[This week, we’re giving you a bittersweet throwback — from none other than Mac Miller, who tragically passed on at the age of 26. Shoutout to writer Lauren Levy and photographer Ashley Reid for such an amazing feature…it’s just really unfortunate that it’s of a music prodigy who will have to live on through his music and contributions to the culture. Rest in peace to one of Hip-Hop and music’s most beautiful souls, and condolences to all of Malcolm’s family and friends.]
“For as long as I can remember, really, I’ve been messing with music,” the 19-year-old MC says, while steering his van through traffic.
Studying is more like it. Mac Miller is a self-taught musician — in addition to his way with words, the Pittsburgh-born and bred upstart knows his way around the piano, guitar, drums and bass — and he plays a heavy role in his production today. The bulk of the beats on his six releases to date have at least one or two of Mac’s fingerprints on them, if not handfuls (Miller typically works alongside a producer collective under the name ID Labs to bring his sound home). As for his comfort in the limelight?
“I was actually going through home videos the other day and there’s this video of me when I was like 6 years old rapping [along to] Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It,’” he says. “It was pretty tight.”
Fortunately (unfortunately?) for Mac, the “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit’ It” video didn’t go viral. In that respect, it may be a one of one.
Thanks in no small part to his comfort in front of the camera, Mac Miller has quickly progressed from a high schooler making records in his parents’ attic to an artist on the rise with a national profile and a reputation for hitting the internet, and hitting it hard, with every release — especially on the video front. His YouTube game is crazy, with the bulk of his more than impressive official videos clocking in at well over 500,000 views each, and many of them registering in the millions. The clips, many shot in conjunction with Brooklyn-based filmmaker Ian Wolfson’s Rex Arrow Films, are often playful and crisp, with the occasional concept thrown in (“Knock, Knock” cribs the feel of a television show from the ’50s, for instance). The video for “Nikes on My Feet,” a sneaker anthem that samples Nas’ “The World Is Yours (Remix)” and appeared on last summer’s K.I.D.S., has racked up more than seven million views alone. Gettin’ jiggy wit’ it, indeed.
Of course, Mac Miller isn’t on the come up simply because he’s telegenic. With a hybrid style that pulls heavily from hip hop’s heyday and twists it with plenty of web 2.0 flare, Mac Miller has begun building a catalog that’s lighthearted and catchy, packed with youth and drifting toward pop. His flow is direct and intricate without being overly complicated and delivered in a half-whisper that goes down smooth. It doesn’t hurt that since signing with Pittsburgh’s Rostrum Records early last year, he’s been on the road riding shotgun with his labelmate, Wiz Khalifa — hip hop’s best thing smokin’, especially in Mac’s core demo: the college crowd.
“Wiz is kinda like my big brother,” Mac Miller says. “He’s been through a lot in the industry and in music and the main thing he tells me is to listen to myself. To be in charge of my own destiny and [that] I know better than anyone else who I am so it’s all about finding answers to things yourself.”
So far, Mac Miller has taken the advice to heart, brushing off any talk of signing with a major, saying he prefers to do it alone.
“I just love our situation right now,” he says. “We’re in control of everything creatively and time-wise, and we just do what the fuck we want to do. It’s cool to be young and to be able to have so much say and so much control over what happens with my own career. I have time to grow.”
Mac Miller showed signs of that growth, artistically at least, in March, with the release of the free mixtape Best Day Ever (the EP On and On and Beyond, which repackaged old material for a commercial release, quickly followed). Best Day Ever, which featured production by Just Blaze and an appearance by Wiz, pointed toward a more forward leaning, synth-heavy sound, with a bigger reach, and bigger hooks. Although early reaction to the tape was mixed in Rap corners of the ’net, the project spoke loudly to Mac Miller’s potential pop appeal.
And that’s where race comes in. With clear parallels to be drawn between Mac Miller and Asher Roth -– another positive, lyrically proficient white rapper making party records for college kids — you have to wonder how Mac Miller goes right where Roth went wrong.
For his part, Mac Miller’s current strategy is to plead post-race.
“What does that mean to you?” he asks rhetorically, when the color of his skin is raised. “To me, personally, it doesn’t mean s***. It has nothing to do with anything I have to do day-to-day–the color of my skin or my ethnic background. Any thought put into that isn’t progressive at all. Progressive would be to go beyond that and just to think about music and what I do in life, not worry about what me being White has to do with anything. Other people might look at me differently because I’m short, too.”
Maybe. Or because he once covered Will Smith.
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