2012's inaugural week of the Popdust Pop-Off brought decisive victory to up-and-coming California rapper and earring/tattoo enthusiast T. Mills, 22, who started out making beats at home, putting out free CDs and working the Internet, which eventually got him a semi-official spot on the 2009 Warped Tour, a deal with Columbia Records and, to say the least, lots of fans. Over at Popdust, the "Vans On" artist beat the one-time-only power trio of T-Pain, Wiz Khalifa and Lily Allen, whose single "5 O'Clock" might have struck the Billboard Hot 100 but was no match for the counter-strike of Mills' fans, the Young Favorites.
This week, T. Mills is up against another pair of long-established artists--Robin Thicke and Lil Wayne and their slow jam "Pretty Lil Heart," but things are looking pretty good for him so far. We caught up with the rapper to congratulate him and ask a few only-slightly-embarrassing questions. Read on!
Congratulations on such a strong showing in last week's Pop-Off competition.
Thank you so much. All the fans are crazy. I love them, man.
That's been a huge part of your success, hasn't it?
Definitely. When I started my project, that was all I really had. I'd sit online for eight or nine hours a day, and I'd get to know these people around the world that supported me. I never really had anything like that before.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever heard from one of your fans?
Oh, man. I've heard some weird ones. Some girl wrote me this note and was totally saying things a girl should not say. She was talking like a guy to another guy. I don't really want to repeat it.
Could you give us an idea? You don't have to be super-super-detailed
You know, "you make me so nervous that I want to shit my pants." And it was a nice letter with, like. hearts on it.
I'm sure that's out of the ordinary, though.
Yeah. I got an email from a girl, and she told me about the last three years of her life. One of her best friends committed suicide, and she was really depressed. She said I saved her life. That shit was hella moving. I had a friend commit suicide when I was 13, and the fact that I can console somebody, just off my music, is number one for me. I can affect someone emotionally without having ever met them, just off my work. That was crazy to me.
Let's talk about your music. What was the inspiration behind "Vans On?"
A bunch of us were just sitting in the studio, and someone played this beat, and it was just "I fuck 'em with my Vans on." And we just started laughing. It's light-hearted, free. It's a song for the youth, like a middle finger. I was just fucking around when I made it, and I feel like sometimes that's when you create your best work, when you have no real worries or limit
And so it's obviously OK to "entertain" ladies with Vans on. What would be off limits?
Like, what shouldn't you wear?
Yeah. What shouldn't you wear?
Socks. Any reason why?
With Vans, you've gotta go bare. Girls should never be completely naked but have socks on. That's -- sorry.
...Good to know. You're from Riverside, CA. Let's suppose that I was visiting Riverside for 24 hours or so. Where should I go, what should I do?
Well, I'm actually headed to Riverside right now. Do you want to know about my day that I'm going to spend?
Cool. This is my journey from L.A. to Riverside. I'm going to stop by the LRG Warehouse in Irvine, and I'm going to get some clothes. Then I'm going to my friend Andrew to get my hair cut.
Anything special? Same?
No -- he's done my hair for four or five years, so any time I'm up there I try to get a haircut. Then I'm gonna stop by my parents' house, and they'll probably cook some amazing dinner, then I'm going to do a radio interview at 991 KGGI, which is the radio station that I grew up listening to, which is pretty crazy. Then I'm going to make my trek back to L.A. On the drive, I always stop at a Chick-Fil-A off the '71 Freeway. I try to eat Chick-Fil-A at least once a day. Sunday's when I always crave it, too, because they're closed. [Ed. note: It's in California?!]
What traits do you take from your mom, and what traits do you take from your dad?
My dad gives me my business sense. He didn't go to college -- he's a self-made entrepreneur, and I just watched him grind my whole life. So I feel like in responsibility, I really embody my dad. My mom taught me to be open-minded and grateful. She's a very warm lady, just super-cool. My mom's my best friend. I mean, I don't want to say "oh, we're best friends," but me and my mom are extremely close. Even when I was a teenager. You know how people really get into it with their parents when they're growing up? I never told my mom I hated her or anything like that. She's always listened and been there. She rides for me.
Have they been supportive of your music career?
Yeah. My parents have always been supportive -- I've had bands and stuff, and I'd practice in my garage, and my house would be the hangout spot. As I got older, I was like, "You know, I'm really trying to do this music thing." They wanted me to go to work. And they were like, "All right, I'll give you a year to do this." Then they started coming to the shows, and they started seeing the response online. When I got my record deal, they were stoked.
Who did you really like when you were 13?
Blink-182 was my life.
Let's talk about your tattoos. How many do you have?
I have no idea.
See, I never know -- my whole left arm, does that count as one? You know what I mean? I have them from my shoulder down to my little baby knuckle. Probably 100. I don't know. I have little pieces.
My whole left arm, both my palms, my knuckles, the tops of my knuckles. I have my thumbs, the sides of my hands, my whole right thumb, my whole chest, my stomach, below my belly button. I have my thighs tattooed, my right foot, my ankles, my whole right leg. My neck, my lip--twice--behind my ear, my forehead. See, I don't know.
Any in particular that stand out for you?
Yeah, I have "gnarly" right underneath my belly button.
What's the story behind that?
I don't know. I thought it would be funny, so I got "gnarly" really big. And then I thought it would be funny if I had "gnarly" tattooed on me twice, so I tattooed it on myself above my knee as well. I was probably, like, 19.
And which one hurt the most?
My palms. The insides of my palms, definitely.
Oh, dear. What's on your palms?
I have a Macintosh apple on my right, then I have a cross on my left palm. I got them tattooed the same day, and I couldn't drive for a week. Your hands scab up. Shit sucks.
What was the first rhyme that you ever wrote?
I wrote a song when I was 5 years old called "California Dreaming," and I played it at my grandma's wedding.
Like the Mamas & Papas song?
It was actually this TV show that I used to be on. It used to be on Saturday mornings when I was a little kid, and it was about a basketball team. It was one of those "Saved by the Bell" shows, but I think it was called "California Dreaming." or something.
And you were on the show?
Yeah. I remember it from when I was a little kid. But my grandpa gave me this guitar, and I wrote this song.
Can you sing it for us?
I don't remember how it went. I have it on video, though! I can maybe dig it up--one day. All I remember was that's what it was called, and I played it at my grandmother's wedding, and it was probably horrible.
I'm sure the guests liked it, though.
[laughs] Oh, man.
Next question. Who's the hottest chick in the game right now? You have to only choose one.
[long pause] Oh, man. Just one?
Just one. Tough question, I know.
That's a good choice!
She's like Office hot. I love her.
If we drug tested you right now, what would we find?
A lot of Vitamin C, because I was been popping those every four hours.
[laughs] You'd probably just find a lot of weed. A lot of THC.
Last thing. Could you freestyle us something about your earrings?
I don't know. I've had them for so long.
I know, right? "They say I'm too bold / but now I've got plugs, 24-carat gold!" And I really do. I have 24-carat plugs now that I'm going to start wearing my ear. They're about to be even more obnoxious.