Mac Miller: 'It's OK To Feel Yourself'
Mac Miller met us in LA, which he had recently left. Ali and Mac have known each other for some time, so this interview was a chance for them to reconnect on the other side of some months of internal turmoil and growth the Pittsburgh rapper had to get through. We spoke about fame, performance and wading through other people's prejudice when you're a rapper who's white.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Mac Miller in the building. What's happening?
MILLER: Oh, you know, just glad to be back. Very excited. I couldn't even sleep last night.
MUHAMMAD: You mean back in L.A.?
MILLER: Yeah. Back on the road. Back doing music professionally.
MUHAMMAD: How's it feel to be back?
MILLER: It's good. It was a little scary at first, but that's --
MUHAMMAD: Is it like Cheers when Norm walks in? It's like, he walks in; he's back. It's like, "Norm!"
MILLER: Yeah. I never watched Cheers actually.
MUHAMMAD: Sorry. I'm dating myself right there. Doggonit.
MILLER: No, you know what it's like? You just jump, and then everything's good. It's been great. Just releasing an album. There's no better feeling in the world. You know.
MUHAMMAD: It's been a long time. I forgot. That muscle's sleeping.
MILLER: I mean, hey, two years, I forgot too.
MUHAMMAD: How's it going?
MILLER: It's been going well. It's been like — I find myself — actually, the reception of it doesn't affect me as much. It's all been very positive though. Maybe if it was all negative it would affect me more. But I find myself just really enjoying the moment. Like, less about reading these reviews front-to-back or going through comments and more like just happy to have something out and to be touring. I had a show in Pittsburgh and sold out 5,000, and that was an amazing feeling. To be home. We did a little, like, Mayor Mac Miller.
MUHAMMAD: Mayor Mac Miller?
MILLER: Hometown hero. No, we did just a whole thing in Pittsburgh, which was cool. Cause Pittsburgh doesn't get a lot of stuff like that.
MUHAMMAD: How often do you perform in Pittsburgh?
MILLER: Not — I mean, every tour. But this is my first tour in two years, really. I've done shows here and there and spot dates, and I've done little runs. But this is my first solid tour that I've had since the Space Migration.
MUHAMMAD: Did you start the tour in hometown?
MILLER: Yeah. So basically it's like the album release shows, which are all intimate venues other than Pittsburgh, which was like a 5,000. But the L.A. show was like 1,200. And then we're doing a New York that's 500, another New York one that's 600. And then some Europes — some Europes. Some Europe ones that are around the same. Which are my favorite, because it's all people that know every word. And I love those shows.
MUHAMMAD: Do you have the ultimate — you might have already accomplished this. But everyone has that hometown venue that it's like, "When I make it" — you know that dream of one day, if I make it — when I make it — and when I make it, I'ma play here. Have you done that?
MILLER: Yeah, but not on my own.
MILLER: Wiz and I did the Post-Gazette Pavilion. Which was huge. That was like 25-26,000 people.
MUHAMMAD: What's so special about it?
MILLER: It's just like — well, growing up in Pittsburgh, there wasn't a lot of venues, right? There's the Shadow Lounge, which I played at. That's where I came up in. It was like the smaller hip-hop/jazz venue. And then they made Stage AE, which is like — there's an indoor that's about 2,500 and an outdoor that's 5,000. I've done both of those.
But then like the big concerts were at Post-Gazette Pavilion, which might be called Star Lake now. Or it used to be Star Lake and now — whatever it is. I call it Post-Gazette Pavilion. And it's just like this huge lawn, where if anyone big came through, that's where they go. Like Wayne. Oh, I guess now they have the Consol Energy Center too, but I want to do the Post-Gazette Pavilion.
MUHAMMAD: So you played there with Wiz --
MUHAMMAD: — and it felt kind of like, "I'm almost there?"
MILLER: Yeah, I mean, the fans definitely all were there for both of us. It was crazy.
MUHAMMAD: So next time the big target is you headlining basically.
MILLER: Right. Right. For sure.
MILLER: We got a little bit to go, but who knows. You never know. But I mean, it was an amazing feeling just because that's a venue that I don't think I ever even dreamed of — like I never even saw that as possible. Other things I'm like, "Yeah, I'll do that," but not Post-Gazette Pavilion.
FRANNIE KELLEY: What did you think was going to be like the peak? Where were you going to max out? And why?
