Mac Miller was filled with joy. His happiness and kindness were overflowing. Speaking with his publicist, Nick Dierl, I came to understand that Malcolm had love in his heart for everyone who crossed his path.
Mac brought the people in his life deep into his world with welcoming arms. His comfort in honesty, according to Dierl, was the “single best part” of being his friend. I’m sure Mac’s circle and fans would agree.
Speaking with Dierl reminded me of the goodness Malcolm brought into the world simply by being himself.
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How did you first meet Malcolm?
Nick Dierl: It must have been in the middle of the rollout of Watching Movies. I was connected with [Quentin Cuff] by a mutual friend on text, just sort of without warning. I was gonna be in LA, living in New York at the time. Malcolm was looking for new PR, and he was interested in working with someone who was on the same page with him in terms of interests and age. With Q, I organized coming to meet him and Malcolm while they were still at the Studio House where The Sanctuary was.
I saw a lot of people when I showed up, and none of them were Q or Malcolm. A few minutes later, Q emerged, and after 20 minutes of catching up, Malcolm walked into the room. I remember being so struck by his general resilience. Not only did we have a lovely conversation, but he already knew about me and what I had done.
He wanted my honest take on everything else he had done [in his career] until that point. I was so caught off guard by his openness and honesty, and his want to get the same thing from someone that was a relative stranger to him. I was taken aback that someone of his profile had taken the time to learn who I was and what I had done with my life up until that point. That hadn’t happened to me before.
What else stood out about him at first glance? I get a lot of stories about people shocked he’s full of joy at all times.
One hundred percent. So much warmth. He would walk into the room with a big smile on his face. Every two minutes in conversation, we'd be laughing and grinning. That’s one of the big takeaways from my relationship with Malcolm, too. The number of times that I found myself nearly laying on the floor or crying with laughter, even in miserable situations. We would be in less ideal physical and mental states, and there was always jokes happening. There was always laughter, regardless of the circumstance.
One of the things that caught me off guard in that first conversation, he asked me point blank within 10 minutes of us meeting each other: “What of my old music do you know and what do you like, and what don’t you?” I was super honest with him that pre-Macadelic, I had been skeptical. I remember being super nervous. I was nervous to tell a total stranger my honest thoughts about their catalog. I was so taken aback by his reaction when I told him. He was silent for a moment and then grinned and said: “That’s so tight you kept it completely real. You didn’t just tell me you love everything I’ve done.”
That was the number one takeaway the first time I met him—this was a special person. It seemed like the thing he liked most was when I gave him honesty, even when it wasn’t necessarily positive.
How did your working relationship develop into a friendship?
I came on near the end of Watching Movies, and it was an interesting time. He was making changes professionally and personally. He was starting to move away from living with a big group. This was near the end of the MTV show filming; he was changing management. Shortly after I came on board, [Christian] Clancy ended up taking over management. The first project I worked in full was Faces. We started really talking around then. At the time, he was still living in California, and I was living in New York City. So we were talking over text and the phone. I was taken aback by how communicative he was, and how much more interested he was in legitimately wanting to know where I was at personally.
It felt like there was a special sort of relationship growing, and it changed when I moved back to LA. I moved back just shy of a year before he moved to New York; that’s when he was head-down in writing and recording what would become GO:OD AM. I was caught off-guard by how quickly after I got back [to LA] I got texts from him like, “Yo, come by the house, I want you to hear this song.” That turned into hanging out all of the time.
[My fiancé] was astounded by the way he took an interest in me and my life, and ultimately her. I was taken aback by how much he wanted my input and the extent to which he let me see behind the curtain. I’m so accustomed to getting someone’s album when it’s finished, but part of why I felt so invested in Malcolm both personally and professionally, is because I felt like I was part of every project he was making.
Fortunately, I had a reason to go to New York often when we were doing the release of GO:OD AM. When I had come to town, Malcolm often wouldn’t accept me staying in a hotel and would insist I stay in his apartment. I ended up spending many, many nights at his apartment when I had a perfectly good hotel that I had paid for in Lower Manhattan.
What was the best part of being friends with Mac?
