Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images
Mac Miller's Victory Lap: Collaborators, Friends Remember 'Best Day Ever' 10 Years Later
No matter where life took Mac Miller, you could always find him with a smile on his face.
And in March of 2011, just seven months after the release of his breakthrough mixtape, K.I.D.S, life took Miller just about everywhere. The then 19-year-old Pittsburgh emcee was seeing success at a rapid pace. It was a year of non-stop touring and non-stop studio sessions in Chicago, North Carolina and at ID Labs studios in Pittsburgh, his home base. He found himself working alongside dream producers like seven-time GRAMMY nominee Just Blaze, and Khrysis, one of his personal favorites whose beats he spit freestyles over just a couple of years before gaining major attention. He also earned features from rappers he idolized like North Carolina legend Phonte and his musical big brother Wiz Khalifa. And, soon enough, he saw a co-sign from a future U.S. president, someone he would eventually publicly denounce: Donald Trump.
Still, there were a lot of expectations floating around in the seven months leading up to Miller's Best Day Ever and breakthrough single "Donald Trump," a braggadocio jam that paired Miller's free-spirited bars with buoyant production. But for the thousands whose lives he touched with BDE, just a few months before he hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with his debut album, Blue Slide Park, Miller wasn't just another dope rising emcee. He was the self-proclaimed "most dope" and he used his unmatched hip-hop IQ, which his collaborators still think was far beyond his years, to help a new generation of kids fall in love with the stuff that raised him.
While Malcolm McCormick tragically died in 2018, the decade anniversary of Best Day Ever— the 16-track mixtape that touched on his love for his mother, his excitement about where he was in life and, of course, how undeniably dope he was—is still a reason to celebrate for his collaborators. To many, it was Miller's victory lap; a follow-up to K.I.D.S that saw him spit over production from a stronger cast of collaborators. There were hints of where Miller would eventually venture off musically (groovier cuts off 2018’s Swimming or introspective tracks off the posthumous 2020 album Circles are some examples), but ultimately Best Day Ever will forever be known as the tape that kept a smile on Miller’s face throughout its production process.
In honor of the tape's 10th anniversary that happened on March 11, GRAMMY.com spoke with nine of the late rappers’ collaborators, friends and producers to reflect on the project, the "Donald Trump" saga, watching BDE help propel Miller into the mainstream and what it all still means to them and the city of Pittsburgh.
Those who worked on Best Day Ever all met Miller at different points in his career, from his early teenage years spitting in Pittsburgh with The Ill Spoken to after he finally found his footing with 2010’s K.I.D.S. Some barely met Miller at all, tossing select beats over virtually instead.
SAP (Producer, "Donald Trump," "Wake Up"): I had a friend of mine, Tommy, who had put me on to Mac. Wiz already had stuff going and Mac was starting to build. Mac had K.I.D.S. out. And my boy was like, "Yo, you should reach out to Mac and try to work." And then I checked him out. I was like, "Damn," so I reached out to him. And it was crazy because Mac had reached out to me, years before that. Myspace days, when I was working on some stuff with other artists in Philly. And I just took a ride in Pittsburgh on a train, like eight hours [from Delaware]. I left at noon and got there at 8 p.m. It was dope though because his boy Willy had picked me up. And when I got to the studio, there weren't many tracks left to do. They only needed a couple more. He was mostly done. And literally, the first night we met, we made "Donald Trump."
Mac Miller and SAP. Photo: Marc Levi
Eric "E" Dan of ID Labs (Producer, "Best Day Ever," "Oy Vey," "Wake Up," "Life Ain't Easy," "Snooze," "Keep Floatin," "BDE Bonus"): I met Malcolm when he was like 15 [years old], he started coming to the studio. I didn't initially do too much work with him. I was really heavily involved with Wiz Khalifa and the stuff that he and I were doing together. Mac was working with and doing sessions with Jeremy [Big Jerm of ID Labs] just sort of being a recording engineer, not necessarily a producer initially. At some point, the two of them started developing a bit of a relationship where Jeremy had made a couple of tracks for him. In particular, I remember they did a track together where Mac played some guitar and put some drums to it, they sort of co-produced it. And when I heard that, which I think was just a track that never even got released, it piqued my interest. That got me thinking that this kid might be onto something and was somebody that maybe I should be working with. So it sort of developed from there … The first thing that Malcolm and I did together was "Knock Knock" on K.I.D.S., which was something that we did in the studio completely from scratch.