MILLER: I also — at the same time I also got kind of spoiled. Because when I first came out, there was this thing in Boston called the Boston Urban Music Festival that they don't do anymore because I'll tell you in a second. And it's a free show that they did at City Hall in Boston. And this is when I was doing shows that were like 300, 600 cap. So it was like — whatever. I went to do it.
The record for the most people that had ever gone there was like 25,000 or something, and we had 25,000 people there four hours before I went on stage. By the time I hit the stage it was 60,000 people. And they had to shut — the police department — down. They had to shut the public transportation — there were people standing in garages.
And we didn't even have a tour team. It was just me and a couple of my friends. I didn't have security. So like, we literally were just five dudes, 60,000 people. My homie that was selling merch at the time literally had to run through the crowd holding merch.
So where'd I think I would max out? After that, I was hoping to maybe — I don't know — hit the Garden. But no. I don't know. I mean --
KELLEY: Why did that happen?
MILLER: I don't know.
KELLEY: How did you not know that was going to happen?
MILLER: Because, I mean, I just — this is before — this is when I had like just put out K.I.D.S.
KELLEY: What year?
MILLER: This is 2010.
MILLER: So I was touring but nothing to that capacity. But the mayor actually wrote me a letter, saying like, "We'll never do that again." So --
MUHAMMAD: Did you write back saying, "It wasn't my fault?"
MILLER: I wrote back like, "I'm down for the House Of Blues." No. I think every level you get to seems like the top, you know? You're like, "Oh, I'm here. Man, maybe one day I'll get there, but I'll never get here." I don't know. Nothing ever ceases to amaze me. I don't think I've ever came out to a show, whether it be 600 people or 60,000 and not — I've never not been blown away by people's reaction to the music. It's always like, "Whoa." Unless no one cares. Then it's like, "Awww."
KELLEY: I wanted to ask you — I wanted to ask you and Ali about that, little bit about like having people like you so much. And then having to deal with people surprising you with their like and their want to talk to you.
MILLER: Well, I've also — let me also just add that I've had both sides. I used to pay $50 to perform at super hood clubs in Pittsburgh for two people that had their back to me. Or like perform for ten people that were just the rapper's friends that were on the stage. But, at first --
KELLEY: What did you learn from that?
MILLER: That is the hardest performance you'll ever do.
MILLER: Performing 60,000 people, that's easy. The energy's already there. They're already doing most of the work. All you gotta do is not forget the words — and feed them energy too. But performing for two people who are just trying to get a drink and don't even know why there's someone performing is like — that's really — it's like performing at like a sweet 16 birthday party. It's not fun. It's awkward.
I don't know what it is. Maybe because you're more vulnerable. You're not on a pedestal at that point. You're like — it would be like if I did a whole set in here right now. You know what I mean? We're just all sitting here. So when you're masked by 60,000 people, you're not even real. You're just a presence. But with ten people, after you get off stage, they can just go grab a drink with you after.
KELLEY: Yeah, you have to prove yourself every minute.
KELLEY: You can't just --
MILLER: And they're not trying to do this at all. There's no hands up-and-down. It's all like — I just did a show like that in Aspen at Belly Up, where it's like a bunch of people sitting down having a drink. And when you're playing music — like if I was with a jazz band, it's different, because you're just performing. But doing a hip-hop show for that, it's about movement and getting people to almost have religious experience. So people just sitting there having a drink, you're kind of like, "Uh. This doesn't — you guys aren't, like, dancing? OK."
MUHAMMAD: Yeah. I just had that experience even DJing recently. And I think — I kind of wrote about it on Tribe's 25th anniversary, the official day. And the night before I was DJing at the Line Hotel, and there was barely anyone in there. And I felt like, "Why am I here? Cause am I connecting?" And even — well it's a hotel. First of all, I gotta set it up. It's a hotel lounge, so already the vibe is already — the come-dance-with-me vibe is nonexistent.
MILLER: No. It's, "Let's have a scotch."
MUHAMMAD: Yes. Exactly. So that went against me, and then it was just an off night, I guess. I'm finding Thursday nights in L.A. — I don't know. Maybe I'm not doing enough on the promotion side. But anyway, there weren't many people there and I was like, "Why am I playing? What's going on? I need to connect." And so I did play like one song that was way off and, knowing that people were sitting down and drinking and talking, I just wanted to see if they would check in. I got a look over, so I was like, "Oh, somebody's half-listening."
