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Monday, August 15, 2022

YouTube Comedian Talks Pivoting to Rap – Billboard

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Noel Miller is a comedian at heart. So much so that when he recalls one of his earliest childhood memories over Zoom – the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, which forced his family to move back to his hometown of Toronto when he was just four – Miller can’t help but close it with a punchline of sorts. 

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“My parents thought I was dead. They were calling out to me and I wasn’t responding. Everything that was in a cabinet or a shelf had fallen over. They couldn’t get to my room right away. So as they were calling out to me, eventually I woke up and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ I had no clue what was going on,” he says with a smirk. “I slept through the whole thing.”

Finding humor in even the most unfortunate life experiences is what Miller’s known for. From reading off-base fan DMs to reacting to out-of-pocket TikToks to questioning the bullying tactics of Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath with his Tiny Meat Gang co-host and collaborator Cody Ko, Miller is swift when it comes to his comedic timing. He’s such a natural, it’s hard to imagine that he’s ever considered another career path. 

And yet, Noel Miller is rapping. Seriously rapping. 

Since March, Miller has uploaded two music videos to his YouTube channel – which is usually composed of reaction videos and other hijinks – under the moniker NOEL. His following of 2.6 million subscribers are now also subscribing to the maker of “Rat Race” and “Pacemaker,” tracks where he spits over gritty production, detailing his approach to fame and other career moves with a straight face. 

As Miller explains, many of his creative ideas are in “stark contrast” to the comedy he’s best known for. On “Rat Race,” Miller flexes his business-savvy nature, tossing in some clever bars (“Treat this rap s–t like twins/ What I mean by that is I just had to”). And on “Pacemaker,” he runs through the sacrifices he had to make to get there, like sleeping on floors in 2010, and the responsibilities that come with financial comfort. 

While Miller still sprinkles punchlines throughout his work, rapping in a non-satirical sense is a concept that fans of the funnyman are still wrapping their heads around But this isn’t a career pivot: Miller has been a rapper, far before his stand-up career beginnings or his first Vine account took off years before. 

Miller found meaning in hip-hop when he found meaning in comedy, he explains. With his father being a classically trained musician skilled at piano and violin, Miller was encouraged at a young age to try out some instruments of his own – none of which stuck with him. What did stick with him in his adolescence was music discovery on Napster and the call-and-request music video channel The Box, where he was first introduced to the lore of Cash Money Records–the New Orleans Universal imprint, home to game-changing rappers Lil Wayne and Juvenile. 

“I can’t remember how young I was, but I remember when I realized that Juvenile had gone to jail,” Miller reflects to Billboard from his Los Angeles home. “And I was sad. I remember watching his first big single back, they shot a music video for it. And I remember being genuinely happy, like, ‘Juvenile is out of jail!’”

Around that same time, the Toronto-born, L.A.-bred Miller stumbled on BET and Comedy Central, as he became familiar with stand-up comedy through the specials he watched on television. Before he even considered chasing influencer status, he spent nights trying to influence his friends that he was a worthy keystyling opponent – essentially battle-rapping them over instant messenger – and practicing rhymes over pre-made beats from his middle school peers. 

Miller says he only got serious about his education – which didn’t necessarily include asking his friends to send over beats – later in high school, and that he eventually attended the “only college that would have taken me” to study business. On the side, he interned at a music studio, worked for an artist management company, and was employed at Best Buy to make ends meet, his work schedule leading to many sleepless nights. Miller says that it all took place at a time when the internet didn’t offer much guidance to young creatives like him. 

“I ended up dropping out in my second-to-last semester. And I dropped out for a while,” Miller explains. “And at that time, I went pretty hard with trying to be creative again. But in that process, I went very broke. And I went into a lot of debt and I needed money and I needed a lot of it fast.”

With his first big pivot, Miller turned to web development and engineering. While prioritizing making a site for him and his friends’ production crew, he found jobs to get by with his self-taught skills. “Engineering teaches us sort of functional ways to work, like how to isolate certain aspects of a project and then to bring it into a full vision,” he says. “I think all that stuff helps with the peripherals to music, as far as executing it…  But you got to be right with yourself to make music before we get to any of that.”

Noel Miller

Noel Miller

Cassius Petit

In 2014 and 2015, Miller began to put together the pieces for what would eventually become a following of millions after everything else took a backseat with the death of a close friend. “I don’t want to name drop, but he just came from a very talented family. He passed and then I think weirdly, that put me off from making music,” Miller says. “I took a step back from being creative [for a while]. [But with] all these bulls–t jobs I was working, I wanted to be doing creative stuff.”

That’s when Miller says he decided to pivot to comedy. “I would try to shoot a lot of sketches with my friends and try to get something going there,” he says. “And then I naturally landed on stand up.”

Miller saw his star grow through Vine, where he eventually perfected the art of making 6-second videos, thanks to his breakout “skinny penis” clip. He found a formula on the social media app, and stand-up shows then became more of a possibility, with promoters flaunting his growing following of thousands.

“I realized that people on Vine were getting a lot of success just from getting eyeballs on them,” he says. “So eight years ago, I had it in my head, like, ‘Oh, if I create entertainment online, then that would enable me to sell tickets.’ That was an idea that was sort of laughed at back then.”

Thanks to Vine, Miller ended up being the one laughing – and he, along with his comedy ride-or-die Cody Ko, have millions laughing with them. As the two transitioned from short clips to tackling the YouTube reaction format with ease, they launched their fan-loved podcast Tiny Meat Gang in 2017, along with a satirical musical duo of the same name, which signed to Arista Records in October of 2019. 

