It’s nearly five in the afternoon in London, and Mac Miller is tired. “I’ve kinda been in constant motion since 2010, and nothing has really stopped yet,” the Pittsburgh native says during a phone call with XXL. “I take my time when I can, but not really; I think after I finish this tour, when I get back home I’ll be able to [relax]. I’ve been denying requests to do anything for a while now. I need a haircut. A whole bunch of shit.”
It’s been another big year for Miller, whose second album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, debuted at No. 3 this June, an impressive result considering it came out the same day as J. Cole’s Born Sinner and Kanye’s Yeezus. And it’s not like all the work that went into the buildup to the album—since his first big mixtape K.I.D.S. in 2010 exposed him to the mainstream—stopped when the album dropped. After finishing up his promo run, Mac went straight out on his Space Migration Tour with Chance The Rapper, The Internet and Vince Staples, took what only could be described as a “mini break” and then went to Europe to hit up the U.K. starting October 2, after which he will link with Lil Wayne for his European tour, before finally returning to the States in early November.
So Mac’s been pretty busy, but it’s also started paying off in ways that he didn’t really expect. Take Mac Miller Day, declared by the mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, two weeks ago today (September 20), where he was celebrated and given a Key to the City. “It’s cool to get recognized by your city, to get that hometown appreciation and love,” he says, describing the day as pretty normal other than the ceremony. “There wasn’t that much backlash to having a rapper who talks about drugs all the time having his own day.” Then, of course, he couldn’t help adding in a touch of his trademark oddball humor: “I did donate money to charity, so I do come off pretty good. Manipulation at its finest.”
He received two keys, actually—one designed by the city, one by his own brother. “Dude, it’s sick,” he says, suddenly more animated and no longer yawning. “My brother’s design is amazing: It’s solid steel, it’s got the skyline, got the teeth, it’s just great. It’s currently at my house. I gotta ship it to wherever I’m at.”
It’s a pretty remarkable feat for a 21-year-old kid whose previous record, Blue Slide Park, sold well enough to debut at No. 1 but fell flat with a lot of critics. Miller then went through a period where he got heavy into drinking lean, a habit which wasn’t helped by the six-month grind of his 2012 tour. But he’s been rejuvenated since WMWTSO, and his keys let him into the company of other Pittsburgh notables, such as longtime Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, who received a key in 2005, and television’s Mr. Rogers, who got a statue built in his honor in 2009. “I feel like there’s other people that probably deserve it a little bit more than me, but I’ll take it,” he says about the key. “Like, I’m pretty shocked that they never gave Mr. Rogers one…I never met him, but supposedly he was the nicest person in the world.”
With each project he works on, Mac is learning how to better manage what he wants to do. He began producing a lot more on WMWTSO, leaving a sense that he was really coming into his own on the project. And he’s thinking a lot more about presentation, hoping to shoot videos for almost every song off the album and learning how to get the timing just right in order to make the biggest impact. “It’s less about the album that came out and more about the fact that I’m gaining more experience and kind of figuring out what I’m doing,” he says. “One thing I’m trying to focus on coming up is the timing of the way things go down, the buildup for everything and just having a plan. I’m always so last minute with how everything is done. It’s worked, but I wanna see it work better, so I wanna plan my shit out a little more.
“I think you learn what you gotta do, and then you kinda grow into the ability of actually doing it,” he continues. “There’s certain points where you know what you should be doing, but you don’t really care, so you do it your own way. But then there’s a time where there’s certain things where you should just be smart about it. So that’s what I’m focusing on right now.” —Dan Rys (@danrys)