Willy Whips (First manager of The Ill Spoken and Miller's former hip-hop duo, friend): I did all kinds of stuff with him. I drove on tour, I did merchandise. I definitely [discovered] a number of beats on K.I.D.S. A few beats on Best Day Ever. I was involved with stuff like that.
Wiz Khalifa (Rapper, "Keep Floatin"): I met Mac in his freshman year [of high school], and I was a senior. I didn't see him too much at school because I wasn’t attending that much school at the time. I was going to the studio and met Mac there, he started kicking it at ID Labs with his crew.
[Working together] was dope, especially coming up at that time. There wasn't that much light on Pittsburgh, so we were both really, really underground, but on the come-up at the same time in our own way. It was really cool to both be heavy-weight contenders but still local.
Khrysis (Producer, "She Said"): I met him at his show in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I'm from North Carolina. We got cool. He told me he used to freestyle to "Onion Head" [by Sean Price, Prod. Khrysis] when he was in high school, which is really dope. Later on, I found out he freestyled over the Masta Ace record I did called "The Grind." It was definitely like, "OK, this cat really did his homework." It just let me know how much he really was about the art. But we agreed to meet at the studio the next day and recorded ["She Said"] in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Just Blaze (Producer, "All Around The World"): A friend of mine, Alex, we called him The Bald God, was helping me find young talent to work with. Mac was on the list. Whenever he was in New York, he'd come to the studio, hang out and record. No real serious business arrangement. Let him rock and see what happens.
He understood, "This is the foundation that what I'm doing is built on." I think part of the reason why I have been able to be successful is because I understood that foundation. He reminded me of myself in that way. Some people are like, 'That was before, this is what we're doing now.' The fact that he was so knowledgeable about what came before him, I admired that and I respected that.
The Making, Success And Fued Of "Donald Trump"
Creating a viral hit often takes patience. For producer SAP, it took an eight-hour train ride to ID Labs where he and Miller recorded the breakthrough "Donald Trump" in one night. The single's video, released on March 4, 2011, has since earned over 190 million views on YouTube. It soon became Miller’s first Billboard Hot 100-charting hit, building up a new wave of fans. Of course, one fan in particular—then-totally-not-president Donald Trump—soon became something of a nemesis, leading to Miller retiring the track on tour, according to friends, and later publicly dunking on Trump after his 2012 presidential campaign and during his 2016 presidential campaign.
Willy Whips: SAP took that train in from Delaware and I picked him up at the train station in my '94 Volvo Station Wagon, which is the station wagon we toured in early on for K.I.D.S. and everything like that before we had the rental. So I picked him up. And I took him straight to ID Labs. And yeah, they literally recorded "Donald Trump" that night. And there was just a crazy feeling in the studio, you know, everyone kind of knew that that song was special. It was definitely a really good feeling that night. I don't know if we knew how big it was gonna be. But we definitely knew it was gonna be a single.
SAP: I already had the sample [for "Donald Trump"] chopped, the Sufjan Stevens sample. I was cooking up something and I had clicked on it and he was like, "Yo, what's that?" So I just started building a beat, doing what I do. Literally, as I'm making a beat, he was just writing to it. And then he just went right in there. Mac is just one of those people, he turns it on and it's a wrap. I don't think anybody knew what we really had. You know, it was just another day creating. And I do remember Mac saying that was a record for him. Like when I was there he was like, "This was like something that was missing from the project."