Yeah, it made me feel a way, and I wrote about it.
MILLER: Doing DJ Sets is like — is difficult to me. Cause you have to find that happy medium of playing what the crowd wants and what you want. Like, I had this little party for my album, and two nights I did DJ sets. The first night I'm just playing songs I wanted to listen to. I'm like, "I just dropped my album tonight. Let me just play songs I want to listen to."
And my girlfriend actually came up to me and was like, "What are you doing?" And I was like, "I'm just — I don't know. It's a good Pharrell song. I don't know. It's a classic." She was like, "Do you see the people out there?" I was like, "Yeah. I'm just playing my songs." She was like, "You're not moving them. You're not moving them. Play some Nicki and Beyoncé. Play 'Feeling Myself.' Play 'Feeling Myself.'" And I was trying to be all like pride about it, like, "No. I don't take requests." But then I was like, "Alright. Fine." And I played it. And of course all the girls in the crowd are like, "Oh!" and started dancing. So, I guess that's that happy medium.
MUHAMMAD: I guess we both have our struggles. Do you ever find yourself — after performing 60,000 people and going back to your hometown where I'm sure you're well-received and loved, do you find that in more of an intimate setting — cause you mentioned a moment ago — that are you the type of person where you can just comfortably, like if we were in a room right now, just perform and maybe not necessarily to perform but the joy of just like --
MILLER: Yeah, I mean, I can create, right. If there's music — I like to make music whenever, and I could sit and perform. I think it's just different when it's like — it's just like the setting and the vibe that you're catching. I'm a real dude that like — I go off the vibes, very strongly. So if I come out --
That's why I like smaller crowds because it's just — you could just feel it so — you know what I'm saying? From every single person. They're just sweaty. Everyone's jumping. They had to get the tickets — they had to buy them five minutes after the link was announced. They're ready.
And then I think performing I used to do it all the time, people that had no idea who — or didn't care. And I used to get off on that. Where it's like to convert people. But then you get spoiled.
MUHAMMAD: How about — OK. So let's tie this in a little bit. You have the new album, GO:OD AM.
MUHAMMAD: You're performing it for the first time. People might have heard or may not be familiar. How does that feel?
MILLER: Well, you change — I think you change the performance. Cause there's two — to me, there's two ways to do it. You either hit it from an energy standpoint where all you're trying to do is create energy. You want to people to jump around. You want people to put their hands in the air. You want people to not think. You want to people to just like lose their minds.
And then say I come out and people don't know the records and they're less likely to do what I just said. So you switch gears to you want them to hear what you're saying then. It's like, "OK. If you don't know these songs, then I want to give you a good experience with the songs." It's going to be less screaming and jumping around and being a psycho. Let me dial back and have what I'm saying stand out front, and how I'm saying it. Less than like just pure, unadulterated energy.
MUHAMMAD: Any reaction, immediate reaction, on some of the new songs?
MILLER: Yeah. Well, let's see. I had one show, but I ended up performing the album like three times off of just intoxication. Cause I had two nights previous, where there were like parties to celebrate the album. And I would have a couple whiskeys and be like, "I'll perform. Who cares?" And then I'd have like crappy mp3 versions that weren't even the album cuts of the songs. I would be like, "I want to do the song. Let's do it."
So you find, yeah, people don't know them as well. But I think with this album people have caught on faster. Like, "100 Grandkids" people know. But then a song like "Perfect Circle," which is a more of an album cut, they don't know as well.
But I mean I personally am good. I like performing these songs just because they're still fresh for me. So I'll take performing "Perfect Circle" to people sitting there watching over performing "Donald Trump" to a bunch of people jumping just because I've done that so many times.
MUHAMMAD: You mentioned "Perfect Circle." What is a perfect circle?
MILLER: It doesn't exist, right?
MUHAMMAD: I don't know.
MILLER: I would say that it's something that — from what I understand, it's — a person can't — you couldn't, with your free hand, take a pencil and draw a perfect circle. It's impossible to do. Isn't it?
MUHAMMAD: By hand?
MILLER: Yeah. It's impossible.
MUHAMMAD: It's impossible.
MILLER: Without a protractor.
KELLEY: Exactly what I was thinking. I was like, "What is that thing?"
MUHAMMAD: Wait wait wait. Unless --
KELLEY: Oh god.
MUHAMMAD: See, this is like one of those trick question type of things. Unless you are tracing it.
