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Five years after its release, Mac Miller's Tiny Desk Concert still resonates

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Five years ago, the musician and rapper Mac Miller released his fifth album called "Swimming." A few days later, NPR Music released his Tiny Desk Concert, which went on to become one of the most watched Tiny Desks ever. It's gotten more than a hundred million streams on YouTube. A month after that NPR performance, Mac Miller died at age 26. NPR Music's Bobby Carter produced that performance. Bobby shared his memories of that day and told us why that performance is considered so special.

BOBBY CARTER, BYLINE: The people who know that I produced this Tiny Desk, they always ask like, you know, what was he like on that day?

Ladies and gentlemen, make some noise for Mac Miller.

(APPLAUSE)

MAC MILLER: Thank you. (Laughter). Yeah. (Rapping) The world is so small till it ain't.

CARTER: Mac told me he was nervous when we were taking the elevator up. And there was a little - I can sense a little bit of nerves in this very first song, but he quickly shook them off.

MILLER: (Rapping) I don't want to keep you waiting. I hope I never keep you waiting.

CARTER: His light was so bright on that day. And the energy in the room was just - it was almost to the point where I had to work hard to, like, reel it in because they were having such a good time. And they were giddy, almost childlike.

MILLER: (Rapping) Maybe dunk, but I've never been tall. Yeah. I might trip. I never fall.

CARTER: But the cool thing there is there were moments in the show where you saw him sort of flip a switch and become like the maestro and the master musician. So you were able to sort of see both of those sides of him right at the desk. "Small Worlds" is a two-part song. There's two movements in the song.

MILLER: (Rapping) Nine times out of 10, I get it wrong. So I wrote this song, tell myself to hold on.

CARTER: And this happens a lot with with Tiny Desk performances. Like, we don't know what we're getting into once we get into the moment. So it's a situation where they just kind of - they really get into the groove. So the second part of "Small Worlds," once he goes into, it just feels - it starts to feel looser.

MILLER: (Rapping) Keep your eyes to the sky and never glued to your shoes. Guess there was a time when my mind was consumed, but the sun coming out now. Clouds start to move. Don't tell me nothing but the truth. I'm tired. I don't got a spare second. Win or lose, win or lose - I don't keep count. Nobody checking.

(APPLAUSE)

CARTER: It was very pure. What you saw was a lot of joy, a lot of laughter, a lot of silliness.

MILLER: I think I'm supposed to talk in between, but I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

MILLER: Let's just like stand here and exchange looks. That would be nice - banter, banter, banter. All right. All right. Oh, yeah. This song is called "What's The Use?"

CARTER: It's such a pure day when it comes to just like unbridled joy and, like, you know, "What's The Use?" is my favorite moment of this show.

MILLER: (Singing) Yeah, you can love it. You can leave it. They say you're nothing without it. Yeah. Don't let them keep you down.

CARTER: You know, they got upstairs immediately. And they stayed at the desk. You know, a lot of times, we bring artists, bring them through the green room, have them sit down, gather themselves quickly. But that was not the case with Mac and the band. They went straight to the desk, and they didn't leave until the show was over.

MILLER: (Rapping) 'Cause I'm so above and beyond. Take drugs to make it up way up where we on - space shuttle, Elon. Time - we don't waste much. [Expletive] when we wake up. Then I have her sing just like Celine Dion. Catch me if you can, but you'll never catch me.

CARTER: They jammed out. Even Mac at the - Mac hopped on the piano. You know, people may not know. He played multiple instruments. And he hopped on the piano, and they jammed out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARTER: when I think about the song "2009," which was the song that, above all, when we were going back and forth and talking about the show, once he - once they came back to me asking what I thought about the album and what I thought would work best with the album, I told them "2009" was a must. I get really, really emotional thinking about it, you know, when those strings sort of cut in.

MILLER: It's actually amazing that we get to have strings because I really wanted to have strings for this song because this one just means a lot to me off the album. And this is actually our first time. We just played it together for the first time like 20 minutes ago. So thank you, guys.

(APPLAUSE)

MILLER: It's a beautiful thing, man. Music is a beautiful thing. All right. Let's do it. (Rapping) I don't need to lie no more. Nowadays, all I do is shine. Take a breath and ease my mind. Yeah. She don't cry no more.

CARTER: It pulls so many emotions, even prior to when we lost him, but even more so once we lost him. You know, listening to him talk about how he's growing, how he knows what, you know, I know what's behind that door, this ain't 2009 no more.

MILLER: (Rapping) Stay inside the lines. It ain't 2009 no more. Yeah, I know what's behind that door. OK.

CARTER: You know what I mean? Just thinking about those words and those lyrics. He was really growing. You know, this album, "Swimming," was a step towards personal growth, towards musical growth.

MILLER: (Rapping) Take it nice and easy. Took a flight to see me. Send you back home with a light that's beaming. My whole team about to figure it out. We ice cold. That's what winter about. And sometimes, sometimes...

CARTER: The key ingredient for any successful and any special Tiny Desk is intimacy, right? And I think when you look across Mac's catalog and you listen to his albums, to me, "Swimming" is his most intimate album, and it just made sense for it to fit into the Tiny Desk space. It just fit perfectly.

MILLER: (Rapping) She don't cry no more. She tell me that I get her high because an angel's supposed to fly.

CARTER: Mac's career, his ups and downs were very well documented. And he was a very, very young man when he came in to do this. But this song, it really comes from a perspective of a man who has lived a couple lives and who has made it through a lot. You know, when I look back on this, I'm just so happy that he left us this gift because there was - if there was any doubt in anybody's mind at the time of Mac's impact in music and who he was as a musician, like, this Tiny Desk left no doubts.

PFEIFFER: That was NPR's Bobby Carter. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Carter is a leader on the Tiny Desk Concerts team for NPR Music. He's brought an ever growing roster of big names and emerging artists through NPR's HQ to squeeze behind the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen and record standout performances, including Usher, Mac Miller, Noname, Anderson.Paak and H.E.R.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Tinbete Ermyas
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