Last summer, Mac and his Iron City entourage made a fresh start, moving from Pittsburgh to a mansion in Los Angeles. The relocation wasn’t just about a change of scenery or savoring the fruits of his labor; it was a strategic move to connect with some of the best and brightest talents in hip-hop. L.A. is home to Odd Future, the Black Hippy crew, Flying Lotus, and Casey Veggies—all of whom Mac has been working with as he prepares his sophomore disc, Watching Movies with the Sound Off. But Mac didn’t just move to California for creative reasons. It was also about personal growth.
“L.A. is me stepping out and being like, ‘I’m in control of my own life,’” explains Mac, who blew up so young that he literally grew up in the rap game. “When I was 18, living in my mom’s house—my mom is still my mom so she’s gonna clean my room, make me food, and take care of me." Things are different now. "My mom’s not here if I get in trouble.”
Although his biological family isn’t there to hold him down, he’s still got his Most Dope Family. There’s Quentin “Q” Cuff—one of Mac’s closest friends and the executive producer of his last mixtape, Macadelic. If the Most Dope crew were on Entourage, Q would be Eric "E" Murphy to Mac’s Vinnie Chase. One of Mac’s earliest fans, Q was the black kid from Pittsburgh who heard Mac’s songs on MySpace and thought he sounded like “a white Big L.”
I hate college parties and I’m not from the suburbs. I’m from the city, but I’m not necessarily saying I’m from the hood.
Other crew members include Jimmy Murton, who smoked his first cigarette with Mac when he was in third grade. Jimmy was going to college before Mac convinced him to drop out and join him on tour. Then there’s Peanut, who designs their merchandise, and Mac’s security guard Dave, who’s built like an offensive lineman. They all live in the house together and all have parts on the reality show. They know Mac better than anybody, and they’ve got his back all day long.
“There are people that may root against Mac,” says Q. “But I don’t know anybody that’s met Mac and been like, ‘I don’t like that guy. I don’t think he’s a good person’.”
Jimmy says he’s seen Mac talk his way out of countless situations and Q considers him ”the ultimate salesman.” But one thing Mac hasn’t done a good job of selling is the idea that he’s not just “some rich kid who raps.” Although his mother was a photographer and his father was an architect, Mac says people have the wrong idea about him. “There are a shitload of people who think that I’m a fucking rich white kid from the suburbs who makes music for college parties,” Mac told Complex last year. “I hate college parties and I’m not from the suburbs. I’m from the city, but I’m not necessarily saying I’m from the hood.”
“People judge a book by its cover,” says Q. “Every rapper has some type of rags-to-riches story. That’s why people ‘feel’ most rappers. What’s so different about Mac? Because you think that he’s from the suburbs? Because you think that his parents are rich? So he’s not dope?”
To hear his friends tell it, Mac’s upbringing wasn’t as innocent as people think. Once he set his mind on being a rapper he was determined to step up from his homeboy’s studio to Pittsburgh's top hip-hop recording facility—I.D. Labs. Back then, the $40 hourly fee seemed like big bucks, so Mac teamed up with Jimmy and their friend TreeJ to raise funds by all means necessary—including selling stolen TVs and pilfering from purses.
“We’d go to a party, fuck the house up, and steal shit,” claims Jimmy, who says he now feels bad about their capers. “The routine was, invite some girls over to the crib, we’d all get fucked up, and eventually they’d go hook up with someone. Whoever they weren’t hooking up with would run through their purses and take anything they had. They would leave and call us later—if they still had their cell phone—and be like, ‘What the fuck!’ But we didn’t care.”
Mac also dabbled in selling weed. “But I was really bad at it,” he says. “I would find some kid and tell him, ‘I got Kush for $500 an ounce. It’s crazy!’ Then I’d go cop some Dro for $200 and give that to them—and be like, ‘I don’t give a fuck.’” When he found a connect for a good strain called Lemon Haze, Mac blew his re-up money on studio time. Jimmy confirms that Mac was “a horrible drug dealer.” Since he didn’t own a scale, he’d sell overpriced half grams to “dumbass kids.” When that didn’t work he’d talk his way out of debt with his dealer. When all else failed, he’d ask his parents.
“There were times I was down really bad,” says Mac. “I was like, ‘Mom, can I have 50 bucks? I need to pay for the studio.’ But I didn’t wanna do that. I wanted to do it myself—same reason I’m not on a major. This is something I always wanted to build on my own. It didn’t feel right to have that privilege [of being] the kid in there because my mom and dad paid for it.”
Mac doesn’t refer to it explicitly, but part of that “privilege” has to do with the color of his skin. Even now, 14 years after The Slim Shady LP, it’s tricky being a rapper who shares Marshall Mathers’ complexion as well as his initials. “Not to compare him to Eminem,” says Q. “But that was different. Think about if you didn’t have Dr. Dre giving Eminem that co-sign where everyone’s like, ‘Alright, this nigga’s cool’.”
Through sheer determination and quiet business savvy, Mac has amassed a fiercely loyal fanbase who think he’s pretty cool regardless of who’s cosigning him. “We're in an age where so many white people are trying to rap,” says Q. “Mac stands out because it’s not about color with him. He doesn’t make white rapper music. He makes Mac Miller music.”