Mac Miller: Letting The Light In

Peace, love, and a new approach to music. An interview with Mac Miller.

mac miller hands
P&P Original


mac miller hands

Photos by Jules Muir

When my Uber driver wonders why I’m having him climb the hills of Studio City, I tell him I’m going to interview a rapper. But as we approach the address, we’re both surprised to find a modest ranch-style home near the end of a cul-de-sac. “Are you sure this is a rapper’s house?” he asks.

Not sure myself, I get to the door, reassured to see Chris Clancy, Mac Miller’s manager (and co-owner of 4 Strikes, the management imprint also responsible for Odd Future’s reign), who welcomes me in. In an airy, bright living room, there are dozens of cardboard boxes and paintings—some of which are by Mac’s brother—sparse along the floor. To my right is the kitchen, where Mac is in rubber sandals, gym shorts, and a white tee, sipping a water bottle.  

Though this is the first time we’ve met, the tone in Mac’s “Hey!” suggests a friendship of many years. He welcomes me in, apologizing for the mess—he’s just moving in, back in Los Angeles after leaving New York City.

“Yo, wanna see something crazy?” he asks, and leads me into the garage, where 50 or so boxes are stacked to the ceiling. “These are all filled with clothes," he laughs. The next stop is an empty bedroom, which will become a home theater. “We had a guy come in and he gave us a $25,000 estimate for the screen,” Mac exclaims in disbelief. “What does he think this is?”

Back into the living room, Chris’ wife Kelly (the Clancy couple co-owns 4 Strikes management company) is dressing up their nine-year-old daughter Chloe in a stylish outfit. From a room behind me, I hear “Oh my god, Chloe!” from a recognizable voice—Ariana Grande scurries over in pink Fenty sandals and sweatpants. She takes some video of Chloe for her Snapchat story before jumping into Mac’s arms.

After some small talk, we move into Mac’s in-home studio. There’s burning incense, the Buddha head that’s made it into every studio Mac has owned, and a few windows—this is the first time Mac has allowed natural light into his creative space. An assistant comes in and serves us iced coffees, which have become a staple in Mac’s diet since he went sober last year.

He takes a seat in front of his monitor. Before playing us some demos he’s been working on, he pokes fun at his Wifi password, MostDope1992. Mac stans will recognize it as a reference to a slogan he used to brand himself in the early days. “That’s changing before tonight,” he says.

After our interview, Mac is hosting a housewarming barbecue. Guests including some of his hometown best friends, who, as indicated by a knock at the door, have just arrived after a cross-country road trip from Pittsburgh. Mac's buddies have been a part of his life since grade school, and everyone is in good spirits as they greet each other. There's no shortage of love in Mac Miller’s new chapter.

That’s exactly what inspired the thematic essence of The Divine Feminine, his forthcoming album named after the philosophical assertion that feminine principles, like love and compassion, rule the universe. Mac is learning to love himself, the people around him, and the natural continuance of all things. As the incense smoke swirled around the wisps curling from his cigarette, Mac unpacked the spiritual and emotional journey that defines The Divine Feminine, his first album that doesn’t end in death. 


Why, in this point in your life, did you find it appropriate to explore this idea of the divine feminine?

On GO:OD AM, I was trying to lead my life with what I was working on. I wanted to get out of where I was before writing, so that album was kind of the story of that journey. After I got done with that album, I was so burnt out on looking at myself, and emotionally digging up all of the shit to write about. It was becoming redundant—continuously creating destruction in my life, writing about it, and being in that world. Toward the end of that album, I realized there weren’t any love songs.

And that’s such a huge part of me. I’m a big love person—with females, but also in general. I’m a loving person. I was doing CRWN with Elliott Wilson, and we were talking about how I’m over the emotional, woe-is-me shit. An audience member asked what emotion I wanted to tackle next, and I wanted to tackle love. But I wanted to detach it from me. 

Love is just so much more complicated than a love song. How that aspect of love mirrors my relationship with the universe and with myself is really fascinating to me. Loving my life is really powerful. I just wanted to dig deeper into that. It just started as a little EP, but I realized that there’s a lot here that I’ve been suppressing. You focus so much on making sure the raps are on point, but I also wanted to make sure people know I can kinda sing… 

How do you balance that?

I make so many songs that are all types of shit. There are songs in here that are not even close to rap, and ones that are so rapped out. In making albums, I’ve always struggled with trying to fit all of who I am as a human being in an album. There’s this huge thing with artists in music that’s identity, which I have an issue with.

With this album, I decided I didn’t want to worry about having bangers or doing everything I can do on an album.

Every artist has an identity they’re known for, but human beings are the most complex species ever. You see Kendrick Lamar and you think he’s so serious. That’s not true. Or people ask how ScHoolboy Q and I are friends.

I can’t be that consistent with creating because I’m not capable of it. With this album, I decided I didn’t want to worry about having bangers or doing everything I can do on an album.

I don’t need to make sure there’s anything on here in particular—I just need to make sure I’m into this concept and I’m diving into this world all the way. I need to shut everyone else out and fully believe in it. And you see how it pays off so much more.

Getting into this was really refreshing because I was writing about something bigger than myself for a change.

Have you ever had a fear that people won’t know how to respond to your new material because it’s so different from what you’ve made in the past?