MILLER: Right. If you're tracing it.
MUHAMMAD: But --
KELLEY: Not even.
MILLER: But --
MILLER: But if you --
MUHAMMAD: — free-hand it.
MILLER: No way. It's impossible.
MUHAMMAD: So you say in there, "Heaven is a mile away and hell is much closer." And to me it sounds like it's a conversation of conscience.
MILLER: I think it's like the idea of — the idea almost that we're taught by religion or all that is that to get to heaven, to get up here, is so much work, but it's so easy to fall into, like, "a negative life." So I think what's thought of as like to be saved or whatever, to live sin free, is — that's a tall order.
MUHAMMAD: Is it like as impossible as a --
MILLER: A perfect circle.
MUHAMMAD: — a perfect circle.
MUHAMMAD: So in the song, who are you trying to wake up? And what is work? And why do we have to get up to work?
MILLER: So, the end of that song is — so we were at the studio, and — do you want the actual recording or the meaning first?
MILLER: You know, I think it's almost like you're waking yourself up. You're deciding — cause to me that mood, that place, that imaginary place, it's like the dream world. I always look at it as my Harold And The Purple Crayon. You ever read that book?
KELLEY: That was my jam.
MILLER: So Harold And The Purple Crayon, it's a kid who has this little crayon and he draws his reality. Right? So to me, that was a place that I feel like I was in. My brother actually dubbed me that. My brother said, "You're like Harold And The Purple Crayon. That's how I see you." And then I think why that's the transition into "When In Rome" — I believe it is, right? That's where it goes.
MILLER: Yeah. Why that's the transition into that is because it's that moment where you wake up and you go just back to work, which is just reality. Every day is that work. And then "When In Rome," to me, is just like this aggressive, "Let's just go." Like, "Nah. Let's not think. Less thought."
And I think that's where you get trapped in so much, living insular. It's thought. And what does this mean? What does that mean? Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Which are all important questions to ask, but it's just as important to just shut up and live. Me personally. It was for me. So just to go — and it's OK to feel yourself a little bit. There's nothing wrong with that. It's healthy.
MUHAMMAD: It is healthy. Actually, it was like one of the first things you mentioned, just saying, after being here for two years, you could just accept where things were. You weren't going, checking and see what the comments were. You sounded comfortable, and that's --
MILLER: Yeah. Because it's OK to enjoy what you're doing. And I think we live in this world — and I'd fall into it — where self-deprecation is such like a --
MILLER: Right. It's like the thing. Not only for comedic purposes, which is great comedy — some of my favorite, actually — but just as like a way of living. And I think people become uncomfortable with someone who's not self-deprecating.
MILLER: Yeah. But I think it's OK to spend time on both sides. I think if you're always feeling yourself, I don't trust that. Cause that's not true. And if you're always self-deprecating, that's very real, but I don't think — I don't think either are healthy.
MUHAMMAD: How'd you get to a point of being more balanced?
MILLER: Walking outside. Realizing how small you are. Which sounds like something that is — it sounds like something that is a negative thought like, "Oh, I'm so small. None of this matters." But it actually is more of like a weight lift and freedom. Like, "Every word I say doesn't shift the world." You know what I'm saying? If I make a bad song, the world's not ruined. My world's not ruined.
KELLEY: I see the comic book.
MILLER: Yeah. But you can just go, and it's just a really liberating feeling of — it's liberating to realize you have the freedom to make mistakes. You have the time. Regardless of how long or short your time is, pretty much anything you decide to do is OK, because you're so small.
MUHAMMAD: Do you think that the younger generation has that — do they walk with that sort of freedom or do you think that they feel more worthless?
KELLEY: Is he the younger generation?
MUHAMMAD: Well, you are to me. I mean, you the voice.
KELLEY: OK. Just making sure.
MILLER: Yeah, we're — millennials are the — are we — we're the younger generation? Millennials?
MILLER: OK. I'll take it. You know, I see it as — I guess it's hard speaking in absolutes of what everyone feels, but I guess the people that I know — and I'm not even just talking about artists, just people in general — just have have this very open-mind-ness of, like, the world's at my fingertips-type thinking. Where you see more people now that want to make a website, and it's like self-expression. They want to have a blog. They want to give the world their thoughts, and it's a therapeutic thing.
