Mac Miller and I just vocally collaborated. Standing together on the roof of the Cardello Building, overlooking Pittsburgh’s North Shore, we’re exchanging phone numbers for a follow-up chat, and rather than recite the digits, he delivers them like lyrics in a verse.
It brings to my mind the 2005 song by rapper Mike Jones called “Back Then.” Out of my mouth flow the lyrics, “281-330-eight-zero-zero-fo’,” and Miller quickly chimes back, “Hit Mike Jones up on the low, cause Mike Jones about to blow.”
Talk about a defining moment — all of my incessant listening to hip hop music has paid off, and a song that’s come onto shuffle on my iPod one too many times is allowing me to spit a line with one of my favorite artists, on a rooftop in the city where we both grew up.
The metaphor is undeniable on this particular Monday afternoon. It’s as hot a day as we’ve seen the entire summer, and Miller’s career is no different — he’s on fire. Of course, with increased fame comes a hectic schedule, but as Miller floats around the rooftop, cracking jokes and keeping an endless grin going, it’s easy to see that he hasn’t forgotten how to have fun.
for more of Mac’s cover story in Whirl Magazine, hit the jump
Fans that hail from his hometown will have a chance to see Miller in his glory when he comes to First Niagara Pavilion with his brother in black and gold, Wiz Khalifa, on August 4. It’s a show he’s been waiting to play since his days as a concertgoer at the venue.
Since those childhood dreams, it’s been a supersonic year for Miller, whose first studio album, Blue Slide Park, peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. His successful follow-up mixtape, Macadelic, sparked a lengthy tour across the United States and Europe.
He recently wrapped production on Pink Slime, his upcoming EP collaboration with Pharrell Williams, along with an as-yet-untitled album. At the shoot, he’s just four days away from releasing the video for “Missed Calls,” a song off of Blue Slide Park, influenced by Miller’s ear for indie music, including that of Bon Iver, James Blake, and The Shins. Sitting on the edge of the building, Miller tells me how it all began when he was just 15 years old.
WHIRL: I want to hear the story about how Rostrum Records picked you up.
Miller: Well, the real story is, I basically picked them up. When I was 15, I wanted to get signed to Rostrum, but I wasn’t good enough, I guess. So I tried to send ’em a demo. I was workin’ really hard, and I used to send [Rostrum] music back in the day. Artie [Pitt, Rostrum Vice President] took notice very early when I was about 16, and Artie hit me up and said, “Ya know, I like what you’re doing. You’ve got a gift.” And I was freaking out. But when I had K.I.D.S. together [Miller’s fourth mixtape], I was getting some offers from different people and different labels and production companies and management, and I went to Benjy [Grinberg, Rostrum CEO] and was like, “Look Benjy, I would just much rather do this with you. You know, we’re both from Pittsburgh. I’d rather keep it all Pittsburgh.” So then, he was like, “For real? You would do that?”and I was like, “Yeah.” We just did it, man. We sat down to dinner at some Chinese place, and we just said business was gonna be very light, nothing crazy, we’re just gonna work together and have fun, and it just took off the next week.
WHIRL: Do you think that Rostrum caught a lot of slack, with people telling them that they couldn’t do anything out of Pittsburgh?
Miller: We all dealt with that, and people still deal with that. Being from Pittsburgh, it was always like, it’s gonna be impossible to do something, but we proved everybody wrong. I think we motivated a lot of people in the city to reach for that national attention because it’s there, ya know?
WHIRL: You think Pittsburgh has the respect now?
Miller: Yeah man. Everywhere we go, people are like, ‘You’re from Pittsburgh? That’s the coolest place in the world!’ I’m talking in Amsterdam, Paris, and Germany — kids wearing Penguins hats. They all come to my shows in Pittsburgh gear.
WHIRL: What’s going on for the future? What are you looking forward to?
Miller: I’m working on Pink Slime with Pharrell, and I’ve got another album I’m working on, and then it’s really just giving some opportunities to people I grew up with. I’m trying to help The Come Up get out there, who I’ve been rapping with from the start, and Dylan [Reynolds]. It’s workin’ on my stuff and trying to live life a little bit and cut my schedule down ‘cause I’ve been so busy that I’m trying to chill out — relax and stop and smell the roses.
WHIRL: Everyone knows Lil’ Wayne gets in the booth, doesn’t write anything down, just goes for hours. Eminem will write words down all day. How does it work for you?
Miller: I do both. It depends on the song. Some songs, I’ll just type up the lyrics real quickly, and I’ll know exactly what I want to say. Other songs, I go and record a line at a time. Other songs, I write hundreds of verses for. It always just depends on the record.
WHIRL: You say at the beginning of your song, “Of The Soul,” that you wrote it on paper, something you hadn’t done in a long time.
Miller: I remember I was in the studio, and I saw a pad of paper. I was like, “Man, I haven’t wrote a song on paper in so long.” With the phone and the computer, it’s a lot easier to do that, so I was like, I’m gonna write this one on paper. And I did it, and my handwriting is so bad, it really is. Like a 6 year old’s, it’s all scratched out everywhere.
WHIRL: Are you excited for the show at First Niagara Pavilion?
Miller: I’m excited for First Niagara because I went and saw Dave Matthews there a million times and thought, “One day I want to perform here,” and now I am.
WHIRL: It’s a dream coming true – the definition of it.
Miller: Yeah, I gotta do it. I gotta do it big.
WHIRL: How do you plan on keeping Pittsburgh in your music?
Miller: You’re a product of your environment, and Pittsburgh’s my environment, so no matter what music I make, that’s always my state of mind, and it’s always just about repping your city and bringing it all over the world.
WHIRL: The music scene in Pittsburgh seems like it’s having a musical renaissance, sort of like the way it was with jazz back in the 50’s.
Miller: Yeah, I’m excited to see what happens with the scene, man. I’m excited to see how much attention it gets and who’s gonna be working hard enough to capitalize on it. Boaz just signed with Rostrum, which is dope. S. Money is with Waka Flaka now, which is crazy. SCR is doing stuff with T-Pain, and The 58’s are getting a lot of attention — it’s all over the place.
There’s another inescapable metaphor thick in the humid air on the day of our shoot with Miller. As the 20-year-old stands near the edge of the rooftop, he outstretches his tattooed arms and that trademark smirk appears on his face once again. At his back, through the haze and a little fog, is the outline of the Pittsburgh skyline.
When he speaks of the future, the words roll off of his tongue and the concerned expression on his face mirrors that of a CEO speaking to potential stockholders. Miller has the city on his back, and is ready to carry it to the top of the music world. He’s a mentor, mogul, musician, and it seems the best is yet to come. How dope is that?
PLus! The Rostrum Roster
Along with Miller and Khalifa, Rostrum Records has been beefing up its roster with an eclectic mix of talents. Indie rock trio Donora has a new album, Boyfriends, Girlfriends, out now. Urban pop songstress Vali, has found success with hit songs such as “Bon Voyage” with Juicy J; Indie pop duo TeamMate, who recently released the single, “Sequel”; and rapper Boaz, who recently joined the list of acts on the “Under The Influence of Music” tour that is bringing Miller and Khalifa to First Niagara on August 4 with special guests Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and Chevy Woods.