If you haven’t yet heard Mac Miller, the 21-year-old rapper who headlined the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, don’t feel bad. Miller appeals mostly to teens and college students, and his reputation thus far has been built on two genres — the mixtape and the YouTube video. As a young white emcee coming up, Miller was fortunate to get the attention of fellow Pittsburgh phenomenon Wiz Khalifa, and the resulting hype has landed him in the enviable position of having his first official release, Blue Slide Park, debut on top of the Billboard 200. His show on Saturday, which also featured openers YG and Travis Porter, relied heavily on the “put your hands in the air,” “make some noise” f-bombing that has become the international language of young rappers. And while Miller raps well, he’s not yet entirely comfortable with the hard-partying persona he has created, and through the gaps in his self-presentation, it’s easy to see the eager-to-please boy he so recently left behind.
The crowd-pleasers included “Donald Trump,” the song that quickly earned Miller more than 50 million YouTube hits. It still sounds great, but lyrically, its relevance is receding as quickly as that of its subject. Clad in a plaid shirt, ball cap, and baggy jeans, Miller was at his best on numbers like “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza” and “Loud” that emphasized the accelerating bounce of his lyrical attacks. He introduced a new song that he’s been working on with producer Diplo, but the point of the night was to give kids what they came for, which in Miller’s case means old-school beats paired with contemporary references and boundless energy. If at times his remarks seemed out of place, as when he singled out a young woman at the front of the pit because she “looked sad,” it’s to be expected. It’s not easy growing up in public, especially for a pop star.