Shortly before we got on the phone with Mac Miller, we were advised by someone at his record label that we would get "a much better interview" if we didn't ask him about "Donald Trump."
So of course, we asked him about "Donald Trump."
It's a fair question. Pittsburgh's finest built his reputation on the bouncy 2011 single, named for the man who is now — despite his hideous views on women, Muslims, immigrants and others — the next leader of the free world. It would be wrong to say Miller regrets making it; when we spoke to him, he was relaxed, philosophical and far less prickly than his label would have us believe. But he says that, at least for now, he's done performing that particular song.
"It's a wrap for that one," he tells Exclaim! "It's a great song, but it doesn't really have anything to do with him. It was a sensitive time to be performing it, and I didn't want to look like I was supporting him. And yeah, sure, people want to hear it at my shows, and maybe it'll make its way back into the set list at some point. But there are plenty of other songs."
It's a surprisingly mature viewpoint — but then again, these days Mac Miller is a startingly mature rapper. His latest project, The Divine Feminine (out now on Warner) is a deep dive into the concept of love, a compact meditation on the mysteries of the female form (with some funky assists from the likes of Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar and Cee Lo, just in case you think that sounds dull). It's a project that Miller intended to make as a shorter EP, but developed it when he realized that he had more to say.
"Having it start off as an EP allowed me to create freely," he explains. "I didn't have to throw the word album in there. Once you do that, you start to wonder about what should be on there and what shouldn't. There's a business aspect that gets in the way. So I started off creating for myself, and just said, fuck it, I'm enjoying making this music, so let's make it a full-length. But then I had five songs, and it didn't feel complete to me. It felt like a piece of something.
"A lot of times, you start a project and you're creating until you have something you want to say. With this one, I came into it knowing what I wanted to say, from the very first song I started working on. There was so much to work with and pull from, because I was creating from an inspired place."
It's also a place where he was feeling vulnerable enough to create a record like The Divine Feminine. While he only began dating singer Ariana Grande after the record was finished, he says that there were "multiple relationships" that he drew on to create it. One of the ways he expressed this vulnerability on the record was by increasing the amount of singing he did — something which doesn't come naturally to a man with a smoky, almost gravelly voice that is far more suited to dropping languorous rhymes. And yet there he is, on album opener "Congratulations," going toe-to-toe with the likes of Bilal on vocals.
He cites the example of Bob Dylan — a man with a similarly unusual voice. Miller saw him perform when he was 12, and it's a memory he kept at the forefront while making the album: "You just realise more and more the difference between a classically trained voice and your personal voice. Bob Dylan is someone who had a voice that was unlike anyone else. He wasn't hitting the wildest falsetto runs, you know what I mean? He just put his soul in it. When I sing, it's a very vulnerable state. Very raw. It's me not worrying about where I fall on the spectrum of good singing, and more like, how my voice is my instrument.
"At some points, you don't wanna show yourself, because you don't know who that is. But the more and more you run with it, the more and more you're willing to put it out there."
Check out the video for "Dang!" (ft. Anderson .Paak) below.