Yeah, for sure. Even with this album, I don’t know how I’m gonna perform it. There was a time when I was just making music because I knew it would perform well at shows. When I played with The Internet on stage every night, there were a lot of people at those shows who were not with that. They came to those shows all, “Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Donald Trump.” I was sitting up there like, “This is ridiculous.”

I want to create things that I love, that I can play for people and feel good about it. I have songs that I’m singing on that are terrifying to perform live. But fear is the most guiding thing in life. Anything that I’m scared of, I have to do it to show I was tripping over nothing. Even at the VMAs—I was terrified. I saw how close [Ariana and I] were sitting, and she knew I was anxious all day because she came in the dressing room and I was reading a book. But after I did it, I had a great time.

Is this the first time you weren’t as concerned with other people’s reception?

This is the first time I started and finished that way. That’s usually how I go into it, but at the end there’s always been those moments of, “Oh shit, what am I gonna perform?” or, “Oh shit, what’s the song for this type of demographic?” But this is so much its own thing that I’m not tripping as much. If I put this out and a bunch of people says they don’t like Mac Miller’s love album, word. That’s fine. I had to let go of the need to satisfy everyone.

For this album, were there any definitive conversations you had with other people that shaped its direction?

I’m very stubborn, so people could have been telling me I should do this for years, but I wasn’t going to do it until I decided to. All my friends in music tell me I need to sing more, and they’ll say, “Fuck trying to prove to the world you’re the best rapper. You can do so much more do that.”

If I put this out and a bunch of people says they don’t like Mac Miller’s love album, word. That’s fine. I had to let go of the need to satisfy everyone.

And I won’t listen until I’m doing it on my own accord. I’ve asked for opinions on this album the least I ever have. I used to send all my homies the albums and have them do track-by-track breakdowns, before shit was even finished. I think I just knew so much of what I wanted to do on this album that you couldn’t tell me anything.
Do you think you’re more sure of yourself now than you were back then?

Yeah, 100%. I could have Thundercat play every single bass line I ever do because he’s one of my best friends in the world—he’s coming over tonight—and he’s the greatest. But I think if I just sit in the corner, I’ll never grow. I’ll have to get up and trust myself.  I remember working on this song called “Soulmate” with Dâm-Funk. I wasn’t sure whether I should do or say anything, because he’s Dâm-Funk and I thought I should let him do his thing.

But when ideas started bubbling in my head, we started really making a record together. Playing melodies and expanding on them with other people is my favorite thing in the world.

Can you tell me about this album cover?

Okay, the album cover. My brother does every album cover I’ve ever done. He works on visual art like I work on music. And it’s funny because when I work with him on stuff I see how it is to work with me. For music, even three days past deadline, I’m still working on it. I’m working 24/7 down to the last minute, changing ideas every five minutes, and he’s the same way. We had a lot of talks about what The Divine Feminine was, and at one point I came up with this crazy story with like, robot girls taking over the world, and basically the last remaining human being was gonna be The Divine Feminine, but then I didn’t want to personify the concept.

The cover is actually a photo my brother took. He was with some girl, and it was a morning-after photo, and she was in his T-shirt getting ready, and that’s actually her putting makeup on in the morning. We changed some of the coloring and stuff, but it mirrored exactly what I was thinking.

The whole idea of the album was this belief in the whole universe being inside of a female, and that’s what I’m searching for so hard, to connect with the universe through love. It was too good to be true.

It seems like a lot of coincidences happened that allowed this album to come together like it did.

Dude, yeah. It’s crazy. Especially thinking about how dark of a place I was in before, and to see this amazing shift in my life happen, where just choosing to live in a positive way has affected my whole relationship with the universe. I don’t do drugs, smoke weed, drink alcohol, or anything. I’m 100% clear-headed, which is crazy.

What I thought was so connected to a spiritual world was so wrong. I was like, “I’m this super spiritual creative; I’m so in touch!” But in reality I was just inside of a room all day, like, what was I in touch with? It was like Harold and the Purple Crayon. So when I started living like this, the universe was like, stay like this! This is good!

Have your living habits changed since becoming sober?

Yeah, I get up early in the mornings. I used to stay up days and days in a row working on music. But from a creative standpoint, I think the biggest change was that forcing it has stopped. Not finishing a song used to never be an option for me.

I don’t do drugs, smoke weed, drink alcohol, or anything. I’m 100% clear-headed, which is crazy.

 If I sat down to do something, I was sitting there until it was done.

And that wasn’t healthy, right?

Not at all. I mean, I used to not give a fuck about the outside. I would sit here and look at a track list for three days. Now it’s like, if I go have a fucking day, and come sit here, shit just works better. You’re not creating emotion; you’re more of a filter for water. Life directs what I’m doing creatively.

Is this album a first for you in any way?

This is my first album I’ve ever made that doesn’t end in death. Every single album secretly ends in death—even Blue Slide Park. On Blue Slide Park, “One Last Thing” is supposed to be the go-out. Watching Movies had “Aquarium,” which was like seeing heaven, and “Youforia” was like, when you get there. On GO:OD AM, Yukimi from Little Dragon was God and “The Festival” was the afterlife. And then Faces was like a straight-up suicide album. This album kind of ends in death, in a sense, but the death in this album is very far down the line, so it’s more positive in that regard. I get better over the course of the album.

You seem like you’re in a good place.

Yeah, man. I smile and laugh now. It’s tight.