Most seniors in college are trying to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. Mike Posner already knew given that he had scored a record deal with J Records going in to his senior year at Duke University. Although he had every reason to relax at that point, the Michigan native kicked the dreaded "senior slump" right in its ass rocking an impressive 3.59 GPA and graduating a semester early, while still making time to do sold out shows across the country on the weekends. Not too shabby for a guy who tried his hand at singing for the first time less than two years ago.
Even with two wildly successful mixtapes, A Matter of Time and One Foot Out the Door, and a hit single "Drug Dealer Girl," which cast the lovely Rosa Acosta as a sexy on-campus kingpin, the producer-turned-performer exudes an easygoing nature, and has impeccable etiquette, and a great sense of humor. While in New York promoting his upcoming currently untitled debut album, and preparing for a sold out show at the Gramercy Theatre, Complex sat down with Mike to speak about balancing classes and a music career, scoring the theme music for his alma mater's basketball team, and living out his dreams...
Interview by Modele "Modi" Oyewole
Complex: You've made a lot of progress from when you dropped A Matter of Time to today. What's your motivation?
Mike Posner: I just think about what's ahead of me, man. My favorite Duke player ever is Steve Wojciechowski. He called me one day congratulating me on my success thus far, and I was like, "I appreciate it, but man, please don't congratulate me. I know when you guys start the season, you're not just trying to be 10-10 or ACC champions, you're trying to win it all." I'm trying to do the same thing. If my career was a basketball season, I'm in the pre-season still. I'm not blowing everybody out by 40 —- there's so much work to be done, and there's no time to really sit and look back and be proud of what I've done yet, because it's the pre-season still.
Complex: Did growing up right outside Detroit, a city full of musical history and influence, help mold you as an artist?
Mike Posner: I was really lucky to grow up in an extremely diverse neighborhood. I grew up in a city called Southfield, and it's one of the most diverse cities in the country. Just from the different socio-economic statuses and racial and ethnic groups I was around, I was around all different types of music from the beginning. Even between my parents, they listen to totally different types of music. My mom listens to people like Ricky Nelson and Sarah Brighton, and my dad listens to The Grateful Dead, BB King, and Luther Vandross. And being from Michigan, it's like Motown runs in everybody's blood, so I think you can really tell why the music sounds the way it does, because I grew up around so many different types of music, and my sound has kind of become this patchwork of different genres and artists that I like.
Complex: We did a little digging and came up on Reflections of a Lost Teen, the mixtape you dropped when you were a high school senior.
Mike Posner: You did! [Laughs.]
Complex: Yep. A lot of your fans would be surprised to find out that you were a rapper before a singer.
Mike Posner: Well I think like a lot of kids from my generation, I grew up when hip-hop was at its peak. It's kind of in a tough place right now when you look at the swing of things. Not to say it's not gonna come back, but you know. I was a hip-hop cat, grew up listening to hip-hop and what not, and that was the music I made in high school. It was pretty bad. [Laughs.] But two years ago, I was bad at singing, and I'm a lot better now. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I hadn't been making music back when I was 13, 14.
Complex: Not everybody can balance both school and their career at the same time, and it's admirable how you handled both. How'd you end up at Duke?
Mike Posner: I applied to Michigan; that's where all my friends went. I applied to Emory, the University of North Carolina, Duke, and Northwestern. I got into Michigan, and I didn't get anything from any of the rest. But from the minute I visited Duke, I was like, "This is my number one. If I get in here, I'm going." So I eventually got into Duke and called all the other schools, was like, "Yo, I don't wanna take anybody else's spot, I am not coming to your school. Thank you!" [Laughs.]
Complex: What was it like within that crazy ACC environment? Campus must have been crazy with both the academic rigors and exceptional Division I athletics.
Mike Posner: Duke is in extremely competitive environment. In my high school, I think I got one B my whole four years. I was used to being the smartest kid in every class I was in, and then I went to Duke and suddenly I was the dumbest kid in every class. Everybody there is up to something. My manager was like, "Why can't you just get an intern up there at Duke?" And I was like, "Dude, you don't understand!" The kid in the dorm next to me already started a company, and the one next door is drafting some computer software programs. Every kid is a genius, you know what I'm saying?
