The Kids Are Alright: How Mac Miller Earned My Respect

HipHopDX's editor-in-chief says that for the first time, younger emcees are making the year's strongest material. In doing so, he spotlights his hometown's hero, and analyzes the positives.

With over 15 years loving and living this culture, I am witnessing a paradigm shift for me and the peers of my age-group. Most of my favorite rappers as of late are younger than me. This comes after a decade-and-a-half closely studying '60s and '70s babies and looking at them as wise big brothers (which is not to say that has stopped either). This phenomenon is not entirely exclusive to 2011, as artists younger than me, like B.o.B., Fashawn and Big K.R.I.T. have chipped away at the misinformed notion that youth cannot provide wisdom throughout the last several years. Nowadays, most of my new thoughts about life from Hip Hop are coming from the younger guys.

Perhaps like most longtime lovers of Hip Hop, it is easy for me to musically bond with a lot of artists. Kendrick Lamar's free-form approach to emceeing appeals to both the fan of Kool Keith and Andre 3000 in me. Moreover, K-Dot references things like the Reaganomics, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and marginalized youth that resonate with any fan of history or sociology. Fashawn's humility is awe-inspiring to me, when he spoke of the revolving door of fathers on "Boy Meets World" or Fresno's social symptoms on "The Ecology." Take even Thurz, of U-N-I fame, whose L.A. Riot conceptualized a national news event that took place when he was still a child into a heralded album making it tangible to today's teens.

I wish I had guys like that when I was a teenager. Too young for Illegal and Shyheim Da Rugged Child, and too old and sensible for Lil Bow Wow and Lil Romeo, I had a difficult time giving credence to rappers of a certain age. Hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri was not my life, nor was luxury go-carts, personal basketball courts and chillin' at my parents' mansion. I was a teenager that loved three things: classic and underground Hip Hop, the fairer sex - girls, and getting Keith Murray-lifted any way that I could (including frequent trips to what would become, "blue slide park"). My heroes at the time ranged between DJ Premier and Guru of Gang Starr, Fast Times At Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli and William Upski Wimsatt, author of No More Prisons and Bomb The Suburbs. Like nearly every Hip Hop fan I've ever met, I had a rhyme book, and it was wack. Besides that fact that "I was too scared to grab dem mics in the park," I was convinced that nobody would ever care about my experiences. In hindsight, thank God I knew that on my own. However that was a message from a different time. I bought turntables instead and started writing about other people with talent and a voice for struggle.

Being a Pittsburgher, I've been asked continuously about Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. With Wiz, I always connected to his message of civic pride. He knows that. I know that, and a Google search will show you that I was among the (if not the) first to put Taylor Gang's would-be creator. Mac Miller appears unlikely to hold in this same high regard, at least for me. I'm in my upper-twenties, and the days of carefree living have been eclipsed by car payments, student loans and a need to join a gym to work off whatever partying I do get in. I'm eight years older than Mac Miller, and his world has very little in common with mine.  I don't think that was ever his plan or agenda, although he's inescapable to any voracious Hip Hop listener. As guys ranging from DJ Premier and DJ Jazzy Jeff co-sign my hometown's newest hero, other more veteran artists like Consequence and Freeway are also tapping into the unique sound and in turn, its fan-base.

A little over a month ago, I spent a day with Mac Miller in Philadelphia during a Blue Slide Park Tour stop and left with a new appreciation and respect who Mac Miller is, and just where he fits into this culture.

Admittedly, in 2007-2008 when my longtime friend/Rostrum Records' Artie Pitt first showed me YouTube footage of Mac Miller's Shadow Lounge performances I was disinterested. I told Artie that, and in classic hard-nosed Steel City fashion, he's eternally quick to remind me. Unless it's via Tony Touch, DJ Green Lantern or Sway In The Morning, I don't care much for recorded freestyles anymore. They rarely are as they're labeled, and if I want to see one live, from a  rapper I've never heard of, I'd rather experience it in person than through viral media. Quickly, I disregarded the latest Pittsburgh spitter and went back to my turntable or stereo. However, even then, I did admire this teen-aged kid for earning his stripes in a club. The Shadow Lounge is not an easy venue. It's for the Hip Hop purist, and it's a tour-stop to guys like Blu, Elzhi and Freddie Gibbs. For any 16 year-old to grip a mic in that venue is a rite of passage not often displayed by the most commercially successful rappers until their backers can dilute the tension with free drinks or fill a room with modeling agency talent (I've seen it happen). I wasn't in the crowd on those nights, but from what I've heard from fellow Pittsburghers is that Mac Miller earned his base one fan at a time, with a lot of hurdles along the way. That sounds a lot like other established titans of 2011, Tech N9ne, who often covers himself in makeup before taking the stage or even J. Cole, who I witnessed fight to command anxious and apathetic crowds on The Blueprint 3 tour.

