A year ago, everyone was worried about Mac Miller. In May 2014, a few months after splitting from Rostrum Records, the hometown indie that helped make him a star, the 23-year-old Pittsburgh rapper self-released the mixtape Faces, which chronicled his depression and how “a drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin,” mentioning cocaine, codeine cough syrup and even angel dust.
It was a disquieting turn for a rapper with an amazing highlight reel after just a few years in music. His carefree 2012 debut, Blue Slide Park, became the first independently distributed album to top the Billboard 200 in 17 years. He appeared on Ariana Grande’s 2013 breakout single, “The Way”; had a hilariously weird reality show, MTV2’s Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family; and beefed with Donald Trump before it became passe (in 2013, the current presidential candidate, who the rapper named a single after, called him an “ungrateful dog” on Twitter). But on a recent August day in New York, Miller seems downright giddy. He’s playing music from his decidedly sunnier new album, Good A.M., the result of a reported $10 million deal he signed with Warner Bros. last October. He has new management, The Clancys (Odd Future, Solange), and a new home base in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, where he moved from Los Angeles just days prior with his on-again, off-again girlfriend of seven years. Miller insists he’s in a better place. “I’m just being a human being again,” he says. “I’m finally having fun again. Fun — there’s nothing wrong that.”
This album is a radical departure from Faces — it’s brighter and happier. Why the change of mood?
Faces was, in short, super depressing, and I’m not as depressed anymore. Making music when you’re depressed is great therapy, but I wanted this album to be in a different headspace.
How is your mind-set, and your life overall, different now?
I go outside and live a little bit more. I touch people more. Before, I was super-insular all the time, just staying in a room by myself, and it’s so easy to paint this horrible picture of life when you’re not giving yourself a chance to live it. I was too worried about the legacy that I would leave behind — how I would be remembered if I died. That was my whole thing. Like, you never know, man, so I’ve got to make sure I make all this music so when I die there’s albums and albums. But now, I’m going to make sure I do some shit in life, too.
Were you worried about dying?
Yeah. I was doing a lot of drugs around that time, which is another difference now: I’m not doing as many drugs. It just eats at your mind, doing drugs every single day, every second. It’s rough on your body. That was the plan with Faces: [Closing song] “Grand Finale” was supposed to be the last song I made on earth. I don’t feel that way as much anymore.
Are you healthier now? Are you sober?
Yeah, definitely way healthier — I mean, compared to then. I still smoke cigarettes. I’m not completely sober, but I’m way better than I was at that point. I was afraid of what my life had become. But once you just breathe and relax, you come to terms with it. This is my life, I enjoy it, and it’s OK that I enjoy it. It’s OK that I’m young and rich. Let’s have fun. You’ve got to look in the mirror and tell yourself to stop being a little bitch: “OK, dude, you’re 23 and this is your f—ing life. Go out there and do it, stop hiding,” because that was me before. Great music came from it, but I’d rather be in the place I’m at now. I listened to Faces, and it’s a great project because it’s so raw, but every single song is about coke, drugs. Shout out to The Clancys — that has been one of their main focuses: my health. I’m not 100 percent clean, but I’m not a piece of shit anymore. I can look in the mirror and be like, “I look OK.”
You just moved in with your girlfriend. Do you think living with her will help keep you on a cleaner path?
Me on my own is a wild motherf—er, man. I just moved in yesterday, and I hope I haven’t been too wild already. But who knows what the weekend will hold.
What made you want to move to New York?
I still have a spot in L.A., so I’m going to be bicoastal but based out of here. I just wanted a change. I love L.A., but I’m from Pittsburgh and my whole childhood I wanted to live in New York one day. It’s nice to scale back from the mansion life and get an apartment. It’s a lifestyle difference. You can’t be as wild in an apartment because you have neighbors. You can’t go on three-day binges, because by day two you’re f—ing freaking out because there’s someone in the hallway, like “F—, f—, f—! Xanax, now!”
You said you’re around people more now — that’s certainly easier in New York.