The degree to which he felt comfortable with expressing honesty in the emotion he was feeling was the single best part. I say that because there were a lot of great qualities he had, but that was the quality that changed the way I lived my life. It’s self-evident on his records. He was comfortable being honest with people and taught me that it’s okay not to be good all the time. It’s much more important to be real with yourself about where you’re at. You can’t address where you are if you’re in denial.
Mac always gave me the sense that it was okay that I wasn’t okay, and that I will be alright soon enough. He gave that to fans, too.
Absolutely. There are people you have conversations with where you know if you peel the curtain back a little bit and tell them where you’re actually at, they wouldn’t be able to have the conversation with you. Malcolm reveled in those conversations. Those were the relationships that he wanted. I, for whatever reason, was always hesitant, to be honest with people about where I was—until I met him. I felt like I had to present a strong front and tell people things were fine all the time. That’s not true for anyone. It was hard to get over that, and he was the person that helped me get there. I’m super grateful because it’s completely changed the way I live my life. It’s a massive weight lifted off my shoulders.
Aside from openness, what did you learn about yourself by being his friend?
One of the things I loved the most about Malcolm: he was goofy. He was having fun at all costs, even if that meant it was at the expense of him not looking cool. I met Malcolm; I must have been 22, 23 at the time… I was still finding myself and finding self-confidence and self-worth. I felt like I had to present this ideal version of myself to the world, and I learned to adore Malcolm. One of the things I liked the most was he wasn’t caught up in presenting the cool version of himself and was regularly willing to present a very uncool version of himself when he knew it was funny.
In arriving at a pivotal time for him with Faces, describe his growth over time. That tape was such a dark moment, but if this series has taught us anything, it’s that he was so happy and more than his lows.
Malcolm was an open book both about the highs and the lows. The irony is, I think Swimming, retroactively, has been read as a dark record, when in fact I don’t think I ever knew a happier, healthier, more beaming Malcolm than the one that existed in the year leading up to the release of Swimming. In some ways, he felt empowered, because he was in such a great place personally, he let some of the lows come out in the music.
One of the biggest changes I saw in Malcolm was post-GO:OD AM. Maybe this was happening through the process of making the album. With GO:OD AM, there was some pressure felt to deliver a rap album, but post GO:OD AM, you see a very clear pivot. He always was highly musical, but you see him on The Divine Feminine say, “I wanna make albums that aren’t necessarily great rap albums.” That level of aspiration and seeing him put his talents to use in a new way… You can feel that he was working toward what would have been the opus.
Do you have one story summing up who he was as a human?
We were in New York for the release of The Divine Feminine. He had just taped a late-night show. The album was coming out that night. My fiancé to set up my birthday dinner in New York that night. It ended up a much bigger dinner than I could’ve imagined. There were at least 30 people at the table. At the end of the dinner, Malcolm had to go. He still showed up, got to know all my friends, apologized he had to leave early, and took off.
Forty-five minutes later, the dinner was ending. As happens at big group dinners, you can see everyone starting to work through what the bill is gonna be. Someone asked for the bill and the server’s like, “That guy that took off 45 minutes ago covered everything already.” I was just so impressed at that moment. Not because of the money, at all, but the fact that he wanted to spend his evening getting to know the people that I had known outside of my relationship with him and also take care of the whole evening.
How do you want Mac to be remembered, as a man and as a musician?
That’s tough. I hope people remember him for that combination of honesty and aspiration. He’s a real testament that you don’t have to be the best at every single thing you do, but be honest with yourself and put your best effort forth. He held that above all else, and it shone through in his work. I hope people remember the importance of that and apply it to their own lives.
His discography was a blueprint on how to live.
Malcolm had an uncanny ability and sense for making people that were in the room with him feel good. There’s a lot of people who feel like they need to put on an air of being cool or being kind of aloof, but he had a knack for reading a room and making sure that everyone was in a good spirit. Having the ability to do that in times where he wasn’t in very good spirits... He would take it upon himself to make sure everyone in the room was feeling good and prioritized that ahead of his feelings. There’s something to be said for the selflessness that he showed in being attentive to other people’s emotions, whether he knew them for five minutes or 15 years.