We live in a culture that celebrates image. In just four years, Dr. Dre went from saying he didn't "smoke weed or 'cess" to making a classic album called The Chronic. One of the most associated rappers with cocaine worked as a correction officer. That's not to say either is lying, but rappers tend to say what's convenient at the time. One of the more interesting things I witnessed in Mac Miller is how little he cares about his image. You heard it here first: he's not a suburban rapper. He's not even guilty of pulling the mailing-address game that I've watched many people claim as far as being from cities. I however am from the 'burbs of Pitt, and the funny thing is, is that when I was Mac's age, I fled to the same part of town he's from. The East End of Pittsburgh is where the cool things happen. It's where the record stores are, the head shops, the movie theaters and the places you may be able to get away with a fake ID. That being said, I'm much happier to see and hear a rapper who celebrates those things than another rapper over-exaggerating to be down just because there's a bus route in front of his house or his parents are from two towns over. Despite the vast racial and content comparisons, Mac Miller's upbringing has seemingly nothing in common with the artists he's compared against. He probably has more in common with a Skyzoo or a Fashawn than he does with a Sam Adams or Spose. Perhaps that's why the community of peers has embraced him quickly off the mic, while many fans and critics are still questioning.  

Years ago, I remember interviewing Cormega for an Elemental magazine feature. 'Mega told me something I have long held true: Hip Hop, at its best, should offend people. If not the lyrics, than the music itself. The iconic image of Radio Raheem's boombox in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing comes to mind, as a culture synonymous with aggression, frustration and a lack of respect for authority. For much of my marriage with Hip Hop and my career I've held this belief true. I think Kendrick Lamar's "Fuck Your Ethnicity" applies to this, or even another young artist's work, the music of Waka Flocka Flame. It's loud, it's proud it's the kind of soundtracks that challenge outsiders to this culture at stop lights and crowded train cars. With Mac Miller, there is none of that. Unlike Soulja Boy, whose breakthrough single stirred the pots of controversy in 2007, Miller's language and production is relatively gentle on the ears. And if you look into the crowds of his concerts, you will see few people who mind. This is not to say that Cormega's point was wrong, but at a time when Hip Hop is redefining itself, it's certainly being challenged.

Malcolm Miller's music is a direct presentation of his life, and in turn, the life of plenty upper-teens. With radio-waves largely devoted to the heartbreak and the somber, (see iTunes toppers "Someone Like You" by Adele, "Stereo Hearts" by Gym Class Heroes or "Paradise" by Coldplay), "Party On Fifth Ave." is a rapper's take on the same thing LMFAO, Ke$ha or Flo Rida have built successful on, but it's not Dance music. Moreover, to the folks who care to go a step further, the record interpolates 45 King's "900 Number" break, a staple in Hip Hop since Ed Lover's dance. Unlike the others, it doesn't even sound like a radio hit. Like the way he dances on stage, the costumes in the video, Mac has a doowutchyalike approach to music-making, and the same radio powers that be (that we all condemn) were forced to oblige. Not only does Mac send his listeners a positive message, he does so with total disregard for the conventions of the system, a feat he can share with N.W.A. just as much as with Drake.