It’s likely you’ve seen some of their biggest YouTube videos too, like the “That’s Cringe” series or their deep dive into the “Kombucha King,” some of which have earned over 30 million views. And you may have heard their music, which still earns them an impressive million monthly Spotify listeners, despite them having not released new material in over a year. “Broke Bitch” and “short kings anthem” clearly have some lasting power, with 47 and 60 million streams on Spotify respectively. But for Miller, while TMG is a fun detour, making comedy-tinted music was a lot more difficult than rapping with honesty and intention. 

“It’s always, in my opinion, a little bit low-risk. With comedy, it’s easy to sort of self-deprecate, or kind of cop out and say, if the jokes are bad, ‘I’m an idiot.’ It doesn’t scare me or make me nervous, per se,” Miller shares candidly. “But music – I think music, I definitely get a lot more in my head, because I’m still at a point where I’m still learning how to open up and be direct.”

That mentality helped Miller to come into his own as NOEL in 2020. Dropping his last name and independently releasing his first single “Motor Yola” and his EP Push later in the year, NOEL put the funny business aside momentarily and entered the world of hip-hop for real this time. He looks back at his earlier efforts as a bit less confident than how he sounds today in “Rat Race” and “Pacemaker” – both of which are produced by friends AMON and Spock, who he met online in 2017 and built a creative relationship off the bat with. 

“Noel is someone who always puts his best foot forward and goes over the top to push the envelope,” Spock explains. “Whether or not you enjoy the music, I believe you have to respect the boldness of the vision and direction… It used to feel like we were forcing anything out just to get something done, but now I think he’s let go of some inhibitions and is finally confident saying what he wants.”

Now with a small team of agents at UTA and an attorney backing him, NOEL’s solo footprint is only growing. Top comments on NOEL’s videos make it clear what his fans think of his latest offerings: He’s been called a “jack of all trades,” and the “whole package” for being able to balance as many artforms as he does, as some even plead for more frequent solo music videos from the comedian, who is sitting around 100,000 monthly Spotify listeners. 

While passionate about his comedic work, Miller had oftentimes shied away from allowing his vision for music to materialize, not knowing how his fans would feel about his detour into hip-hop. 

“For so long, I’ve made a lot of content that is just content. It’s things that service a here-and-now,” he explains. “But I think I’m at a point where sitting on [music I want people to hear], it’s not worth it to me anymore. People can engage these ideas the same way I do… I want it to be entertaining, but I also want it to be meaningful.”

Miller now admits there were nerves involved in sharing his two most recent singles as visuals, and certainly some with the other material he’s been holding back, but introducing his talents to new audiences, and his own audience, make it worth it. Even if the critiques can be loud. 

“People sort of interpreted it as, ‘Oh, why is he trying to compensate because he did comedy music before? And now he’s trying to go extra tough with this,’” NOEL says of some of the pushback he’s dealt with. “It really doesn’t f–king matter. With the way art and media are in general, you can do a lot of things. And you’ll probably find an audience within each category. And sometimes you’ll find you’ll find people that don’t even care about the other stuff that you do.”

NOEL is grateful that he could very well be introducing fans of his humor to some of the sounds he grew up on. But he still comes off bashful and admits he doesn’t think he’s at the point where he should be anyone’s introduction to rap, since he’s still relatively new to self-releasing music. 

While he lists out some of his own favorite rappers in underground heroes Conway the Machine, Boldy James, and Tony Shhnow, he’s unsure if he and those within his personal rotation will ever collaborate – although he does bring up the fact that Conway’s Griselda Records co-star Benny the Butcher has collaborated with Barstool, as a joke – but he’s willing to prove himself to find out. 

“Where do I land on the spectrum?” NOEL asks rhetorically of where he, as a YouTuber, would blend into the rap world. “Because I don’t know. I think the onus is on me to just show that I’m serious about it and put out some material that makes people feel like, ‘This guy can make music.’ That’s what I have to deliver on.”

Those in Miller’s circle, like producer AMON, know Miller is a hip-hop head at heart, with enough “extremely specific” knowledge to do the dance himself. On a track like “Pacemaker,” he plays that up by opting for some boastful bars about making money and his hefty work schedule, while throwing some religious metaphors in there to show how serious he is about proving his skillset. “I’d say most of all he is very self-aware and self-critical,” Amon says. “He has a very interesting story to tell, and it’s about time he tells it.”

And NOEL’s timing couldn’t have been better, since one of the biggest breakout stars this summer has been another creator-turned-musician in alt-R&B star Joji — who got his start as George Miller, the YouTube mastermind behind the vulgar character Filthy Frank and is just celebrating his first top 10 hit on the Hot 100 in “Glimpse Of Us.” So who’s to say Miller isn’t capable of being taken seriously now as well? 

“I admire him, because I think I’ve always approached things, especially with comedy, very literally – it’s very who you are, and experiences you’ve been through. It’s not behind a character,” NOEL says of his YouTuber-turned-hitmaker predecessor. “But I think it’s cool that George has been able to be Filthy Frank and create lore around these things, and then eventually transition into what is actually a very honest and probably true version of himself.”

NOEL hopes to be among that class of content creators who can make a transition into music – but with fans running up his views to about 400,000 on each of his recent music videos, which is standard for some of his comedy videos, his most meaningful art is seeing love. And he plans to keep it up, while still prioritizing his punchlines. 

“I’ve really honed in on who I am as an actual person,” he says. “And I don’t always think that’s even relevant to listeners – to be honest, I don’t think most listeners give a f–k. But I think it’s how I can make music for a long time, because I feel like I’m being true to myself.”



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Reference from www.billboard.com

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