Everyone I think now feels like their voice means something or they wouldn't be putting it everywhere. People put their voice everywhere. All through Instagram comments. As minuscule and kind of stupid as that is, at the same time, it's dope. People really feel like, "I have to say something," which is sometimes a little much, but like, "Go ahead, man. Speak away."
MILLER: Well, I don't believe in coincidence really. Not be like, "Ooooh." But, no, I don't. I mean, I think everybody hanging out and playing music and making music and creating together was and is a beautiful thing that has affected everybody. And I don't think it's any — just look at everyone, not to make you sound old here, everyone in his time.
MUHAMMAD: I can take it.
MILLER: But it's the same type of things, like with the Native Tongues and all these people who were just around each other and pushing each other, whether it's in the studio together or from afar. Because we all are friends. And now that everyone's touring it's not like we all three-way call each other, but Thebe put something out or Q put something out, it's like, "OK. Alright." You want to — it's a friendly kind of pushing each other, being happy for each other. That's a good thing. But no I don't think it's a coincidence. I think the world needed it, or else it wouldn't have happened I guess.
KELLEY: I needed it.
MILLER: Hey, I needed it too.
MUHAMMAD: In the two years that you were away, cause you say you're back, in creating the record did you have a definite vision in that time away that you wanted to attack and reach?
MILLER: I think that was a difficult thing for me. Was to find what I wanted the vision to be. Because there were moments when I just wanted to go so far left, right, and like really far down the rabbit hole, and make this album that was just really weird. Not weird for the sake of being weird, but weird in the sense that if I played it for your everyday person, they wouldn't really get it, right?
KELLEY: Why? What would that sound like?
MILLER: It was just very — you heard. You heard some records off of that, when it was there. It was really musical. It was very storytelling. It had a heavier, little — I mean, some songs were sadder. But it was just telling maybe sadder stories.
KELLEY: Maybe alone-type stuff.
MILLER: Right. More insular. Where this album ended up being something that I think resonates a little bit more on first listen. And a lot of it was because I wanted to perform it. I wanted to be able to throw this album on and everyone jump around. The other one was more like a seated performance, you know?
Yeah. So I think it just took me a while to be comfortable with that, and to be artistically get that album to a quality that I was OK with. Because going very musical and deep in your storytelling and doing a lot of these really almost orchestral things, that's like, yeah, quality. I can OK this one. But getting that one to a next quality takes a little longer.
MUHAMMAD: I think the album's dope. I mean, I like the other music that I heard. I definitely hope you — I don't know what you going to do.
MILLER: It will come out.
MUHAMMAD: You played me a few things actually, and you were like, "I'm working on three albums at one time." And I was like, "My brain would be hurting."
MILLER: I know.
MUHAMMAD: Because I get to those moments where I'm just like — start a project, and I'm like, "Yup." Just another project. And people are like, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "Yo, my head's" — but the three pieces were so different and well in their own space, and I was just really impressed at the way that you working. You put things together.
Lyrically, you've mentioned in a couple different places on this record about being alone and no one really caring. Is that second-/third-person or is that first-person?
MILLER: It's probably a mix of all of them. I think that's — I guess there's that fear of if you release music and no one hears it, did you release music? Or if it doesn't move anybody, I think there's a fear of that. I think there was a fear during making this album that because so much of my work had been me making it for me that I forgot that I was making music to touch people.
I think that was a mind state I created for myself, which was like, "I'm making this album for myself. I'm making this album for myself." And then I get to the point where it's time to put it together, and I realize that it's for more than myself. Its purpose is bigger than me, so, yeah, I think that was part of the fear of everything.
KELLEY: How do you know that its purpose is bigger than you?
MILLER: You just — two reasons. One, just from connecting with fans. And I think probably the coolest thing that music has ever done is there's like this collection of people — it's not like Beliebers or like these really huge world fan bases. It's a group of kids that I stay in touch with that were super loners, from what I gather, and they've kind of found each other and formed a real friendship.
MUHAMMAD: That's beautiful.
MILLER: Which is super dope to me. And I just like have gotten letters from them and stuff like that. So, it helps when you know that your music is helping people. And then --
KELLEY: But does it also make you feel less alone.
MILLER: Yeah, I'd say. I mean, but actually, no. It actually, I think, adds to it, because you're --
KELLEY: You're the boss.
MILLER: Well, you're making this music and now your music is touching people and it's a part of you. But it's not you. You know what I mean?