That same "900 Number" point is essential to one of the reasons I respect Mac. While 45 King will reap no dividends from the rapper's charting single (to be fair, it's a Marva Whitney interpolation anyway), it brings the core of this culture back into the conversation. Miller is not another Johnny-come-lately rapper that considers immortal legends to be his influences for convenience and acceptance. This is a 19 year-old kid who has Big L's Lifestylez Ov Da Poor and Dangerous memorized, and went beyond the usual suspects (I watched him recite Fat Joe's "Da Enemy" bars). This is a guy who is using his interviews and music push to bring teenagers to records like Lord Finesse's "Hip 2 Da Game" or UGK's "One Day." (Recently, my 17 year-old Flo Rida-loving sister was asking me about some of the beats from a Mac mixtape.) Truly, that's an act more than I can say about most deejays/emcees of the last 10 years. A record like Def Squad's Ill Nino or Jurassic 5's Quality Control had a deep impact in pushing my teenage-self to look back and learn the records that were influencing the respected artists during my courtship with Hip Hop. This bridging of the gap has aligned Miller with Hip Hop heroes of mine like Premo or Jeff, who may have felt overlooked by so many of the artists pushing their way into the spotlight over the last decade. A lot of the people who are resistant to Mac are folks who easily compare him to college-rappers like Sam Adams or Chiddy Bang won't likely get the same education from them. Moreover, Mac vehemently avoided college and bemoans fraternities, negating the cheap sub-genre inclusion.

The last thing I can say that I learned and subsequently respected about Mac is that he's misunderstood. Like Method Man, perhaps his media image will grow to wear on him. Mac most certainly is a nice guy, from all that I've witnessed in several meetings dating back a few years. However, the guy that I saw isn't spending his afternoons stoned and eating chips on the couch. I'm sure a lot of his biggest fans may have that misconstrued and there's no reason not to. Mac appears to treat this position like a job, a great job, and interacts with fans online, preps his vocal delivery, and maintains what-seems-to-be a clear head through his downtime. I watched him work with road manager Quentin Cuff for 20 minutes or so, trying out different BPM beats for a Cosmic Kev radio show freestyle in Philadelphia. An hour before his packed show, Mac is alone, almost nervous - a trait far from his stage persona. Afterwards, the emcee thanks his guests and carries himself like moments after a high school graduation, not like a frat-house spectacle. Along the way, you'll surely get a lot of Jeff Spicoli stoner chuckles, a lot of "would be cool if" postulations and an easygoing 19 year-old living the dream. That's expected, but I've met few people with the success Mac is having to be as truly authentic and unpretentious than Mac Miller.

A lot is possible this year. So far, my own champion for album of the year (Section.80) is the first time I've ever even slightly considered a digital album in the highest possible regard. Artists like Atmosphere, Tech N9ne, and Mac are eclipsing most of the major label releases in sales, touring and even web-presence. As Mac Miller prepares to release Blue Slide Park on November 8 independently, some folks (including Just Blaze) are predicting six-figure sales. Whether you can relate to the message or the music, there is nothing more optimistic for Hip Hop than that many fans coming on board - just as Mac's Rostrum label-mate witnessed in the first half of the year. Some of Mac Miller's toughest critics ought to be his most optimistic spectators, and know that this new class of commercially-successful artists are leveling the playing-field for anybody feeling like the labels took Hip Hop away from the people. And to the Steel City homie Mac, thumbs up.

Jake Paine is HipHopDX's Editor-in-Chief. He is a Pittsburgh native and longtime Philadelphia resident. He has contributed to XXL, The Source, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Forbes.com and other publications. Follow him on Twitter (@Citizen__Paine)

55 Comments

  • John Smith

    Oh shit he has your respect now, bet he's gonna get really big.

  • Anonymous

    mac defines all that is wrong with hiphop

  • Nigel Powers

    Great piece. As a Philly native who's spent a year in the Pittsburgh area, and met some of Mac's high school friends, I've learned a lot more about the dude and I respect his love for the game. A lot of people fail to recognize that.

  • Gregory Vicente

    Mac is ok but you slept on a real mc/producer G-Eazy! Listen to his music!!!

  • Carlos F Gallon

    First time I've ever read an article this long on a hip-hop site. Very well written. Also, I listened to Mac Miller and really liked some of his track, but when I heard his verse in 1982 I knew he was something else. Lyrically he stands out on his own

  • Anonymous

    people don't know rappin when they hear it... mac is dope

    • Adrian Andre

      I think it's, white people think they know rappin when they hear it, or middle class African Americans that couldn't identify themselves with any other aspect of Hip Hop, too grimy.

