Rising hip-hop star Mac Miller keeps it independent

Mac Miller Inter
Goofy hats will get you far in life. Pittsburgh-based rapper Mac Miller's "Blue Slide Park" reached No. 3 overall on the iTunes album charts from pre-orders alone.


Major record labels may want Mac Milleron their roster, but right now the 20-year-old Pittsburgh rapper just isn’t interested.

Miller signed a deal in 2010 with Rostrum Records, an independent label in his home state, and since then has sold more than a million downloads, sold out venues around the world and earned a Web audience that has propelled him to more than 165 million views on YouTube.

Label mate and hip-hop star Wiz Khalifa also has enjoyed success with Rostrum, having his 2011 single “Black and Yellow” (which provided the foundation for 2011’s Green Bay Packers-inspired “Green and Yellow” by various artists) hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Miller and Khalifa have worked on projects together including the songs “Keep Floatin’” and “Cruise Control,” as the two Pittsburgh rappers have quickly become the face of the successful indie label.

Besides savvy online promotions, live performances and consistent touring have been a catalyst for Miller’s success, and on Tuesday the rising star plays Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

In support of his November release, “Blue Slide Park,” which reached No. 3 overall on the iTunes album charts from preorders, and his recent mixtape, “Macadelic,” released in late March, Miller will once again have plenty of new material — and swagger — to dish out onstage.

You’re only 20 years old. Have you ever felt like you missed out on anything growing up, having dedicated so much time to hip-hop?

It depends on your definition of missing out. I chose my own path and my path was very different than your normal kid, but I had some awesome childhood years. By the time I was 15, I was very dedicated. It’s not like I had to do (hip-hop), like a job. I wasn’t like, ‘Man, I can’t go to this party, I have to go to the studio.’ It was more like, (expletive) that party, I don’t even care about that (expletive). I want to go to the studio instead.’ I think in some ways, it was good for me. It was good to get out of all the stupid (expletive) me and my friends were doing and just focus on music.

Did you have thoughts of going to college?

I thought about it for a little bit, but I knew I wasn’t going to get in anywhere nice. There was just really no point.

You signed to Rostrum Records in 2010 and by the end of that year you were selling out every venue you performed at. How you gained such popularity during this period?

I have no idea, man (laughs). I think it was just dedication and hard work paying off. From the time that I got my first fan, I didn’t stop working. I think there’s just never a sense of being comfortable, so I was just always finding ways to progress and finding out what I can do to make things grow and get bigger. Nowadays I have some awesome fans that spread the word very well and people want to come see me.

How much did Wiz Khalifa’s support boost your popularity?

I think that he opened a lot of doors just by being from Pittsburgh and putting some spotlight on the city, and at the end of the day we did some things together that were dope, but it was always very important that I did my (expletive) for myself. It was always very important that I didn’t look to him for a handout or I didn’t look to him to put me on or anything like that.

Why do you give your music away for free via the Web; what are your feelings on music piracy?

I think in this day and age certain music is intended to be free and certain music isn’t and there’s a reason. It’s deeper than just making money. That’s not what it’s about. I feel like I give away so much music for free that when the time comes where I’m like, ‘Hey, this one’s for sale,’ either buy it or don’t listen to it.’ I’m just saying I’ve given away six mixtapes for free, so the one album that I have for sale, if you’re really going to download that one too, it’s just, you know.

How do you decide which Mac Miller songs are free and which ones have to be purchased?

It’s all about making what I’m making at the time. For the album, when I made (the song) “Up All Night,” I made that around the time I made “K.I.D.S.” We held onto that song and we were like, ‘This song is dope, it’s a big song, and it’s going to be great for the album,’ so we put it on the new album. And it’s a dope song and everything, but it’s not that time period. All the songs on “Blue Slide Park” are of that time and then “Up All Night” is like two years before that, so I think that was kind of a lesson that I had to learn in always keeping music from the times. I don’t like holding onto music. I think whatever state of mind I’m in when I make the song should be the same state of mind I’m in when I release it.

You’ve created a lot of videos, gaining over 165 million views on YouTube. Why are videos such an important outlet for you?

I think that people have ADD so to get new fans, it’s a lot easier to have a video that people can just send to their friends than to try and get someone to listen to a whole mixtape. And also, I just like putting out videos because I feel like it’s a great way to represent the song. Visuals are just a great way to showcase what the song means to you.

There is interest from major record labels right now because of your recent success. Why stay with an independent label?

I just like being the boss of my own (expletive), to be honest. I like being able to run the show, and Rostrum is great because I don’t work for Rostrum. It’s more like a partnership where we work together to do stuff. I make decisions, and I don’t want to lose that control over what I do. And on top of that, man, I just made history. Like if I would’ve signed to a major before “Blue Slide Park,” yeah, maybe that album could’ve sold more records, but at the same time with what we did independently, we made history. No one can ever change that.

I am part of not just hip-hop but music history forever. I’m the first independent album to go No. 1 (on the Billboard charts) in 16 years. That’s (expletive) ridiculous. … It beat out Michael Buble’s Christmas album and it beat out like Justin Bieber second week, so why would I want to change that? Who knows where the future will take us, but at this point, it’s just cool to put on for independent music.

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