MILLER: So these kids are being helped by the art that is created. And then you start like looking at it and you're like, "OK, well, that's not even me. You don't know me." Let me try and think about the people who are actually in my life, who I actually know. So it becomes that separation.
And I think the second thing — why I know that it's for other people — is because I think about what music I'm a fan of did for me. And then putting myself — like, replacing myself with who I was a fan of is mind-blowing. Cause you're like, "No way. There's no way that someone could look at me like I look at artists I love." And people do, I guess. Hey. It's a blessing.
KELLEY: That happened to you.
MUHAMMAD: It happens all the time, and it's a weird place because I don't walk around — I walk around like I haven't done anything in life. I'm just like, "It's me. I'm just me. I'm the kid from Brooklyn." I find myself in places. I'm like, "Why you want me here?" But — and then when people come up to me, I still have this very humble like — I'm really appreciative of the love. And even 25 years later. It's like, that's tripped to think about, that you've affected that way, and it's like real emotion that they're carrying. But I still don't connect with the way they feel. I hear it; in my conscious understand it, but to really — be like, "Really? Me, this?"
MILLER: I got a Tribe Called Quest tattoo.
MUHAMMAD: I know you do.
KELLEY: You do? Where?
MILLER: On my arm. Beats, Rhymes And Life. Yup.
KELLEY: That's wild. I don't even have a Tribe Called Quest tattoo.
MUHAMMAD: We can arrange that. But, no. I think about when I see people, meet people like Stevie Wonder, and I'm just like, "Oh my god. You have no idea what you've done for me." Same thing that you're talking about.
KELLEY: I want to ask you something about — something that you called it — in the Breakfast Club interview, you said there were three demons, kind of, and one of them — the way you phrased it was, "What being a white rapper means to my life." I was thinking about that when you were talking about thinking too much.
MILLER: Yeah. Oh, yeah. That was definitely a huge one.
KELLEY: OK. What do you mean like, "it means to my life?"
MILLER: What — I'll say what being white means to being a rapper. That was a huge thought of mine.
KELLEY: It was a worry.
MILLER: It was a feeling of just — obviously I was reading a lot at that time of a) how you're looked at b) the reality of the fact that a white rapper probably is more marketable in America. At least that's the — I had a shorter span to --
MILLER: Yeah. Ascent. And then I saw all these kids sprouting up too. Like here's Lil Timmy selling 10,000 records. So I think for me I don't and didn't want shortcuts. I wasn't in control of that. So for me it was a big demon because I don't want anything I don't deserve; I don't want anything I didn't work for. I don't want to be ahead of anybody because of --
KELLEY: — other people's prejudice.
MILLER: But then you realize, "I am white." That will never change. So I can't wake up in the morning and not want to go to work because I'm white. All I can do is be as knowledgeable about the craft that I do and also just know myself, that I work hard. I think for me that was a big hump to get over. Was being OK with it. Because I was like, "I don't listen to a bunch of white rappers." But there are — I don't think I'm a white rapper. I'm a rapper who's white.
MUHAMMAD: I don't listen to wack rappers.
MILLER: Right. Well, there you go. I think that that was the confidence I had to hit really, was like, "I'm not here cause I'm white. I'm here cause I'm tight." Wow. Wack. I did not mean to say that. Oh my god. That was horrible.
MUHAMMAD: Rolled off nice though.
MILLER: That was horrible. That was so bad.
KELLEY: That was embarrassing for everybody.
MILLER: That was so bad. Wow. That was a great — please let that be the pull quote. "I'm not here cause I'm white. I'm here cause I'm tight." No, but I'm just saying I think the realization that it's not about me being a white rapper it's about me being a good rapper — there you go. That didn't rhyme. Jesus. No, I think that was a realization and confidence thing that I had to hit. I had to be — confidence is huge in rapping. You gotta know you're nice to do it. You can't second guess if you're nice or not.
KELLEY: To perform in front of two people that have their backs to you.
MILLER: Right. You gotta — but that's the thing is at one point I didn't ever question if I was nice or not. When I was doing freestyle competitions and no one knew who I was, I would spit up against anybody, it didn't matter. 35. I don't care. And then I think I just read too much, and I started thinking like, "Dang. Is that — really? Was I wrong this whole time?"
KELLEY: Oh man.
MILLER: "I'm just white? That's it?"
KELLEY: That's brutal.
MUHAMMAD: Nah, you're definitely tight.
KELLEY: But how do — go ahead.
