Mike Posner walked out of Duke University in May with a 3.59 GPA, a degree in sociology, a record deal and nearly 1 million singles sold of his song, "Cooler Than Me" — recorded, unceremoniously, in his dorm room. Honestly though, what else would you expect from a guy who was bold enough to send a beat CD with his college application to one of the best schools in the country?
After signing with J Records the summer after his junior year, Posner made the tough decision to come back to school because education meant so much to his family, but the music industry wasn't just going to wait for him.
That meant catching flights every weekend from Raleigh/Durham International Airport to wherever he was performing, rocking a show, flying back and being on campus in time for his classes on Monday. It was every moment in-between classes, in a room adorned with Kurt Cobain, Talib Kweli and Dilated Peoples posters and tons of studio equipment packed in, that Posner honed his craft.
Although he claims his GPA proves he was the dumbest person at Duke, he says his success was an afterthought considering the guy next door made a million dollars with an online company. Duke was competitive that way, but Duke also did its part to support its burgeoning star, releasing his mixtape on their iTunesU page.
Now that he's done pulling double-duty, he's ready to show how good he can be when music gets his undivided attention. It's not strange for recent college grads to backpack through the countryside the summer before they hit the "real world," but Posner was on tour.
Originally a rapper and producer, he's a long way from working out of his dorm room and making beats for rappers like his fellow Detroitian, Big Sean. Big Sean was his only industry connection for a long time, and he rolled with him as an entourage member for almost three years.
But the sound he'd cultivated on his mixtapes, A Matter of Time and One Foot Out The Door, with artists like Bun B, XV, Donnis and Freddie Gibbs, has taken a backseat to Posner becoming a full-blown pop star. Closer to Beiber than Black Milk, his hits are far from underground. The craziest part is that he's only been singing for two years and will admit he's 1,000 times better than he was when he started — and still working on it.
His current sound is a better representation of his upbringing than anything. Coming from the diverse Detroit suburb of Southfield, he took from the usual Detroit influences like Motown and Eminem, but he's now fusing together a sound that's all those things but commercially viable.
He explains the lack of guest appearances on his album to what Nas did on his famed debut, Illmatic. This was his opportunity to be him, not depend on the label cutting a check to a major artist who's spitting some generic verse to have his name on it.
Even with a few fans disappointed that the album isn't more hip-hop, all signs point to so far so good. Charts, club and radio have all co-signed his debut, 31 Minutes To Takeoff, which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Top 100.
Reviews and videos from his shows are almost unbelievable. Stage-diving, raucous affairs with ambulances on hand just in case a few can't take it — it's so unexpected for music that sounds chill as far as club bangers go.
Posner is excited to be performing back where he came into his own. Headlining his first nationwide tour with full band in tow, his show in Charlotte this month is bound to have familiar faces sprinkled in the audience, and the experience is sort of surreal as he reflects on some of his earlier shows in North Carolina.
It was at a show outside of Chapel Hill, where even with a sold-out show he expected to get booed by Tarheel fans, he realized music was the great unifier even for Duke and Carolina hate.
For now, he's focused on doing impactful shows and building his brand as an artist. For fans wanting him to be more hip-hop, he confidently urges their patience, and as far as his super-producer dreams? They're still there, one step at a time.
With Stephen Jerzak, 2AM Club, Far East Movement, Bad Rabbits, XV. $17.65-$33. 7 p.m. Sept. 28. The Fillmore Charlotte. www.livenation.com