned if he was “indie music’s savior.” He didn’t get here by mistreating people along the way or making foolish choices. He flooded the Internet with his work, found the right people, and got his hustle on. It’s paying off.

“Having money allowed me to have a house where I have fun making music all day. The Forbes thing—I mean, it was dope, but every now and then, I like to be abstract, conceptual, and spiritual. It’s the complexities of dualities,” he says. “Sometimes, you want to be like, ‘Yeah, bitch, what’s up?’ It feels good every now and then. Back then, when I sought after that type of success, it was my way to tell everyone who saw me as this little White kid that was never going to make it as a rapper—well, I’m on that Forbes list. I thought that would make me feel super good to put it in everyone’s face and put in my own face. It really shows who somebody is by how they act when they get a lot of money. If you ask anyone around, I hope they would say I don’t carry that attitude. Someone said I had that rich-person glow,” he says, laughing. Personally, I like to carry myself as the brokest rich dude you’ve ever known. Like, if you come to my house, all I use is plastic silverware. I’m not on some high-fashion shit, buying $500 T-shirts.

“I’ve seen people come out the gate and have an ego, like, ‘I’m the shit,’ and they are brushing people off. Then they get a wake-up call one day when the person that they shit on is the person that’s in charge of something they need; like they tried to interview you in the beginning and you made them feel like an idiot, but now they’re the editor of a magazine. They’re going to be like, ‘Fuck this dude.’ So to me, it’s like, why shit on people because of some type of current position that is described by society as greater than or less than? All of that shit changes. The future president of the United States may be a five-year-old kid who can’t do the dishes. I mean, who cares?”

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer.

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