MILLER: No, no, no. I was just going to say I can't believe I said that.
MUHAMMAD: It's alright. I asked my nephew, who's now 20, but a couple years ago I asked him — cause my nephew was born in New Jersey as a preemie, and then my sister hauled him off to L.A. So he's twisted in the head cause he's like, "I'ma East Coast kid but raised entirely in Los Angeles." And he connects with the lifestyle here, cause he doesn't really know anything else, but in his heart he's East Coast.
But I ask him, every now and then, "Who you feeling? Who you feeling?" And so a couple years ago, I asked him who is his favorite rapper, and he said, "Mac Miller. Straight up. Bar none." And I just looked, and I was like, "Dope." And I'm always asking why. He was like — he just start running down, "Did you listen to? Did you listen to?" And I'm like, "Alright, nephew."
It made me feel good that he's — he connects with lyricists and artists with depth.
MILLER: I mean, I think that was — I had to — everything just takes time. By nature, I'm a pretty impatient person, in certain aspects. Where it's like — when I see something — that's kind of the nature of the beast. It's like, "That's what I want. OK. I'm going to sit here and work until I'm there." So that's why I go kind of zero to 100 on things. I'm either not doing it or I'm doing it way too much.
So I think I had to learn patience to let the depth build. Cause you don't have depth with one — you just gotta let it happen. You can't rush to have people know all of the facets of your capabilities. It's OK — like, so now when people are like, "Oh, he's just this." I'm not like — it's like I jump onto it and I'm like, "No I'm not." It's cool that people take their time.
MUHAMMAD: Well, I mean, people are outsiders. Like you said, there's a piece of your art that you're creating that is you, so you give it them. But it's just a moment. And one of the things that I find, especially I can say this after doing it for 25 years, I'm like, "I totally understand why you connect with that song and that moment, but that for me was really 25 years ago. So I'm so not there." And even if weren't that long of a span — it could just be two years — it's like, "Well, that was just that way I was feeling at that moment in time, and now this is where I am. Maybe you're holding me to that." I don't know if we do that to other people as we do with artists.
MILLER: Oh, we definitely do that with artists.
MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I mean --
MILLER: I don't know. Man, once you fall in love with an emotion an artist gives you, you never want them to give you another emotion again, but they can never give you that emotion again. Because it only represents the time it took place. If you make this for a three-month period of your life and you put it out and people gravitate towards it, then for the rest of your life and career, they're like, "But we want that." And you're like, "I'm sorry. Actually, it's impossible for me to be back in those three months. And I would never want to go back there. Cause it's just like, it happened."
MUHAMMAD: Well, you mention love. So speaking of love, can you talk about "ROS?"
MUHAMMAD: It's a pretty vulnerable sounding song there.
MILLER: Yeah, when I played it for Kelly for the first time, she was like — I was like, "What do you think?" She was like, "It's ... honest." No, I mean, I've had an on-and-off-again girlfriend for about six years or so. So earlier this year, whatever time that was, we were going through a pretty — just a different — let's just call it a different patch. And that song was a song I made. And it's funny because I actually made it in two different moments. The intro I made after we were kind of back together, but like just starting to get back together. And the song was when we weren't.
But people — I'm pretty — I always have one of those on every album, that are like the --
KELLEY: Yeah, I think that's why you have so many female fans.
MILLER: That's just a very --
KELLEY: Not that female fans are different from male fans. I'm just saying it's helpful.
MUHAMMAD: Well, I was going to ask, in knowing that you do that, do you make that for you? Do you make that for the person to hear how they made you feel? Do you make that for the fans?
MILLER: I'd say — I'd say — I think I make it for the conversation between me and her. I think it's — maybe I'm not the best at communicating in real life, so that's how I communicate. I remember during times where it was the reverse, where she was like, "What's going on?" And I'd be like, "You know how I feel about you. Listen to track seven."
KELLEY: Oh my god.
MUHAMMAD: You really didn't do that, did you?
MILLER: No, but I did. I did. For sure. For sure. I would have a song. Or it would be like, "What do you mean? Listen to this song." Where this song was more like, "Wait. Listen. Quick."
MUHAMMAD: I mean, side note, talk to me if you need a little help in the communication --
MILLER: We're a lot better now.
KELLEY: Cause you're so good at communicating?