Quentin Chandler (Business partner, tour manager, friend): I was there for that. I just remember Mac naming it "Donald Trump" and asking us, "Should I call it 'Take Over The World?' Should I call it ‘Donald Trump?’ What should I call it?" At that time, I didn’t really know that Donald Trump wasn’t a good person. I was just thinking, "Yeah, ‘Donald Trump,’ that sounds good." And that record came together marvelously.
SAP: When we left the studio, we were in his Civic. The Honda Civic from his "Nikes On My Feet" video. He was driving and playing that thing back to back to back. I was like, "Yeah, this is the joint." I didn't know it would be what it was, but I knew it was something he was going to put out. And I remember him putting it out. It went crazy. The next day I woke up, it was stuck at like 300 views or something like that. When it finally caught up, it was like half a million in the first few days, it was insane.
Willy Whips: "Donald Trump" is the single that took things to the next level, unfortunately [laughs]. I'm looking at the plaque on the wall right now. I’m not gonna take it down. That’s gonna stay on my wall forever. I got a plaque and I think everyone involved at that time got a plaque. So I guess Donald Trump got the plaque that I did. Mac wasn’t the first person to reference Donald Trump. That was a pretty normal reference at that point. But things change.
Kornbread of Beanz N Kornbread (Producer, "I'll Be There"): The "Donald Trump" song was the biggest song out there and it's funny because he predicted it… That was his prediction song or whatever. He had on his fortune-teller hat.
SAP: This is a time where people were making a lot of name songs. "Tony Montana," all of that. It's the craziest shit ever. Like, you never think we're making a song about the future president. The last version we'd think would become the president. Just the context of how he's rapping about him, "Take over the world," and for Trump to become president, it's insane.
Willy Whips: We had a pretty good idea that he was gonna be closing the show with that every night. And he did for a long time. So that had a good run, for sure. And then I think he did eventually stop performing due to everything, even before Donald Trump became a politician, he did try to sue him.
SAP: I remember the first time [Trump] made a video about it. Someone was like, "Trump heard your song, yo." Then he made another video, it had hit 16 million views and he was keeping up with it. It was wild to me. He got a plaque.
Stuff happened when he announced he was running for president. Mac wasn't with that. That's when Trump was like, "Man, I should sue your ass for using my name on the song." I never thought it would lead to Mac beefing with Trump.
I'm pretty sure that's the only beat of mine Donald Trump has ever heard.
The Start Of The Best Day Ever
The tape's creation process took place before and during Miller’s 2011 Incredibly Dope Tour. Much of it was recorded at ID Labs in Pittsburgh. Selected tracks were recorded across the country at Just Blaze’s studio, 9th Wonder’s studio and beyond via the tape’s nine producers. Miller knew the concept and name of the tape going into it and his team was sure of "Best Day Ever" being the tape’s intro from the jump.
E. Dan: It was pretty seamless into finishing up K.I.D.S. and jumping into Best Day Ever in late 2010/early 2011. I think my biggest memory just musically of working on that was making the title track as an intro. And I was driving around, listening to it, and I remember just getting into the group M83 at the time. And I was listening to their album and listening to this. I heard this track on there and the sound was big and triumphant, like, "This would be a cool instrumental to open up the mixtape." I thought, what if we just tried to stick it under these vocals for "Best Day Ever" and see what happens. And it came together perfectly. I think he had that title in mind if I'm remembering correctly, most of the way through the process of working on it. He generally would approach projects like that, it would change sometimes, but a lot of times, he would already have the concept and the title of the project in mind and approach it that way.
Khrysis: He definitely came to work. He knew what kind of music he wanted to make. I think "She Said" was probably like the second or third beat I played that day.
