Mac Miller Hustles to the Top
To some detractors, Mac Miller is the protégé of hip-hop’s reigning rookie of the year, Wiz Khalifa; to others, he’s nothing more than a happy-go-lucky, weed-smoking white frat-rapper. The former is a common misconception (both Wiz and Mac are signed to Rostrum Records, but have no formal business dealings with each other), while the latter is Miller’s least favorite descriptor. “I don’t want my music to have a skin color. There is no reason that it should,” he says from the back of a Sprinter van en route to Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where he will perform later this April evening. “I’m clearly white, but I feel like music can be way more than that. You could talk to five different people about who is Mac Miller, and they’ll tell you five different things.”
Miller, a 19-year-old MC from Pittsburgh, first caught the attention of fans in 2010, when he dropped “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza,” a song from his breakout mixtape, K.I.D.S. (Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit). The track, which borrows its beat from Lord Finesse’s 1996 underground favorite “Hip 2 da Game,” has registered over 6.5 million views on YouTube and scored major points with hip-hop purists. Now, his buzz is inescapable.
Born Malcolm McCormick, Miller began writing raps at eight years old. He started imitating Will Smith, but the youngster eventually graduated to the more sophisticated sounds of a Tribe Called Quest and OutKast. “I was definitely real interested in music, and as I kept getting older, all of my older homies really put me on to the classic hip-hop,” he says.
In 2007, the charismatic spitter dropped his first mixtape, Mackin’ Ain’t Easy, and then his second, The Jukebox, two years later. It was with 2009 tape The High Life that Miller’s fan base began to take shape, and in July 2010, he signed to Rostrum Records as an independent artist. The next month, he released K.I.D.S., and that’s when things really changed. “As an artist I was getting comfortable with myself making records,” says Miller. “When I was ready to drop K.I.D.S., I felt like this is some shit that’s playing in the big leagues.”
Songs such as the fashion-minded “Nikes on My Feet,” the jazzy “Senior Skip Day” and the energetic “Knock, Knock” quickly became fan favorites and placed Miller in rap’s spotlight. There was the subsequent 55-city Incredibly Dope tour, then an appearance on the cover of XXL magazine’s 2011 freshmen issue. This past March, Miller released his K.I.D.S. follow-up tape, Best Day Ever. Led by the aspirational single “Donald Trump,” BDE, which was available online as a free digital release on several sites, has been downloaded, Miller estimates, anywhere from 600,000 to one million times. Fans spent money as well when Miller released his On and On EP, a low-key digital retail project that peaked at No. 7 on the iTunes album chart.
His success has garnered quite a few big-time offers, but Miller isn’t so quick to sign away his recording rights. “I’m not one of those people who think that major labels are the devil and the worst thing that happened to hip-hop,” he says. “I always thought, once a major label came in, that I would be ready as rain. But it’s something about how we do things and how good it feels to get places with just us — it’s just something that I don’t want to give away yet.”
It’s difficult for the up-and-comer to predict his future. He won’t drop hints on where he will sign or if he will sign. He does have a concrete plan, though. “I know that I’m going to be doing two things every day for a long time: touring and making music,” he says, as his Sprinter van trudges along the Pennsylvania highway. “I just want to keep putting out good music and keep having a good time in what I’m doing.” That’s just who Mac Miller is. —Rob Markman
(This article originally appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of ANTENNA.)