How did Mac Miller do it?
It seems improbable, but the party-all-the-time Jewish rapper from Pittsburgh found himself at the top of the Billboard 200 on Nov. 16, without a radio hit, and more important, without a major-label machine there to take the credit. Miller, 19, sold 144,000 copies of his debut album, "Blue Slide Park," making him the first independent artist to claim the top spot since 1995.
He's not a protege of a superstar, nor have any of "Blue Slide Park's" songs charted. He's not hawking the latest cell phone. He doesn't have a famous girlfriend. Even his skills on the mic are passable at best. Yet here he is, a teenager working with hometown friends, producers and Pittsburgh's independent record label Rostrum Records, all while forcing the music industry to take notice. In two years, he can celebrate by legally buying a beer.
Miller, who plays the Fillmore in Silver Spring Thursday, will likely be scrutinized for years to come, not just for his music but also for his business model. He's living proof that in the Internet age, success can come directly to the artist, no major-label push or hot radio single required. When I brought up Miller to Vernon Kelson, 92Q's program director, he said he's "not 100% familiar with him."
Baltimore's Top 40 station, Z104.3, showcased Miller as a new artist to watch on its website but he's yet to break into its rotation.
"Because he's an independent artist, it's harder for [his representatives] to pry their way into mainstream radio stations," says Mick Lee, Z104.3's program director.
So really, how did he do it? It's a complicated example of the stars aligning for a goofy-go-lucky kid, but here's a breakdown of Mac Miller's success in five easy steps.
During a time when LMFAO can string together hit after hit, all from a CD titled "Sorry for Party Rocking," it's obvious pop music is the preferred route to escape life's problems — an economy digging itself out of a recession, high unemployment and the more typical wrinkles life throws one's way. This isn't a new concept, but turn the radio on and you'll be bludgeoned with four-on-the-floor thumps begging for dancing and the typically vacuous lyrics telling listeners to "just have a good time."
This attitude permeates "Blue Slide Park." Miller recently broke down the album, track-by-track, for Billboard and offered straightforward reasoning for many of the cuts: "It's a crazy, hyped party song" ("Up All Night"), "I love that song because it embodies the concept of the album which is just fun and full of energy" ("Frick Park Market") and "that song feels so good to perform" ("Smile Back").
The more time you spend with Miller's music, the more you realize he's the fun-loving, carefree party-starter determined to hold everyone's ankles during keg stands. If you've met a college freshman more concerned with beer and weed than exams and papers, then you've met Mac Miller. He puts it best on "Up All Night": "Life's so good, please enjoy it / End of every night when your head's in the toilet / Yeah we party hard, give a f--- about employment."
Establish Internet presence
Miller's success becomes clearer when you look closely at his Internet stats: Twitter followers? 1,251,280 as of Monday. Facebook "Likes"? 1,556,829. YouTube channel views? More than 176 million.
He reminds fans of their talkative buddy from class, often tweeting about Steelers wins, mall trips and movies he's watching (Miller watched "Full Metal Jacket" for the first time last Thursday). His persona is Everydude, and whether you think it's immature or genius, it seems genuine, a characteristic that will always draw fans.
Miller has particularly utilized YouTube since he became serious about rapping. Early on, he teamed with Rex Arrow Films, a like-minded production company that has followed his every step — from 2009's mixtape "The High Life" until now. They've produced high-quality videos for Miller's mixtape tracks and day-in-the-life style short films. The Mac Miller aesthetic — pothead, prankster, perpetually hung over and loving it — has been cultivated through the Rex Arrow team's HD lens.
Score a viral hit
Before "Blue Slide Park," there was "Donald Trump." The single from Miller's 2011 mixtape "Best Day Ever" was the rapper's first entry into the Billboard Hot 100. It peaked at No. 80 in June, thanks to a house-party video, a knocking beat, an earworm hook and, yes, even a seal of approval from the Donald himself.
"This kid in the new Eminem," says Trump in the "From the Desk of Donald Trump" YouTube clip.
Eminem? Not quite. In just about every hip-hop category — lyrics, flow, creativity, substance — Slim Shady outshines the new kid. But to grab the attention of Trump through a mixtape single shows Miller is no slouch either. "Take over the world when I'm on my Donald Trump s--- / Look at all this money, ain't that some s---," he raps.
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