Mac Miller Says He "Likes The Idea Of Not Having An Identity"
Exclusive: Mac Miller breaks down some of the existential themes in his music, his reaction to Jay Z's Samsung deal and why he releases music as his alter ego.
Truth in artistry has always been a relative term. This is especially true in Hip Hop, where social commentary is often peddled as firsthand experience, and the phrase “keeping it real” essentially means fake it till you make it. For many rappers, the need to be “real” far outweighs the need to be honest. Image is everything. Perception is reality. And to those who rap for the lifestyle, music doesn’t get any deeper than that.
When Mac Miller dropped Blue Side Park in 2011, it wouldn’t have been wrong to label the album as something other than Hip Hop. With catchy radio jams like “Party On 5th Ave” and “Frick Park Market,” Miller’s debut LP was more mainstream pop than it was a record crafted by a true emcee. But to accuse the artist formerly known as EZ Mac as being anything other than honest, would be an exercise in futility. The truth is, Mac Miller was a 19-year-old kid in 2011, and 19-year-old kids should be having fun (while partying on 5th Ave.).
Fast-forward two years, and Mac is fresh off the release of the acclaimed Watching Movies With The Sound Off, an album Pitchfork.com hailed as a “quantum leap in artistry.” The album, which was largely self-produced, is dark and introspective. Where Blue Side Park had radio jams, Watching Movies… has drug-infused, death curious ballads. Now at the wise, young age of 21, Mac’s musical output has caught up with his artistic sensibility, and while he continues to channel his inner Lennon, it’s clear that Mac Miller may just be a true emcee.
Mac Miller Explains The Link Between Artistry & Death
HipHopDX: You’ve talked about wanting to reach John Lennon status, and he was as much a revolutionary as he was a musician. Do you think it’s possible for a rapper to be held in such regard?
Mac Miller: I don’t think it’s really necessarily possible to fill anybody’s shoes that’s on that level. You know like, if someone wants to be Tupac, no one will ever be ‘Pac. It’s more of an aspiration. I’m just a fan of Lennon; I like what he represented. I guess I’m saying that I love the growth of how the Beatles came out, you know? I always looked at that as something similar to me. You know like how they came out and where they went too. But I said I wanted to be bigger than the Beatles, and everyone tweeted me like, “How dare you!”
DX: At least you didn’t say Jesus…
Mac Miller: [Laughs] But that’s one of the best things of all time...that whole shit, ‘cause that shit is real.
DX: I was also curious if you think you need to die to reach that status?
Mac Miller: I don’t know. I always wonder about things like that. Say I’m working on this album, and I die before I made it. I wonder how it would go down. I bet everyone would be like, “This is a fucking crazy album! Mac Miller is ….” But I can’t die yet, because there is a certain place of artistry I need to get to before I die. But maybe I gotta die in a cool way—like public suicide or jumping off the Eiffel Tower with a bunch of people watching. That’d be tight. Or if I got merked by a sniper in a highly planned assassination with decoys, and the Russians did it or something. That’d be tight.
DX: On “Aquarium,” you said, “Confessions that I have curiosity about life and death,” and on “Someone Like You,” you say “Fucked up I can’t feel myself / Work so hard might kill myself.” For you, what is the relationship between artistry and death?
Mac Miller: I think making music—one thing it allows you to do—is there are no boundaries of what you can and can’t touch on. So I always think death and the afterlife and stuff like that is an interesting thing to talk about, because to me, the possibilities of what might happen are endless. I just like to personally look into things that you’re always told are true from a young age, but there’s no proof. These are things that shape one’s whole life. Like if you don’t tell that person, “God bless you” when they sneeze, you’re gonna rot in the fiery pits of Hell for the rest of your life. I’m just interested in that whole idea, while also making sure I say, “God bless you.”
DX: A quick question on that. You came out during the XXL show at the Nokia Theater with Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul. And I always think it’s really interesting the imagery you put in your music. You do reference death and the questions around it quite often, and Ab takes the opposite approach like, “Don’t be afraid to die.”
Mac Miller: Right, right, right. Well it’s not necessarily afraid. I think it’s kinda the same idea, and we’ve definitely had conversations about it. It’s more like, “Who knows what’s gonna happen?” I’m very fascinated by that, and I’m not saying I’m planning on dying anytime soon. I just think it’s kind of like a thing that probably will never be answered. And it’s okay to accept the unknown. But I just don’t think anyone really knows besides maybe like, Bill Murray, who might have it figured out.
DX: What are those conversations like between you and Ab?
Mac Miller: It depends on the day and what the situation and environment is. You’ve heard Control System, he can go as far as he wants. There’s a bunch of weird like... We believe in the universe, you know like the power of the universe and stuff? So there’s a bunch of stuff like that. And sports.
DX: “Aquarium” also finds you asking yourself, “Is what I do important in the grand scheme of things?” In the midst of crafting this masterpiece you just put out, what did you learn about the answer to that question?