I get lost in the sea of people here, which I like. It’s hard for me to hide because I’m a short white dude with sagging pants and a bunch of tattoos who occasionally wears jewelry. But here you can throw on the hoodie and hang out. I’ve spent my days here so far working — and I f—ing love nothing more than doing work. I haven’t had anything to promote in two years, because we didn’t do anything for Faces — we did zero press, we didn’t tour. My mom did more press than me for Faces. I don’t know if that’s because they were scared to put me in front of the camera, but now I’m excited. I’d forgotten this is what I do for a living. I’m having a good time again. It’s cool to have fun. You don’t have to be sad to be cool.
You’re on a new label, Warner Bros, after years on Rostrum. Has that made a difference?
It doesn’t feel different, know what I mean? Warner has been kind of like, “Do you want to come with a radio record? That’s on you, that’s up to you. If at some point in your career you want to be on that level, you can tell us when.” It’s not like they’ve been holding back because I won’t give them a pop record.
So your creative process is the same?
Yeah, it would’ve been funny if I would’ve signed to Warner and got a Jason Derulo song — that’s where [my publicist] says I fucked up. More Derulo! Just a little Derulo man, what the f—! But I was terrified to sign the f—ing deal. My lawyer had to call me in and surprise me with the contract and be like, “Guess what? you’re signing today!”
How long were you sitting there with the pen, afraid to sign?
For a little bit, dude. No one was in the room but me and the contract. The contract’s just so big — what is in here? But I finally signed. I thought I would feel like a bunch of weight got lifted, but I then I got in the car, and all of a sudden I was like, holy fucking shit, I’m on a fucking major. What’s gonna happen?
Do you ever feel pressure to do numbers now? You ever think about calling Ariana Grande, like, “Hey, time to return the favor?”
I remember like Punch from TDE was like, why don’t you just call Ariana and get a hit? If me and Ariana ended up in the studio and we made a song, yeah, but I don’t want to force the issue. I couldn’t feel good about myself forcing the issue trying to get a radio record.
I love it. Everybody is putting the pressure on each other, low-key. You hear something like Kendrick’s album, everyone wants to come with that shit. But you can’t compare me to Kendrick, because I’ll never be able to be that. I can’t talk about the things Kendrick talks about. I just feel like I have my own shit that I do. I want to make the best album. That’s what I said to Warner when I got there: Look, I sell singles but that’s not my main focus; I want my album to be the thing that people know. I don’t want to go on tour and have everyone just sitting there waiting for one song.
I think it’s been fucking entertaining as hell. We got some great records, notably one called “Back to Back”! What side am I on? I don’t know: I’m on “Back to Back”‘s side, that record. That’s all that matters in it, what music we get from it. That’s my favorite record so far, but who knows where it’s gonna go. I need another one from Meek. I need a record that doesn’t have a breakdown in it.
Where do you fall on the ghostwriting accusations against Drake? Do you think it matters?
Look, what he does use, what he doesn’t use, who knows. No one has ever written a word I said, other than one time when Ab-Soul told me what to say on his hook, and I was really tired and high so I was like, “OK man, whatever, I got you.” But there’s different ways to make music. Just because someone may or may not have someone that writes some words for them, doesn’t mean that A, they don’t have to kill it on the performance, and B, they don’t have to have the ear for what’s tight and what’s not, which is something a lot of people don’t have. I like to enjoy good music. I like Michael Jackson, I don’t care who wrote the songs.
Speaking of beef, your old nemesis Donald Trump is back in the news. Are you going to vote for him?
I don’t think I’ll vote for him, unless he apologizes for all those mean things he said about me. But I don’t know — if he can sell me another million singles bro, I appreciate it.
Maybe he’ll apologize at the next GOP debate.
“First off, I’d like to apologize to Mac Miller, for calling him ‘little Mac Miller.'” That would be sick, dude. But if he went at Drake? No way! You can go at Mac Miller and be president, but you can’t go at Drake and be president.