Just Blaze: He used to just send me songs to get an opinion. With "All Around The World," he had already cut a demo. I was just finishing my new studio. That song contained a sample of “Heartbreaker” by MSTRKRFT. Jesse [Keeler] and Al-P of MSTRKRFT were old friends of mine. I was like, "I can get you the stems to this record and make it into something." They sent me files to the original version. We added the actual stems from the original sample and got it done. It wasn’t a big thing. To be honest, I had just finished my new mix room and I was trying to test out the room and figure out what we needed to fix or change. That record, and a few other records [at the time], I didn’t charge anything for. I was really just trying to test the room.
Willy Whips: One of the things that Mac fans hit me up about a lot is the "[Hold up yo.] Will, your mom's calling" lyric. It's from the beginning of "She Said," the Khrysis record. We were in North Carolina at 9th Wonder’s studio. We were on tour. Mac was writing to that beat and his phone died and he didn't have his charger. He sent the lyrics to my phone. And then he was using my phone in the booth to read his lyrics to record. As he stepped into the booth to record, my mom started to call. And so he was already—the track was already going. So he decided to keep that as the intro because he killed that song in one take. That [was] one of the harder songs on the project—I love that song.
E. Dan: Malcolm never really left the studio. We were always working on something. So it was never like, "OK, we're working on this project now." We just enjoyed making music and we just would go from song to song. We always wanted to see how we could push a boundary or do something weird or different, or fun. And it's never like, we never thought about if people might like it, or whatever. It was just a very fun, creative, exciting adventure in the studio with him. And I've been in the studio with a lot of people. He's probably the person I've had the most fun, creative time with, just because of his willingness to go in any direction at any time.
Khalifa: [The tape] was all Mac's vision. We would always be in different rooms at the studio, hearing each other's music, and one day he just came up to me and said, "Yo I need you on this track before I finish my project," and I had to deliver. Mac and his crew were the younger homies, so I was just making sure they had the right guidance and an example of what an artist coming out of Pittsburgh should represent. We were friends, but I was also a mentor and his big homie.
We definitely linked in the studio. At that time, we didn't send verses; Everything was done in person. I had been traveling a lot and had just returned home to Pittsburgh. That was the sound I was working on at the time, and he found something within that pocket [with "Keep Floatin"]. It was perfect for me. I just came in and did my thing.
Kornbread: The song that we did, "I'll Be There," that was already done. Me and Beanz already did the hook and had the beat maybe a full six months before we sent it to him. We sent eight or nine beats. And of all the tracks we sent, that was the one he picked out. Mac loved it. Then he got Phonte to re-sing the hook from the demo we had.
Phonte (Vocalist, "I'll Be There"): He was working closely with 9th and his crew. And so around that time, we started working back together again. And so Mac asked nicely, "Yo, I want to get Phonte on some joints," whatever. And so 9th hooked us up. And Mac sent me the joint he wanted, he said, "Yo, I got a demo. Vocals in it already. I just want you to sing it over, build it up a little more." I was like, "Alright, cool." And so he sent it to me and I just did it. Vocal, harmonies and everything and sent it back. I remember he was like, "Man, y'all don’t f**k around."
E. Dan: When we worked on things, we always wanted them to be something that we thought people would enjoy. But you know, we never really approached any particular song with the idea that "this is the one." We felt like every song was the one when we worked on it.
Khalifa: I could see Mac and his team working really hard. They were working hard to pave the way for someone as talented and as knowledgeable about music as Mac was, [so he] would get the type of look that he needed. When he was coming up and working on his music, he was more or less groomed to be as successful as he was.
Kornbread: I love what they did with it. I love what Mac did because when I wrote the hook, I didn't really envision him taking the mom route. That was cool. You know, that's always a cool thing. To see what route they take when they fill in the blanks with whatever.
Willy Whips: I remember going to Just Blaze's studio for the first time. I think we went there a couple of times. Our first trip there [is] when he did the record. He was still building that studio and he was even fine-tuning the sound in the room. I was out there and everything was pretty crazy.
Chandler: [For] another record, I flew to Chicago with Mac to work with Chuck English. That's when they made "Wear My Hat." That was a great time. Chuck and Mac had crazy chemistry, where it was just cool for us to be able to finally link up with these producers that Mac had been wanting to work with for so long.