  • Anonymous

    so when this faggot picks up a guitar and sings Tupac songs like some Mark McGrath meets Incubus on stage , that is respectable? fuck outta here. RIP Real Hip Hop LOL

  • Anonymous

    so much ignorant idiots who are just complainin about new shit cus they wanna be the 'purist', i think mac is dope, im a huge fan just like i think big l, biggie, wu tang, nas, rakim, a tribe called quest, koolg, pac, nwa, dre, easy.....etc. dope rap is dope rap

  • The Company Man

    "Some of Mac Miller's toughest critics ought to be his most optimistic spectators, and know that this new class of commercially-successful artists are leveling the playing-field for anybody feeling like the labels took Hip Hop away from the people."

  • AYO

    Mac's mixtapes were spot on, but Blue Slide Park is disappointing with the exception of like 3 or 4 songs. Thumbs down, And this is coming from a MM fan!

  • Neazy

    "... is the first time I've ever even slightly considered a digital album in the highest possible regard." The first time you've ever even slightly considered something in the highest possible regard? What kind of writing is that Jake??? Other than that I def agree with the article tho. I'm the same age as Mac Miller, but I've studied the hip hop classics from the 80s and 90s. Kane, Rakim, Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang; I own every classic album, even if they came out before I was born. I bought all those on my own when I was young because I wanted to know how the music I fell in love with came to be. It really shows an appreciation for the culture when you see an artist like Drake or Mac Miller, who was barely alive back then, give respect to the classics. Kurt Cobain studied John Lennon and helped rock music evolve. We need leaders in hip hop to do the same.

  • Heberpayy Sccori

    Kurupt is the most underrated rapper alive. A true genius and artist. White boys can't do shit. Eminem is an exception.

  • MC Rein

    nah this is not dumb. Most comments here are from fucking conservatives hating on new shit. Get on with the times most new dudes are cool.

  • Anonymous

    this site is getting real real stupid. Quit praising mac miller. dudes garbage..

    • based landlord

      you didnt even read the article. just because you don't like Mac Miller doesn't mean this site shouldn't be aloud to write about him i dont like Mac Miller AT ALL...ive think probably heard 1 of his songs, i just don't like his voice. but this was a good article

    • Anonymous

      U dumb mutha fucka

  • Dhruv

    I feel that one of the issues with giving Mac respect lies not with the fact that he is getting respect, as much as it is that he is getting it and no one else will. Us hip-hop "purists" may seem harsh, but its only out of jealousy that guys like Mac and Wiz are attracting the new generation in ways that guys like KL and Blu are not. I do not mind giving Mac Miller any props,and I'm sure most "purists", don't either. We just want everyone else to get their props as well,from all sides of Hip-hop.

    • tsishells

      Eh.....? I think the reason Blu and KL are not reaching the amount of people Mac and Drake are is because they dont get bds on radio or they arent on MTV. Im sorry I cannot agree with the jealousy rationale either. Purists are pissed because the music..better yet the culture is exploited by everyone, yet understood by few. C'mon man, everyone knows these cats are not dropping classic albums.

    • Jason Pennells

      could not agree more

  • Dhruv

    I respect his hustle and dedication, similar to how I respect Weezy's work ethic, but that doesn't mean that he puts out dope music. I'm sorry but he is just not a very good rapper, but perhaps is a good person and artist.

  • Heberpayy Sccori

    You HHDX guys are starting to be gay as a motherfucker. Fuck white trash rap. Fuck dumb little niggers with "controversial" lyrics. Fuck Kendrick Lamar and everybody who came up since 2006. I'm listening to Kurupt, you dumb bitches.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this site is mad fucked up today.

  • Erik Quinty

    this dude needs to get murked

  • uponeverysession

    mac miller is 19. its all about progress. perfection is somthing no one will ever live up to. kid is getting better. where was wayne at 19? just sayin. wayne is god to some hip hop fans now. it took time for him to develop his craft as well. hate is the love that evil brings.

    • Anonymous

      Um wayne had already released 2 albums by the time he was 19, one of which hit #3 on the billboard and sold 200k+ in its first week. Do some research before you make outrageous comparisons.

  • Disappointed

    I heard the leak this morning...it's definately not getting any higher than a 3. I'm a big Mac fan but I was seriously let down by this album. Other than the 4-5 singles that have been released already, there's only a handful of decent tracks. There is one song in particular that is probably the worst one I've ever heard from him, and the rest are all either upbeat party songs or "In the Air"/"Oy Vey" rehashes nothing more than skippable, filled with unimpressive rhyme schemes & subpar lyrical content. If you've heard the title track already, expect the rest of the album to be the complete opposite.