Mac Miller: So it’s like living in a bunch of different beliefs, right? There’s the idea of believing that everything we do is insignificant, because in the grand scheme of things, if the world goes on for a long time, eventually people will forget what you did. And right now it’s like, “This person is so important.” But you see, as every decade moves forward, people just become less and less and less important no matter how important they [were]. Even something like religion. If you figure, the more time goes on, the more people question things. So there’s the idea of that. Or maybe the world ends in 20 years, so then I guess I’d be kind of relevant because it didn’t have a lot of time to get over. But I don’t know. It’s kind of like the idea you can do all this shit, but does it really matter? Which then is like the complex that I feel like a lot of people have… It’s why my album is like that, because I wanna do something with my music, like make a song like “Aquarium.” Then I’m like, “Fuck that! Suck my dick before I slap you with it.” Who cares at the end of the day? What’s the point? You know, you might as well just say some stupid shit, so [I feel] both sides, definitely.
Why Mac Miller Created Larry Fisherman & Larry Lovestein
DX: Do you feel like you need to be someone else to explore other genres of music? You play bass, you play guitar, piano, and you have Larry Lovestein, which is not Mac Miller. So, do you feel like you need to create that alter ego to explore those other avenues?
Mac Miller: I’m trying to figure it out because part of me wants to. When I work on this music, I want it to have it’s own thing, because when people hear Mac Miller, they expect [one particular thing]. But what I realized—I was havin’ a conversation with my homie last night—is I think I’m one of the only artists that doesn’t really have an identity. I think I did at one point, but artists have really strong identities, right? And we were talking about like if I made music with Drake, or if I made music with Kanye, or Jay Z. I don’t know if it would make sense, because these are people that have these identities. Drake comes, it’s like he’s Drake. Kanye comes; it’s Kanye. He has this whole idea about him, and everyone does. But I feel like, at one point, there was this identity surrounding me. But I just don’t feel like I have a strong identity. So, it’s like do I want to create that? And it’s like, stick to that for Mac Miller, and then make this. Or I kind of like the idea of not having an identity at all, and just like floating in throughout different things and not having to be the guy that gives you [one particular thing]. I kind of like that.
DX: Why do you think you don’t have an identity?
Mac Miller: I don’t know. I just feel like a lot of people are just like, they are “this guy,” whether these things are true or not. It’s just the idea around who these people are based on their music. I mean, I’m sure that I have an identity to the outside world...maybe. But I just think that where I’m at—at this point in my career—is that there are a bunch of different things going on, so I just don’t feel this strong like, “When you hear Mac Miller, you know, he’s gonna say something about ‘this’ in his verse.” Not that that’s the wrong thing to do, but I just don’t feel like I have that at this point.
DX: I think it’d be interesting to do this next year sometime and follow up on that. You’ve had seven songs reach Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” chart, but at the same time, Watching Movies With The Sound Off really feels like an emcee’s kind of album.
Mac Miller: For sure, and that’s tight...that’s really awesome. You know, I don’t even mean that in like, “Oh man, I just don’t have an identity, what do I do?” I’m saying I kind of like the idea of not sticking to anything too heavily, because people in reality are simple enough to box them into representing one thing. And I feel like artists always get that. It’s like, “Hey, you’re ‘this guy.’” It’s good for branding, and it’s how business works. McDonald’s has an identity. You don’t look at McDonald’s for a five star restaurant, but no one gives a fuck. That’s just not what their identity is… I feel like it’s risky to just open the field up and do all these different things everything under Mac Miller. But if it did actually work, it would be wild and awesome.
Mac Miller Shares His Reaction To Jay Z’s Samsung Deal
DX: Jay Z just sold a million records before his album came out. From an independent label standpoint, what was your initial reaction when you heard about that deal?
Mac Miller: I think at first I was like, “Fuck.” You know what I’m sayin’? But at the end of the day dude, I don’t think it really matters. Jay Z is not playing the same game that the rest of us are playing, and that’s cool. Jay Z can do whatever the fuck [he wants]. I don’t feel like him doing that really has anything to do with me doing what I’m doing, ‘cause he’s Jay. Samsung’s not gonna come to me, Vince [Staples], Kendrick [Lamar], or any of these people and do the same type of deal. It’s just a Jay thing. And I mean—he’s fuckin’ rapped forever—he can do whatever he wants to do. Would I have done the same thing? I don’t know… I don’t know, that sounds weird. You sold a million albums before your album came out, so it’s hard to call it. It’s like one of those moments where you gotta decide if you’re gonna like stick to this or that, or does that even hold much weight.
DX: Here’s the question we’ve been debating. How small can this get? Meaning, let’s take the number out, and say it’s not a million. Let’s say it’s 1,000, or it’s 50,000. What if it’s not Samsung; lets say it’s Ikea or something?
Mac: I don’t think it should go that far. I think this was a cool thing, because as much as you can throw the whole, “You’re Jay Z, why do you need to guarantee your million sales? Why can’t you just put out an album out regularly and…” It’s Jay, and he did it, so cool. But, that would be the worst thing in the world, if all of a sudden people are coming out like, “I’m about to drop my album. McDonald’s already copped 75,000, so you go and you get your Big Mac, and you also get a copy of the album.” That would be wack! But this is cool, and he can do it. But I’m just gonna put my album out and see what happens.