Q&A: Mac Miller
The hottest rapper on the block talks about collaborating with his heroes on rhymes and with legendary tattoo artists on designs.
Not many artists can say they’ve had a number one album, let alone a number one debut album, without the support of a major label. But Mac Miller can. Last year, Miller, who looks more like the pot smoker next door than a chart-topping MC, destroyed all the competition with Blue Side Park. While the world awaits a follow-up—due in the first quarter of 2013—Miller is also working on Pink Slime, a collaborative EP with the Neptunes super-producer Pharrell Williams, and planning to get more tattoos on his compact frame. Since his first big splash, with mix tape K.I.D.S., the Steel City boy has been promoting what has now become known as the “Most Dope” movement—everybody living their lives to the fullest—and recently had artist Norman “Norm” Stien permanently stamp “Most Dope” across his knuckles.
INKED: Did you expect your career to take off as fast as it has?
MAC MILLER: Yes and no. I mean, this is what I planned for; this is what I worked for. It’s not incredibly surprising—but at the same time, when you step back and look at it, it’s still a blessing and it’s still incredible. But, you know, this is what I worked for, so you have to realize that this is where I wanted to be.
What do your parents have to say about your career?
They love it. My dad watches MTV Jams all day. I’ll come back home and [he’ll say], “Malcolm, did you watch the new Jeezy video?
What do you think of that?”
I’ll be like, “I don’t know, Dad, Jeezy’s hard.” He’ll say, “I know I like Jeezy.” My dad is the biggest Kendrick Lamar fan. My dad also tells me that I’m not as good as anybody else. I love A Tribe Called Quest and my dad was like, “I finally listened to A Tribe Called Quest—hopefully one day you’ll be almost as good as them.” My mom is a mom—she’ll say, “Lil Wayne is great, but you’re better.”
Who influences you?
Murphy Lee, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, Big L, Nas, Biggie, Pac, Mobb Deep, The Infamous … I can go on. People always dig into the past for their influences, but I’m influenced by shit that goes on right now too. I listen to music that comes out now that’s dope and I want to do exactly what they’re doing. That’s really how you elevate yourself, not just conforming but working off of whatever other people are doing.
What’s the music scene like in Pittsburgh?
It’s everything, man. What people don’t know about the Pittsburgh music scene is Pittsburgh was actually one of the biggest hubs of jazz music; every legendary jazz musician has played clubs in Pittsburgh. The scene’s cool, it’s very easy to get into, it’s nothing too serious. But now with the success of some people recently it’s motivating people to get on their grind.
Was it hard to get yourself out there?
Once I did that porno, once my sex tape came out, it was a lot easier. [Laughs.] People were more willing to let go after they saw my penis.
What’s the pressure like after putting out a number one album?
It depends. That shit’s tight, but I don’t really give a fuck about having to top that or anything. I did that—you can never take that away from me. I’ll forever have a number one album, so if my career goes downhill from there, whatever. Bitch, I had a number one album, you can’t say shit to me. Now I’m in a cool place. I think it’s actually less pressure now because I’ve shown that I can produce statistics, so now it’s just working on my craft and making better music.
How has your music changed from K.I.D.S. to Macadelic?
I think I’ve just grown as a person, and my music is reflective of who I am as a person. I can’t make the same music I did when I [was] 18 because I see the world differently now. At 18, I saw the world as exciting. Everything was so “best day ever,” to quote myself. But now it’s like I’ve done a lot, so it’s a lot of reassessing the situation and seeing what’s real and what’s not and just exploring different kinds of music and different conceptual theories and things like that. I’m more interested in digging deeper inside myself and finding out what I really want to say. I think it’s a little darker than it was before. I was a lot younger and free-spirited, and now I’m more grown-up.
How are college tours different from regular tours, and have they had any effect on your music?
Yeah, I did the college tour. I didn’t really enjoy it, to be honest. Just to keep it 100 percent funky, [there are] too many limitations. Too many cans and can’ts. I didn’t go to college. I want my shows to be for everyone, whether you’re 12 or 52. Whether you’re in school or just do drugs. Whatever your life is, I want you to be able to come. So that was the only problem with college tours, that it was, like, too much catering. I would rather say, “What’s up, California?” than, “What’s up, UCLA?”