  • Ravi

    Great article...one point of info, however: his real name is Malcolm McCormick, not Malcolm Miller. Mac Miller is his stage name.

  • Anonymous

    mac is dope. keep your head up and do your thing mac and fuck the haters. remember, there used to be a time in 1999 when people thought eminem was a dumb ass wigger. now look at him

  • Anonymous

    mac miller isnt rap, hes like drake..... belongs in canada.

  • yawooh

    if Mac sells anywhere in the hundreds of thousands, that'll be impressive but platinum, is jus imaginary..i dnt like his music but I respect his hustle and energy he's bringing to hip-hop

    • The Company Man

      Mac/Rostrum are doing this completely independently. No major alliances. No vanity label trickery. Completely Independent. From that perspective, that's like going plat.

  • Anonymous

    please dont compare Fuck Your Ethnicity to Mac Miller . Mac Mall is the shit.

  • Hiphopismylife

    i agree to everythig u said man...miller bringin that feel back....listen to Neme$1$ - Headphone Muz1k,self-produced by neme$1$....genius shit

  • Rory Patterson

    I recently attended a Mac Miller/People Under The Stairs concert in Portland, OR...I didn't consider myself a Mac Miller fan, before or after the show, but I will say this...The kid is different than most teeny-bopping, candy-corn rappers that have come out in the recent years. Not only am I surprised by his influences (PUTS, Premier, Tribe), but I was honestly wowed by his stage presence. I consider myself a Hip-Hop head to the fullest; I've seen A LOT of hip hop shows. To me, his performance made a lot of other so called veterans' shows look downright boring. From the Grouch to Twista, Mac Miller grabbed the mic and outperformed most of the MC's that I've ever seen. He had me entertained (though not near as much as PUTS had me 15 minutes earlier) and today I'm looking forward to what Mac can come out with in future. I'm hoping he doesn't cross ALL the way over and become the next Bow wow, Wayne, (enter lame, famous MC here). Good luck

  • OSN

    PITTSBURGH STEEL CITY 412! Follow me @4i2

  • Anonymous

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I do not perceive his mixtapes of 50-60 minutes of interrupted bragging about how much he loves himself and how privileged his life is as "not caring about his image". From my personal experience, when people constantly remind others how great they are they are usually compensating. I know braggadocio has always been a huge part of hip hop, but I think there's a right and wrong way to do it. I read the lyrics to Wu-Tang Clan "Method Man" and I see confidence. I read the lyrics to "Donald Trump" and I just see arrogance at obnoxious levels. Just my perception.

    • Raiden

      I fully co-sign that anon statement and I regularly say It. Tunes like Donald Trump show that he has no depth, Its good to be confident but when your corny and lack the skills to brag, theres problems. Tunes like Kool Aid & Pizza show It takes a good beat to carry him lyrically. I had friends that are mac fans thinking his version was better than the lord finesse original becuse the beat was that good. Smh. Thats why I firmly believe that If your wack at this rapping thing, just find the best beats to cover your ass, otherwise your in shit.

    • The Mechanic

      That explains it. I listened to BSP just to see what he was about and it wasn't bad, but I came to the conclusion that I'm not a part of his audience. He's not dope, but he's not whack either.

    • LAX1325

      you right "Donald Trump" does do what you said but what about any of his other stuff. Ima big Mac fan and off the top my head thats the only one I know that he do that. Most his shit is shit kids did through high school like "Another Night" or "Senior Skip Day" and what any kid dream about like "Oy Vey" or "The Spins" He rap bout stuff people his age like myself talk bout and do all the time and thats why we like him cause hes real bout his shit. And what other artist you know put out a mixtape called "I Love Life, Thank You" and says how much he love his fans. This dude 19 and the people that listen to his shit are round that age so what he got to brag bout he aint even put one album out yet, remember "we just some motherfuckin kids"

    • Fr3D

      shout out to the new independent niggas . Even if I don't fuck wit em, I fuck wit em. They have more heart and soul than most mainstream dudes. I can honestly say I like the direction hip hop is headed. The playing field is starting to get even.

    • dj nemesis

      donald trump is his commercial shit,u need to check songs like she said or face the facts