Mac Miller talks about building his fanbase organically by focusing on making dope music
While conventional wisdom would have Mac Miller parlaying his "brand" to create a line of energy drinks, or headphones, or body spray, Mac Miller doesn't have any such agenda. There's no master plan in place to create multiple revenue streams. Instead, his focus is simply on making dope music with people he respects, and for that, he just might be the illest MC in the game right now.
Malcolm McCormick, the Pittsburgh-bred MC whom you know better as Mac Miller, came out of the gate about five years ago, and he immediately started winning over a legion of fans by creating great mixtapes with songs good enough to bang in the club and catchy enough to climb the charts. An incredibly successful independent artist, Mac Miller is the exact opposite of everything that is supposed to be wrong with rap music today.
In addition to starring in a reality show about nothing, releasing a free EP by his afro-sporting, dashiki-rocking, pimptastic alter ego Larry Lovestein (his other alter ego, Larry Fisherman, is producing for other artists, and has five songs on the new album), he's a rapper that takes his rhymes seriously, and he's literally worked with the best talent the game has to offer. The list of rappers who have featured and producers who have contributed beats reads like the line up for the best Rock The Bells show ever, from Kendrick Lamar, Jay Electronica and Raekwon to Posdnuos, the Alchemist and Clams Casino to Flying Lotus, Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt.
By the time Mac arrives in Denver for a show tomorrow night a the Ogden Theatre (with the formidable undercard of Action Bronson, Chance The Rapper, Vince Staples and the Internet), his new album will have sold well over 125,000 copies with no real radio support. Could it be that Mac Miller is proof that the secret to success in the rap game might still be good music?
Westword: First off I wanna ask: "What's up with your boy Larry Lovestein?"
Mac Miller: Man, he workin' dude. You know, he's currently visiting relatives in the Poconos. He likes to chill out but he'll be back soon.
So, the EP release, that's not the last of him?
Hell no! There's a lot more to come.
Is it safe to say he's "Pokin' Hos in the Poconos?"
Haha! Yeah, definitely. Definitely.
There's a lot of Larry's in your life, man: The other Larry [Fisherman] -- he's got, like, what, three or four beats on the new album?
I think he did five. I'm pretty sure he did five, and he's working on some placements [on other people's albums]. He did a couple on Ab-Soul's [upcoming] album, and um, yeah, we'll see. He's working with some people; he just did a project with Vince Staples.
Producers like Tha Bizness and Mike WiLL Made It have their own trademark sounds they put at the beginning of their tracks. What's the Fisherman sound going to be?
Nah, nah....no! I don't wanna have a...I don't want there to be a sound. I just want there to be a beat.
Fair enough. Now, I'm trippin' lookin at the lineup of producers for your new album -- [Clams Casino, Flying Lotus, Alchemist, Chuck Inglish, Pharrell] -- and it's the type of line up that, ten years ago, would have been considered a "wet dream" for fans of what they used to call "underground rap." I'm curious: Is the idea of "underground," or the word "underground" -- is that something that floats around in your camp?
Nah, it ain't like a description or anything like that. Like, we use people that we like to kick it with and make music. I think we are at a day and age where that type of stuff -- I don't know; I wouldn't even call it that. That's just the good music right now.
The reason why I ask that is because after the success of the Blue Slide Park and even your mixtapes and the success of Wiz Khalifa -- you guys blew away that category. Was there a plan from the beginning?
Nah. I think a lot of people look at me like there was this "master plan" from the beginning for this whole roll out. But it really just happened organically. Things just happened.
I go back to "Knock, Knock" with you in 2010. As a DJ, I was put on by fans who came at me like "Yo! You got that Mac Miller 'Knock Knock'?" And so I had to get it. And the interesting thing is these fans weren't like heads, but they weren't douchebags either. They were reasonable people that I knew to have good taste in music, who hadn't seen your name on a blog; they had just been put on organically. Is your fan base still growing organically?
Yeah, definitely. I think that definitely it's like the people are really what brought me to where I'm at right now. You know what I'm sayin'? They just definitely wouldn't take "no" for an answer, and that's definitely how it still goes. So yeah, I think it's a little bit on a different level now, but still the same basic idea.
Feel me on this next question, because again, your buzz didn't come about from the usual channels, like blogs, or the media; it came from real fans. So once I started to research you, and got up on your music, a thought occurred to me that I need you to confirm: Pretty quickly after hearing your music I was like, "This. Dude. Does. Not. Give. A. Fuck." Would you say that's true?