MUHAMMAD: Actually, I'm OK. I'm not gon' say I'm great. But --
MILLER: No. It's part of the growing process. We were just — I will say this. That song was made during a point where we were the most probably disconnected that we had been. All these other songs that I've made about the relationship was where we're super close and bumping heads maybe or just everything's good. But that song was like almost nostalgic to the emotion. It was kind of gone, so you want it, rather than you're in it. Like, I wasn't getting the phone answered all the time. Hey. It happens.
MUHAMMAD: It happens.
MILLER: But I got it back, you know what I mean? We're good.
KELLEY: Thank god.
MUHAMMAD: It makes for good art.
MILLER: Hell yeah, dude.
MUHAMMAD: Over and over and over again.
MILLER: And I think it's just important to be honest. Because it's not like there's other — hey, we're honest about everything. Some thing's are a little bit more exaggerated — I remember we used to get into fights because she used to be like — cause I used to always say, "Yeah, babe. In the music, I'm telling the truth about everything, except when I talk about girls." She'd be like, "I just don't really buy that." But yeah.
KELLEY: Is that true?
MILLER: Yeah. I mean, like I said, we've been on-and-off. So like, I've, you know, been with women before in six years. I'm not gonna lie.
KELLEY: OK. I'm glad that's on the record.
MILLER: I'm just saying it's --
MUHAMMAD: The number one relationship is with music and so that's that — everyone else just has to accept that.
MILLER: It's like — phew. Yeah. But she gets it. We've both had our time apart. So I'm going to be honest about everything. There's nothing — that's part of what helps me to make the music I make. There's a part of me that's super honest, and then there's a part that like is a little self — maybe exaggerates to put myself as this superhero I see myself as maybe.
MUHAMMAD: I know we gotta go. I still have several more questions.
MILLER: Yes, no, kind of, maybe, and most of the time.
MUHAMMAD: Well, the last one is about "Festival."
MUHAMMAD: You say, "We don't have no order or new world." So what is a world without order? And to me it sounds like a funeral song, by the way.
MILLER: It is. "The Festival" — for some reason, I'm obsessed with albums ending in death. I don't know why. And it's not even necessarily a negative sad thing, but I guess to me an album is just a life — it's like a mini-lifetime. So "The Festival" is actually supposed to be — Yukimi from Little Dragon is supposed to be god welcoming me into heaven.
I think maybe it's like the — kind of what we were talking about earlier. How this generation is less inclined to do what is told to be the right thing or more just like what they feel, which — there's pros and cons. Sometimes people are correct — er, sorry. Correct and incorrect, I guess is — about a feeling,opinion. But people do what they feel. So sometimes, in my opinion, it brings positive things, and sometimes it brings negative things. But it's just kind of like living in this chaos of everyone kind of really following their heart, which is pretty dope when people have good hearts, I guess.
KELLEY: There it is. That's the difference.
KELLEY: OK, we're done here.
MUHAMMAD: Riddle solved.
MILLER: So yeah, that's it. I got nothing else.
MUHAMMAD: Well, hopefully, you can come back --
MILLER: Oh, yeah.
MUHAMMAD: — cause you've had a long — I should say sort of short career, but you've done a lot in a little bit of time. And a lot of people I don't think work that hard. And it's so much that you've done inside of your own artist career and touching and helping others. And so I want to be able to talk about just more in-depth.
MUHAMMAD: Don't say anytime.
MILLER: For real, anytime. The only person you gotta — the only gatekeeper is that guy in the blue hat.
KELLEY: I got his number.
MUHAMMAD: No, you guys are good to us. But we definitely — you're loved. And because, again, you've done a lot, and with your age, it, I think — there's more of a conversation to be had that people will feel differently. They feel your music, but just from you as a person and your perspective, and what you've seen and come up against in the music business, and things that may have excited you or even disappointed you — like I have questions, yo. We haven't scratched the surface.
MILLER: "You don't got the answers, Mac!"
MUHAMMAD: So we'd love to have you come back.
MILLER: Yeah, I would love to.
KELLEY: That'd be tight. We should do it. We'll do it. It's happening.
MILLER: Let's go. Hey, man. I got a couple — I'm not done talking; I got more to say.
MUHAMMAD: Good. You have listeners. Thank you for coming to check us. I want to hear more stories after you've toured more on GO:OD AM.
MILLER: This tour will have some stories.
KELLEY: Oh god.
MUHAMMAD: Alright. Cool.
KELLEY: Word. Thank you.
MILLER: Thank you for having me.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.