Phonte: We ended up doing another song that never came out. I did a verse for him or something. I ended up using the verse for something else. Shortly after, I started working on my first solo album. Fast forward a couple of months, he's doing a show at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, North Carolina. My homie DJ Forge was there and hits me and he’s like, "Bro, there’s a room full of 16-year-olds singing your chorus, this shit’s crazy. Dawg, there is a room full of kids singing along with you." It was just a testament to who he was as an artist. There was something in him, an innocence I guess, in some ways, that spoke to a lot of kids in that generation. I was just thankful to be a part of that small moment in history.
Just Blaze: I was able to help a few artists with their careers or help them get their start. I was happy to be a part of that with him. Again, we never had a formal business arrangement. Sometimes it's just an artist you believe in and you try to support them however you can.
Collaborators say Best Day Ever was the bridge between K.I.D.S. and Miller's debut album, Blue Slide Park, which hit shelves just eight months later in November. While the mixtape itself didn’t chart on the Billboard 200 until after Miller’s death in 2018, it still spawned successful singles and album cuts outside of "Donald Trump" in "Best Day Ever" and "I'll Be There." "Best Day Ever" and its music video have since accumulated 126 million views on YouTube.
Willy Whips: I just remember we were in Baltimore. He was having some technical issues with the link dropping a mixtape and I think the internet at the venue wasn't that great. And Mac was trying to tweet the link out and the link was messed up. There was a little bit of a fiasco with that and then it all got set, like, shortly after that. But I do remember dropping the tape in the greenroom and celebrating in the green room after a drop but like I said, we were just grinding and working super hard. And so we celebrated but it was a little bit different just because we were on tour.
Khalifa: That was more of a big moment for Mac. I was really busy at the time, but I know for Mac it was crazy because he had the show at Highline Ballroom. It's cool to see artists work hard and then reach that point where their vision comes to life.
SAP: They put it out on DatPiff. He already had a few songs out. At this point, Best Day Ever was already anticipated because he was so big from K.I.D.S. He had so much hype but Best Day Ever was inevitable. We knew Mac was ready to snap. When it came out, I was like, "Mac really got this shit rocking for real." It was a mainstream type of success. I saw people take notice and Mac really getting that type of success.
Mac Miller and SAP. Photo: Marc Levi
Chandler: He followed K.I.D.S. up within like, seven months. Looking at it from that perspective, I can't even believe that he accomplished that. I never sat back and really thought about the fact that he turned around another whole album/mixtape within six months. And that's why I feel like it was just a triumph because he had so much momentum from K.I.D.S. That kind of just felt like a victory lap.
Khrysis: It [was] definitely a milestone for him. Going from one season to the next. It did seem like Best Day Ever was his true arrival.
E. Dan: It's all like a blur because it's like, probably by the time that dropped, we were into doing different things already. I just don't have a solid memory of that day in particular. I remember just being excited like, you know, to put albums out and to see people respond the way that they did, especially with those early ones. It was just so much fun to watch the fans grow, you know, right in front of him. It was before he hit his real stride musically and everything.
You could put those early projects out and you would just watch his followers jump up or you’d see people start calling him. I remember it might have been a little bit after Best Day Ever came out. But I remember Missy Elliott calling on the studio and listening to that conversation, people really connected with this kid.
Chandler: With the title track, Best Day Ever to everything else, you know, the thumbs up aesthetic that he had built. That was just a moment where I realized that Mac had this positive impact on the world. And that no matter if he was critically acclaimed or not at the time, he had this core fan base that he was changing their lives for the better.
Willy Whips: Before it even came out, he was pretty much on to the next project. He already had ideas for like four more projects before he finished the one he was working on… He was definitely on a positive kick at that time. And it's, you know, it's fun music. I think that's always what he brought to the table.
