At some point while putting the finishing touches on his sophomore album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, Mac Miller had himself a bit of a Dark Side Of The Moon/Wizard Of Oz moment while watching a documentary on Netflix about sea turtles. “Me and [my friend] were chillin’, and I clicked to this random part of the movie and just started [the album],” he says. He’s sitting at a table at Rostrum Records’ ornate house-turned-office in lower Manhattan, which boasts two floors, a pool table and a gigantic brass bull head on the wall. “How on point it was was crazy. Like, I would say ‘open your eyes,’ and the turtle would open its eyes. I would say ‘world,’ and it would go to a shot of the world. When Action Bronson came on, whales were going. When Jay Electronica started rapping, it was chaos everywhere, every fish was just all over the place. When Ab-Soul started rapping, the moon came out. It was representative of every single person on that album, and the turtle was so representative of me. When ‘REMember’ came on, all the fish started getting eaten. Then ‘Aquarium’ comes on and they fuckin’ catch the turtle, the fisherman has the turtle, and then he lets the turtle go and ‘Euphoria’ comes on, and it’s like this little safe haven with the turtle swimming next to a shark. It was crazy.”
The revelation was such that Mac played the movie—silently, of course—in Manhattan’s IFC Center Wednesday night (June 12) at his album’s official listening party ahead of the project’s release on June 18, a day which just happens to double as the single biggest hip-hop release date of the summer so far. But it turns out that the album’s title and Mac’s propensity for having muted movies playing on a television in his studio aren’t out of character for the now-21-year-old from Pittsburgh—Mac Miller is very serious when it comes to films. “I get real into movies—like, I cry at sad movies, I smile when cheesy parts happens, I’m really into characters,” he says, alternately standing up and sitting down as the stories he tells require. “I always get pissed about movies, that they’re not real. I always want them to be real.”
Mac’s love for the medium goes back to his childhood, where he says he used to act out additional scenes of his favorite films when he felt like they would end too soon. He named his breakout 2010 mixtape K.I.D.S.—which ostensibly stood for “Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit”—with the 1995 Harmony Korine film of the same name in mind. He’s a softie on the low, someone who gets sucked in by the heartbreakingly romantic storyline of one of his favorites, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, just as much as he does by the utter mindfuck that serves as the film’s premise. He even recently broke his long-standing aversion to horror films by heading to the theaters to see Paranormal Activity, discovering in the process that he’s one of those people who stands and yells “AW, FUCK” when the scenes get intense. And, like most kids his age, his love of Netflix—the nature docs in particular, which is how he found the sea turtle documentary in the first place—borders on an obsession.
“I’m just really serious about movies, I take them very seriously,” he says when asked about the hook to his WMWTSO track “Watching Movies.” “Not to do the cliche rapper, ‘My life is like a movie,’ but I just enjoy that concept. The idea of nothing being real, if everything is not actual reality. So [that track] is kinda toying with that.”
Naturally, with all that percolating inside his head, film references bleed into his music, with numerous tracks on Watching Movies With The Sound Off, as well as his recent guest verses on Statik Selektah and Earl Sweatshirt projects, containing direct nods to Hollywood’s creative output. This week, XXL visited Rostrum’s headquarters to talk movies, sea turtles and the films behind some of his most overt silver screen references. —Dan Rys (@danrys)