By Brian F. Johnson
“Ain’t saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place,” sings Mac Miller, on the opening track of his new release GO:OD AM. The 23-year-old Pittsburgh rapper still has a bloodshot twinkle in his eyes, but he isn’t zombied out on “sizzurp” anymore, like he was for much of the last few years.
Before he could legally drink, the rapper, who was seeing incredible success, was also seeing a dark and introverted side to fame, and his passion for prescription cough-syrup wasn’t helping matters. As his bio even said, “the more Mac’s profile rose, the more his outlook sunk.” And to add to the yin-yang of that description, Miller was rising very, very quickly, so the fall was coming just as fast.
In 2011 Miller, who had already racked up some serious underground stardom, had his first platinum hit with the party anthem “Donald Trump” — the accompanying video today, has more than 101,000,000 views.
That same year, his debut album Blue Side Park, named after a Pittsburgh landmark, went to number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. It was the first independently distributed album to top the chart since Tha Dogg Pound’s 1995 release Dogg Food. Miller’s first tour had sold out every location, and he’d already checked off a bucket list worth of collaborators. But by the time his 2013 album Watching Movies with the Sound Off was being wrapped up, Miller was teetering on the edge of a dark abyss.
“I’m still here luckily, but you know you dance around the edge enough, there’s a chance that you might fall off,” Miller said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “I think I’m more focused on having a positive state of mind so that I can handle what I’ve gotta do, and not just handle it, but do it with excitement. Be present.”
Miller didn’t go to rehab, per se, to get his partying in line. Instead he did what any young rapper with enough clout and enough cash would do. He rented a home down the street from famed producer and transcendental meditation guru Rick Rubin, and spent the better part of the following summer taking ice baths with the bearded wizard and talking about feelings instead of music.
“The time I spent with Rick was less about music, and more about just a state of mind,” Miller said. “And I think that state of mind caused me to look at certain songs differently and look at different potential of where songs could be. But for me, it was just a chance to get to know someone that I look at like an icon, and a time for him to get to know me. It was a door opening to a world that I am blessed to be a part of.”
So while Miller now raps that he “lost too many brain cells, I’m special needs,” what he’s doing with his remaining brain cells is impressive. Last year, after leaving Rostrum Records and moving to Warner Bros., Miller began to dial-in work on his awakening album, and as if he’s just rolled out of bed with wrinkled boxers and pillow lines on his face, Miller is using the album GO:OD AM to literally say “good morning” to a new chapter.
GO:OD AM is a fun, well produced, and lengthy new album that NPR Music said showcased a “new and improved” Mac Miller. The 70-minute, 17-track opus features an obscene number of guests from Ab-Soul and Chief Keef to Lil B, Little Dragon and Miguel, as well as a ton of producers from his old friends I.D. Labs to Tyler, The Creator, Sounwave and Sha Money XL, among others. The album, which is being offered for download with every online ticket purchase for his current tour, has the same trap cadence of much of Miller’s previous work, but Consequence of Sound said that the album is an “offbeat stoner rap album” with “plenty of melody.”
GO:OD AM, as it turns out, is also an example of a young man becoming a grown man, in spite of and perhaps because of the world around him. “I feel like there’s a big difference in those ages. 23 is different than 19 is, for sure,” Miller said. “I mean, I still think I have a ways to go as far as growth, but you know it’s a step. This should be a more mature album than anything I’ve done before because I’m older, but I think too that every album should be a part of and show maturation.”
Miller’s debut for Warner shows an artist who despite having a massive back catalog, is still excited about each new step, and Miller got downright bright-eyed talking about the release. “This album feels like a debut to me. It’s just such a different period for me and, you know, I want every album to feel like my first. I love that. I kind of like that I’m still constantly reinventing the vision of what I’m doing, and so it does feel like album number one again,” Miller said.
The rapper who is “from the ’Burgh, not the ’burbs,” unveiled the new beast — which is available in a special deluxe edition shaped like a morning cereal box — in Pittsburg over a special weekend of events planned around the release and a live concert at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Miller threw out the first pitch at a Pirates game, hung out with the mayor and cheered on the Steelers in the team’s home opener. “It was the perfect Pittsburgh weekend,” Miller said, crediting his label with making it a reality.
Despite his independent roots, Miller said that the change over to Warner hasn’t been a shock to the system. He told Larry King in September that the “suits” actually wear t-shirts to the office and still manage to give him a very independent identity as an artist. “Luckily I have a team around me that allows me to keep a very independent way of thinking,” Miller told The Marquee. “It was never this huge shift. The only thing that’s been different are the things that we can do — like the Pittsburgh weekend.”
But Miller has no plans to let the Pittsburgh show be the only epic concert of the tour. The rapper and his crew will hit Red Rocks Amphitheatre this month for the first-ever Red Rocks Halloween show. While there’s certainly a chance that the weather could be fine, there have been Halloweens in Colorado in recent memory where it snowed. For his part though, Miller said he’s not concerned at all. “I’m a Steeler’s fan,” he said, “so I’m always ready for a good snow game.”
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