At only 20 years old, Mac Miller is seriously living the dream…his dream to be exact. The rising MC from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is causing all types of commotion in the hip-hop world. For the summer, he’s joined forces with fellow Pittsburgh rapper, Wiz Khalifa, for their “Under the Influence of Music Tour” and emerged victorious at this year’s MTV’s Woodie Awards back in March (which celebrates emerging musicians) by taking home the Woodie of the Year. These are some pretty big accomplishments for an artist who barely took his freestyling career seriously only five years ago, when he was 15.
I’d freestyle for hours at a time. My first mixtape was at 15, too and it was f*cken hard...Growing up in a home that appreciated music, Mac Miller (born Malcolm McCormick) naturally drifted toward music, learning to play the piano when he was five, then picked up the drums and guitar when he was 10. “My dad plays guitar and my mom just loves music,” he tells. “She’s listens to everything from Aretha Franklin to the Talking Heads, Lauryn Hill, The Beatles…you name it, she listened to it.” But it wasn’t until he was a freshmen in high school that he began to take himself seriously as an MC, always freestyling any chance he got. “I’d freestyle for hours at a time,” he describes. “My first mixtape was at 15, too and it was f*cken hard, with me rhyming over beats for Tech N9ne, Alchemist, 9th Wonder beats and stuff.” While he can’t exactly pinpoint the moment when he realized he had a knack for spitting rhymes, he does suggest his discovery of rapper Big L’s music as an influential moment that helped direct him to his MC dreams.
“I wanted to be as raw and rugged as a rapper as he was,” Miller points out. “My early sh*t is really raw if you listen to [the 2007 mixtape, But My Mackin Aint’ Easy]. If you pay close attention, you could tell that I had something in me, like, this is real talent even though it was my first joint.” Before transforming into the Mac Miller we know today, when he first emerged he used to go by the name EZ Mac. He was also actually part of the rap group, The Ill Spoken Word, with his friend Beedie, who was, then, four years older than him, but embraced the young MC’s talent.
“Beedie was my homie’s older brother who was already established with his rhymes. He had the mic and the computer and would invite me over to rap with him. He was somebody that also took freestyling as serious as me, so we started performing together when I was 16 and formed the group. We were both just grinding hard and making raw ass hip-hop together.” Their mixtape release How High in 2008 garnered much attention from local fans, but since they were both solo artists at heart, the two had their “own journeys and different musical paths,” with Miller eventually changing his name to his current moniker and signing with Pittsburgh indie label, Rostrum Records, in 2010.
Really, I’m taking everything just one day at a time and right now I’m kicking it with my people.“Being in a duo put a lot into perspective for me and I was grateful to have someone like Beedie be there with me when I first started rapping. I was able to get that positive feedback to what I was doing. It’s also kind of scary doing it on your own. I was only 15 when it all happened and really didn’t know much going in except that I really wanted to rap no matter what.” To help prepare him for the big leagues, Miller would participate in local rap cyphers with dudes who were in their 20s and 30s, who “would do nothing but rap and spit all day.” Being the young kid Miller was, he’d just sit back and observe, waiting until someone would notice he could rap.
“And that’s where I’d go in and f*cken kill it,” he boasts. “I’m not gonna lie, that was like my platinum album then…going into cyphers and killing it. They’d be a number of dudes who’d go ’round, spitting their verses and then I’d go and I’d blow them away.” But Rostrum president Benjy Grinberg didn’t sign Miller overnight (despite meeting him while recording with Wiz Khalifa). It wasn’t until Miller started to work on his K.I.D.S. mixtape that Grinberg noticed a more matured Miller (and personal sound) that he knew Miller was worth the investment. But by that point, Miller’s talent had caught the attention of several other labels, who also began to court the young MC. In the end, Miller decided to do the independent thing with the indie label instead of signing to one of the bigger names.
“I still haven’t even looked into any other offers, but I know they’re there,” he acknowledges. “Really, I’m taking everything just one day at a time and right now I’m kicking it with my people. We’ll see when the time comes, though.” From then on, Miller continued to release a couple of more mixtapes (each to renowned success) before finally dropping his first LP, Blue Slide Park, in late-2011, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 144,000 copies—the first independent album to do so in more than 15 years.
While he geared up for a busy summer of touring, Miller made sure to leave fans with some new tunes, having recently released his latest mixtape, Macadelic, which was mostly recorded while out in L.A. “Working in Pittsburgh has this home feeling to it, but out in L.A. it’s different recording here and it sort of puts you out of your comfort zone. My music will definitely have a different vibe to it since I’m in a new environment with all these new emotions. But no matter what, I’m always at home in the studio.”
For an artist like Miller, being away from the studio too long causes a bit of anxiety, or “suffocation in [his] head,” as Miller puts it. Stating he has about 200 unreleased tracks at the moment, Miller likes to always be in the studio. “When I don’t record when I’m on tour, I go nuts and get crazy. Making music is the best therapy in the world. There’s so much bullsh*t that I have to go through everyday that the studio is the one place where none of it matters. When I’m in the studio it’s just me and the music…simplicity at its best.”
With the new mixtape, Miller’s style is a bit darker than on his last release, something he says is a reflection of the emotions he goes through. “I was in a different place recording this mixtape, and it’s something that most people aren’t used to hearing from me. Usually, I’m this party-type guy that’s all about having fun. But my real fans will know that there’s a part of me that goes deeper than that. I think it only shows that I’m growing as an artist and it’s being heard in my music. I’m still growing and finding out what my real style is and what I’m supposed to do with music. But I’d say my style is becoming more and more like the emotions I go through at the time I’m making a certain track or mixtape. It’s a mirror of what’s happening in my life at that moment in time.”
Miller’s young age and enormous talent translates into a successful career, by most standards, but he still has lots of time to come into his own and be that legendary rapper he always saw himself becoming.
“I never really saw a reason why it wouldn’t happen for me,” he confidently explains. “My mentality has always been that I’m destined to make it and that I have the potential to be one of the best in music. And f*ck you for telling me otherwise. Everybody should think this way because if you tell yourself that you’re incapable of doing something, you’re not going to do it. No matter what you do in life, you should always look at life and know that you’re going to be the best at it. That someday people will write books about you. I look at my life like one day kids are going to take a whole college class on me. Everyone needs to think they’re going to be extraordinary, it’s what the world needs, and how I’m giving back to the world.”