This week, I want us to remember Mac Miller as producer Thelonious Martin remembers Mac Miller: pure and humble. Though the pair did not make a lot of music together, what they did share was a familial bond that goes beyond music and showcases the level of care Malcolm put into all of his relationships. There is a humility and love to his aura that will never be extinguished.
There is also, apparently, an album called Maclib floating around in the ether. Either way, I hope you enjoy this interview with Thelo about his dear friend, Mac Miller.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: First of all, how are you feeling?
Thelonious Martin: Right now, I’m okay. I’m in negotiations for a pub deal. I’m reviewing some features for a project I’m doing… Obviously the album, I’m always working on this album [laughs]. I sent out some things to my friends. Especially with the album, I’m using the same engineer for every project and so he engineered Wunderkid, and one of the major things about Wunderkid, instead of waiting for emails, if I could I would pull up on people. And, this is how Mac heard my music: through RetcH and Da$h. He was living in Malibu. So he was like, “If you come to LA, let me know. Pull up to the crib.” That was my first introduction to an artist being very welcoming and being down to collaborate. Even then, he was very humble. “Yeah, come to the crib, we’ll work.” We worked on a beat together, made a song that day, and ever since that day, always been close.
Before the album was Swimming, it was called Guidelines, which was the title of the track we had put out at the time. Initially, that was the title track. We were having these long conversations about putting together an album, cause I’m telling him about how I’m putting together mine. We’re going back and forth about how to touch an audience, how to make an audio world. How do you have conversations with music, instead of it just being songs? How do we open up songs a little bit more? All these classic songs either tell stories or have very important conversations. That’s one of the things Mac was so good at: he was talking to you, having a conversation with you. Whether showing his own scars or something else, he was amazing at that.
How did your working relationship and friendship evolve over the years?
It’s interesting. The people I’m good friends with, when it comes to music, I make fewer songs with. If that makes any sense. The best friends I have in the music industry, Malcolm, Michael Christmas, we’ve maybe made over the course of me knowing him, maybe, five songs. Me and Mac, it was, we’d check in like once a month. He’d randomly ask me for drums. It was more of a friendship and steel sharpening steel.
It was like “Hey, I need help with something,” and I would gladly help him out. There’s probably three folders on my computer, “Drums For Mac,” because I was sending him drums. I’m not gonna share my drums with everybody, that’s a producer faux pas. Anytime Mac would ask for things? Yo, of course. He welcomed me into his home. Being willing to work with me so early in my career, it was like, yo, this person is unbelievably giving. It shaped how I move in the industry myself. You can be a kind person and do well in the industry.
Talk to me about his generosity. That’s been a big theme with everyone I’ve spoken to.
I don’t even know where to start. Me and him actually linking up and hanging out… When I say welcomed… We got to his house, and this was after all the MTV stuff, and we shot hoops for like 30 minutes in his backyard. It was interesting, because usually when you link up with an artist to make a song, especially an artist of his stature, it’s usually someone from the label around. None of that. It was like I pulled up to my friend’s house. It really felt like home. I really felt like I was amongst family, making music. This was the very first time linking up. He didn’t want no money for the feature or none of that. First time! That’s unheard of. That’s so generous. That’s so loving. Perfect. I couldn’t think of a better sign of generosity.
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What was something about him that people wouldn’t expect based on the music?
The amount of self-awareness he had. Certain conversations, especially with the album coming up, he was aware of how certain songs would be viewed or what he wanted to do. He moved very purposefully. He was very smart, very calculated about things.
Did that ever bite him in the ass?
Might’ve [laughs] it might’ve. We were working on re-tracking “Guidelines” and I Facetimed him, and he would turn and be like “Wait, I want you to listen to something.” He played me a really jazzy, kind of singing song. Now people don’t get a chance to hear that stuff. I don’t like posthumous albums, so I don’t want anything to come out afterward. I feel like, an album is such a personal conversation to have and the person’s not there to sign off on it. He had a ton of music that was completely different from what the public would get. I feel like he kinda knew that Mac Miller was this [persona], so to release something else, he needed a different moniker [Larry Lovestein, Delusional Thomas, etc.]. I just wish people got to see more of that stuff.
So you don’t want there to be a posthumous album?
I don’t like posthumous albums, I don’t. But if Q and Clockwork oversee it, I guess. That would make the most sense. That’s the only time it would be acceptable, for me.
Is there any music that you wish the fans could hear?
There’s plenty of it. When we was working on “Guidelines,” he was always excited about all these other songs. He had this Madlib album, called Maclib. I opened for Madlib in Chicago last summer, at Pitchfork. So I’m opening for Madlib, and about 15, 20 minutes left in my set, Madlib pulls up. Pete Rock walks up as well. So I’m trying to focus and DJ, and Madlib gets on and 15 minutes into his set he just randomly plays a Mac Miller joint. And I turn to him, I’m like, “There’s more of these, right?” He’s said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a whole album. Maclib.” What! What! He just kept moving on with his DJ set. If Madlib decides to bless the world with that project, he should.
How would you want Mac and his music to be remembered?
I would want Mac to be remembered as a true artist, someone who really cared about his craft and the people around him. I really feel like artists don’t just do music, it’s about what they embody. For someone to be peaceful, stayin’ grounded, offer himself up and shine a light, and be a mirror so people reflect and grow with him and grow on their own, that’s an artist. That’s a true artist. To be self-aware and to know “I’m going through this, how can I share this musically?” I think he was a master at that. A true artist in every sense of the word, in every fashion.
Do you have one story that really sums up who he was as a friend to you?
We were talking about doing a project and he was like “Yeah, yeah, when I get off tour.” He was always very understanding and very self-aware. So even him being like, “We could put out that loosie. I know it’s gon’ benefit me, it’s gon’ benefit you.” I feel like, when a bigger artist understands himself… He doesn’t have to help me out. It’s how humble he was and how he treated me. He didn’t treat me like I was a lesser than or he was bigger than me. He treated me like I was equal. This is a multi-Platinum artist. Upper echelon. There’s a lot of things going on for him. For him to be self-aware enough to treat people equally and be humble, I can’t think of more of a pure person.
You don’t realize these things until someone’s gone. It’s made me realize even more how good of a person he was. This man did not have to treat me like this, but he treated me like I was family. Facetiming me, asking me how I was doing. Texting me. Being a friend. It’s more than music. Just being a friend. I don’t think it could be one story.