Yeah! I mean, you know...it depends on which sense. I just want to make music. You know what I'm sayin'? All that extra, it's, like...it's cool. There's no "grand plan." There's no, like, goal that I'm trying to get to. I'm just trying to keep here and make music, and be able to touch a lot of people with that.
And let me just be clear; I guess I got that impression even more so from looking at the features that you've done and the cats you've chosen to feature. One that really knocked me out was when you had Raekwon and Pos [from De La Soul] on the remix of "Of The Soul." And we can take it to the Pink Slime cuts, at the time -- and feel me on this -- you were working with Pharrell and Rae and Pos and wasn't like "these are the hot dudes to work with." What motivates you to be like that?
I mean, I think that if I like someone's music and their vision and see the potential in someone's growth, then we make music together, and it's a go. A lot of people do these calculated features where they're workin' on their album, and they're like, "Okay, I want to get this, so I can have a big radio song. I wanna get this person, so the hip-hop heads will like me" -- and that's all that bullshit! For me, it's much more like, "Alright, can we sit down and have a conversation for a couple of hours about music, about life, about everything?" And then, if that works, then we can make music.
Alright, you just set me up for my next question because lookin' at cats that you rap with, it's interesting that you don't see a lot about your collaboration process. Can you shed some light on how that works out, like how did the track with Jay Electronica come together?
Well, Jay's a different case because he's kind of in a world of his own. So, like, we had our conversations and everything [online]. But he's the only one on the record where we did it [over] email. But that's because he's in a different country.
Right, so usually with Ab-Soul or Schoolboy, you guys are sitting down and the music organically appears...
Yeah, always. Soul worked on a lot of his album at my house. Yeah, we all just kick it.
Don't take this question the wrong way, but looking at it, it feels like, not necessarily backlash, but it seems like you don't get a lot of love from the press, because you weren't "made" by the press. Can you see where I might draw that conclusion?
Well, I don't know. I just think that with me, I had a really weird and just different rise, you know? I think that people are still just wrapping their heads around the idea of me, just really doin' something, which is cool. You know what I'm sayin'? I'm not sweatin' it, either way. But like I said, it's all -- people are going to understand when they understand, and they are going to figure it out when they figure it out.
It's just like first impressions: A muhfucker might hear this song first and be like, "Oh, Mac Miller is this!" So they just wanna hear this type of song. They don't get the chance to sit down and have a conversation with me. So they don't get to know me. So I don't fault them for it.
Now I have to be honest with you man, I'm an old head, so it's almost unbelievable for me to see a cat like you rappin' over Lord Finesse beats, featuring with Pos...do you feel me on that? My generation's knee jerk reaction is we want to shit on cats like you, and you make it really, really hard to shit on you.
Haha! I mean, that's just something that, you know, that's a childhood dream of mine -- you know what I'm sayin'? -- like, being able to work with dudes like that. So I'm here to take that opportunity when I can.
Where does that come from, man? Is the radio in Pittsburgh a dream come true? Who was the one in your life who was like "this is Diamond D, lil' Mac Miller"?
Well, Pittsburgh people, like, all really have a...they listen to all types of music. They listen to everything, and a lot of my homies, they are a lot older than me. So, I mean, they just put me on everything, and I was kind of like a nerdy type loner. When I would be at my house I would just research a lot of music.
Is that still the case right now? A lot of cats blow up, and then they say things like, "I only listen to my own music." Do you still listen to other cats' stuff?
Yeah, yeah, of course. I listen to, you know, whatever, whatever's out. I don't do as much searching for new music as I used to, but I hang out with people who put me on to a lot of music.
Is there anybody out right now that has come across your radar who you particularly enjoy?
Yeah, uh, right now, I think people need to listen to Vince Staples. That's what I'll say.
Okay, last question: I mentioned earlier that you "don't give a fuck." Does anybody in your camp "give a fuck"? Is somebody in your camp pressuring you to do something the traditional way...
Yeah, there's mad people that take the madness and twist it into something. The idea of "not givin' a fuck," I think that it's, you know, it's all relative. People say "Yeah, I don't give a fuck." Man, everyone gives a fuck about something. It's just...I think it's just how comfortable you really are with yourself. It's like to not give a fuck, you're saying I kinda just trust myself to do what I think I should do.