A really large percentage of kids from Duke go to work on Wall Street, and they make a lot of money, but they're almost slaves to their jobs, working crazy hours. Their job totally dominates their lives, and most of them aren't happy. So many of my friends are going down that path. I even thought about it for a second, like "Should I be doing that?" But I just pursued my dreams instead, and I always tell people to do that. Now I make more money than they do, and I'm doing what I love.
Complex: You graduated early from Duke in December. three and a half years, 3.59 GPA, and you did all that while touring and performing in over 35 cities in that last semester. How'd you get everything done?
Mike Posner: It definitely wasn't easy, and I knew it was gonna be hard going into it all. I signed my deal over the summer, and when that happened, I was like, "Man, I'm not going back to school!" [Laughs.] But then my mom was like, "There's no way you're not finishing." It would've been a huge problem, and we probably wouldn't even be on speaking terms. That's how serious she was. But it was definitely tough, man. Most people go to college to get a job, and here I am sitting in class with a job, making exponentially more than whoever's teaching me, you know what I'm saying? At the end of the day, I wanted to finish what I started, and make my mom proud. A lot of people put a lot of hard work and investment to allow me to go to school, and for me not to finish would have been like a slap in the face to my family and those people.
I kinda coasted at the beginning of the semester, but at the end, you know you gotta kinda get serious. I think I turned down like one or two shows at the end, which always breaks my heart. I hate turning down shows. But yeah, it was tough! [Laughs.] I really buckled down, bro. It was kinda like muscle memory at that point, like I had been getting good grades for so long. I just to go to the library, turn the phone off, and write the paper.
Complex: That's impressive that you jumped from academic grind mode to music industry grind mode so gracefully.
Mike Posner: It was really hard! [Laughs.] Sometimes I'd get caught up, too. There's this terrible invention they made, this mini portable keyboard that I have to take on planes and stuff, and I left it in my backpack once. So I'm in the library, and I have keyboards out and my headphones out. Everybody's like, "Mike are you making beats right now?" and I'm like, "Yeah... sorry!"
Complex: That's awesome. So is the fact that Duke made "Bring Me Down" the official song of Duke basketball. Cameron Stadium is a historic sports landmark. How does it feel to be involved with the basketball program?
Mike Posner: Dave Bradley, who's the head of recruiting for Duke basketball, reached out to me. At first, it was really open-ended. They just wanted to start a relationship with me. The problem they were having was when kids Duke was recruiting went to visit on other recruiting visits, the other schools would trash Duke and say, "You're not gonna have any fun there, it sucks," and so on. It's not true, but that's the rap we get. So I guess they just wanted to align themselves with me because they thought I could help with that, and I was, "I'll help you guys in whatever way I can."
They were making this video and they needed a song, and I was like, "I'll do a song, but it's not gonna be corny." I'm not gonna be saying player's names in it or anything like that, and they said, "Alright, cool. Do whatever you want." I already kinda had this idea for a track. The track obviously has significance to me too, because I was coming off my first tape, and it was kinda like, "Okay, what are you gonna do now?"
I feel like people didn't understand where I was about to go. And a lot of people still don't. That song was me telling them, "Hey, I'm just getting started." But it made perfect sense to the team as well, because they haven't been where they've wanted to be in recent years. They're trying to say, "We're still Duke," and it was a perfect fit. I'm friends with a lot of guys on the team, so it just made sense.
Complex: Speaking of packing venues, you have some pretty rambunctious fans. What happened with the fiasco at the Kentucky concert you did a while back?