So you were happier on the Macadelic Tour?
We got the turnout. We had Travis Porter and YG on the Macadelic Tour. It’s really [about] creating an experience. I think that when I was younger, I wanted to go to a show because I wanted to escape whatever world I was in. So I tried to create that for people and let them kind of get away and let them have a night that, no matter what, was going to be different than any other night in their life.
So when is your sophomore album dropping?
Early next year—I’m so excited. The first album was zero collaborations, the second album has hella collaborations. The first single’s probably going to be this joint with Diplo. Can’t wait—I’m just excited to put out another album.
Rap has come a long way from beefs. Now there are a lot of collaborations coming out. Why do you think that is?
It’s fun to work with people!
What’s that process like for you?
We just build it like it’s an art project. Or, like, if you were working with someone on building one of those cabins out of tongue depressors or Popsicle sticks, you have to work together and both put in some effort. Sometimes you work with someone and they want to do the whole thing, or they want you to do the other things. The best collaborations are with your friends, [where] you guys just kind of hang out, and the song makes itself.
When is the Pharrell collaboration going to come out?
Soon. We got it pretty much done already. I just have to go to Miami and finish the last chapter with him. We did a lot together, we did a lot over e-mail and shit, but we have to finish it off together.
Are you ever going to sign to a major label?
If they come with $50 mil. I need $20 mil for my mom. I’m definitely not at that stage right now. It’s all about being smart and making the right moves. If a major label is the right move, then it’ll be the right move. But for now, definitely not the right move.
You’re pretty covered for a 20-year-old. When did you start getting tattoos?
Eighteen I got my first one.
What was it?
The first time I ever went to L.A., my homie Norm did this joint [on my right biceps], “Imagine.”
Does Norm Stien do all of your tattoos?
Norm has done most of them. I’ve had a couple done by Stretch in Pittsburgh at Sinner and Saints. But Norm does all my tattoos now. We just started my leg, which is going to be fucking awesome. The bottom of my leg is going to be stuff that’s happening on the ground. Then as you get up the leg, it’s going to be angels in the sky and stuff like that. I really love angels and the whole idea of angels. When you have a tattoo of an angel, but the angel looks like a bad bitch, that’s tight.
Do you prefer a particular style of tattoo?
I’m all over the place, a little bit of everything. I got the old sailor style, as well as some more realistic-type shit. I really like Asian artwork—that’s really dope to me. I like anything that has to do with kings and mythological-type beings. All that stuff is really cool to me.
What’s your next tattoo going to be?
I have to finish my leg and my chest. Then finish my neck and my whole body. I’m going to do a full bodysuit, probably. I have nothing on my back; I’m really scared to do my back and my stomach—my stomach’s going to feel really weird.
What are the three most meaningful tattoos you have?
The ID Labs, my production team’s logo. The “Most Dope” on my knuckles is obviously very significant. And I got all my family’s initials.
You have “No Woman, No cry” tattooed on your chest—do you have a girlfriend? and is she inked?
Yes and yes. “No Woman, No Cry” actually has nothing to do with the whole girl thing. I’ve actually never told anybody what it means. I don’t even think my friends know. Everyone just always thought it was because of Bob Marley. The reason why I actually got “No Woman, No Cry” is because when my grandpa died, I was driving home, and it hadn’t really hit me that he died. I was leaving the hospital when he died, and I was listening to that song, and I started crying. I thought it was kind of ironic. So now the song has meaning to me.
You’re only 20, and you’ve already had the opportunity to work with a ton of your idols. You’ve had a number one record on the charts without major-label support. What are you looking to accomplish with your career in the future?
I really want to get a Grammy. Not that the notoriety means that much to me, but I really just want people to address me as “Grammy Award–winning artist Mac Miller.” That’d be tight. I just want to go down as one of the fucking greatest to ever do it. My plan is to do as much work is necessary and make as much improvement as necessary. I want to go down as one of the best.