Kornbread: I remember going to one of his concerts. And like I said, we've had songs on the radio here in Houston, the major station nights and none of us like that. We've had, you know, local hits, so to speak. And now we've had regional hits. That was the first time where somebody outside the state, we'd seen him perform our song. The fan base was teenagers up to like, maybe 30. I think we were probably in our late 20s at the time. So it was cool to see a bunch of kids sing our song word for word.
Phonte: My album came out later on. And he texted me lines from the album. And he hit me with, you know, his favorite line was from a song called "Everything's Falling Down," "Why rage against the machine when you can just unplug it." I was like, "Wow, I appreciate that man." I thought about that shortly after he died, considering the way he died, the fact that it may have resonated with him, it took on a different meaning.
The Best Day Ever 10 Years Later:
Miller's 2011 album still leaves his collaborators in awe. But a decade after he took over the world with "Donald Trump" and just over two years after his untimely passing, his friends remember the body of work as it should be remembered: Mac Miller's victory lap.
E. Dan: It's just sort of a mixture of amazement—what Malcolm accomplished and what we collectively accomplished. And then just the sense of him not being here anymore. But that was a really exciting time for everybody because it was at the very beginning of things taking off for him, enough to where we saw where things were going. But it was still those really early stages where everything was new and fun, exciting.
Khalifa: As a whole, it's a classic. It brought a lot of attention to Mac's own style of music and served as his way of making his imprint on the game. The tape really gave people a look into what to expect from him in the future and was an essential building block to his career. It’s definitely the battery that started it all for him.
SAP: I knew he would do his thing, and he did, but man he broke a lot of records. It was dope to be a part of it and see how things worked, especially with that being the future. The way Mac did things, he was ahead of his time.
Phonte: By looking back now, 20/20 hindsight, we can say, "OK, I see how he went from Best Day Ever to Swimming. Now I get it." But at the time of me doing that feature, I didn't think the kid would one day be making some ballroom shit with Anderson .Paak.
SAP: That was his true graduation in becoming a man, in my opinion. Best Day Ever is like, I think he figured a bunch of things out. Not only in business but as a person. He helped a lot of people find their way. A lot of people have told me that K.I.D.S and Best Day Ever raised them. It’s insane. He defined a whole era for a bunch of kids. The things he talked about, he started getting more deep on the records.
Phonte: It’s something that definitely made me think. With the people I collaborate with, I had to reframe it in the sense that this is not just necessarily another day in the office, this is history. And it can be good history could be bad history. You always think that the songs that you're doing with someone, whether they small, big, whatever, ultimately become a part of your legacy. And you become part of that person's legacy. It definitely made me think more about being more selective.
E. Dan: It’s just interesting to hear how he grew into adulthood through his music. How he lost a little bit of the sort of child-like innocence. But he also gained some wisdom about the world. Just like the way he was able to articulate where he was coming from in later years. Especially when you listen to like those early projects, and you realize these were just fun, you know, they weren't heavy. They weren't. But they were fun. And the deepness and the heaviness came later, and it was beautiful, too, but you know, those early projects and Best Day Ever really stand out as this time in his life where he was just having a blast.
SAP: He was a guy who believed that you could get so much out of a day. You can't just let things ruin it, because one day can be amazing. I learned that from him instead of overthinking, or just tripping on little sh**.
E. Dan: It just points to a more sort of innocent part of his life, musically, before, things had really blown up for him. It was all just like, fresh and new. That's reflected in obviously the title, you know, some of the songs. He obviously went in like crazy musical directions that were just so far beyond what we expected back then. But there's something to the innocence, you know, and the joy of those early projects.
Just Blaze: Time flies. When I thought about it, I was like, "Damn." It's hard to believe it’s been 10 years. And it’s harder to believe it’s been as many years as it has been since he’s been gone... To be honest, a lot of times when you’re making history, you’re not thinking about the fact that you’re making history when you’re doing it. You’re too busy being in the middle of it.
Khalifa: Mac is a legend. To me, he is my friend and my young homie. I wish he was still here.