Mike Posner: These are the craziest ones, at the schools where they're supposed to hate Duke because of our sports teams. Maryland, we sold out, it was a crazy show. We did Chapel Hill, and it was sold out too, crazy. In Kentucky, the venue was taking super long to let people inside, and the show was sold out before the night started so there's 1,000 people in line, It's freezing cold out, and they're taking two to three hours to let people in. So I'm on the phone screaming at people, like, "Let the kids in!" They already paid, get your shit together, you know? I was doing everything I could to try and let people in. They came to come see me and they weren't being let in in a timely fashion. You pay to see a show, you deserve to come inside, you shouldn't have to wait two or three hours outside. That's ridiculous. They did what I probably would have done and broke the door to the venue down. Twice! It was crazy.
I'm just proud of my fans for demanding what they deserve, which is a great show, which we eventually had later in the night, and that's what I do this for. It's for the people who are breaking doors down to party with me.
Complex: Who are some of the people in the industry that you respect the most?
Mike Posner: When I was a junior in college, before I ever had anything poppin', I met Asher Roth. He was just starting to pop off at the time. I was bored one weekend, getting sick of Duke, and he was just like, "Yo dude, come over" so I went and we partied at his house in Atlanta for Halloween. That was fun. He's always been a really cool dude to me, even before I really had anything going. He listened to my music and was like, "You're gonna be a problem, watch." Obviously I respect Big Sean, who was kinda going through what I'm going through, but I got to watch him for like a year or two, and definitely learned a lot from him. I'm not sure if he did, but I feel like he didn't have anybody as close to him as he is to me, you know what I'm saying? To watch before he did it. He's a friend. Always has a smile on his face, and anybody who meets him always leaves happier than they were before. I learned that from him, and we had the opportunity to put smiles on people's faces.
Complex: A few weeks ago, there were reports that your equipment got stolen from your studio.
Mike Posner: It did.
Complex: Sorry to hear that. Any developments in that story?
Mike Posner: No. It's gone! [Laughs.]
Complex: Damn! Did you lose any music?
Mike Posner: I didn't lose any music, it was all hardware. They knew students lived in that house, and the semester was over, so I think they knew nobody was gonna be around, and they jacked the equipment. They took other stuff too, like TVs and stuff from my homies. It was kind of like a blessing in disguise, because two weeks ago, I had no stuff besides some clothes. I had 50 pairs of shoes and they only took Jordans! [Laughs.] I didn't really have anything besides my clothes, so I was like, "Alright, I'm gonna move to LA", which I wanted to do for a long time. There was really no point in staying. I didn't have any stuff, so I just did it. I decided on a Sunday, and Wednesday I was moved in.
Complex: That's good to hear. So uh, a little off topic, but did you ever have a drug dealer girl?
Mike Posner: No, I actually thought of that song in the shower. There was a shampoo bottle in there that said Maybelline on it, and I thought of the first line, "You may never be in a Maybelline commercial", and then I thought of the second line, "but you always let me know when you got some purple" [Laughs.] It just went from there. I rushed through the shower, ran to the piano, and wrote the whole song.
Mike Posner: Yeah, man. But there are a lot of drug dealer girls out there! I meet them on the road, and I meet guys that have drug dealer girls too.
Complex: How did you get Rosa Acosta in the video?
Mike Posner: I saw her in the Drake video for "Best I Ever Had," and she caught my eye. I knew she had to be in it. We have some mutual friends, I reached out, and she came down to Duke and was an absolute pleasure to work with. Rosa's schedule was crazy and she was only available for like a day and a half. The label told me we could find another girl, but I insisted on her.
Complex: What can fans expect from your album?
Mike Posner: The album is going to be like my mixtapes on steroids. I've gotten so much better at singing and making music and it will show on my album. As of now there are no features. I want it to stand on its own. If there are features, it will probably just be one.
Complex: What is the best part of being an artist?
Mike Posner: Just getting to do what I love. A few years ago, I was supposed to have an internship somewhere in the summer, but instead I was in my mom's basement making music. I'd be like, "Mom, I'm going downstairs to work." She'd be like, "What are you talking about? Go get a job!" Last summer, I was home for a few days. I said, "Mom, I'm going downstairs to work," and she said, "Okay." That's the best part.
WATCH THE VIDEO FOR MIKE POSNER'S "DRUG DEALER GIRL" CO-STARRING ROSA ACOSTA
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