Alt-pop singer Amir Miles embraces and rejects the come up

By Josh Svetz

Uncensored version published on

Amir Miles believes he’s the next great pop star. This thought doesn’t come from a point of arrogance; he just knows that to survive in the ever-evolving music industry, you must believe you’re up next.

“In the local scene, I’m no Jimmy Wopo or Hardo, but I’m not a no-name,” Miles said. “I’m just confident in my abilities and my team.”

Miles, 22, is just one of many hopeful musicians trying to catch their big break in the business.

The Pittsburgh singer has already hit several milestones. In the past two years, the alternative-pop singer opened for GZA, Oddisee and Migos just to name a few. He also reached over 800,000 plays on Spotify for his song “Bad Habits.” And on June 6th, he’ll finally get to open for a singer that’s much closer to his music scene than a Migos when he warms up the crowd for Kali Uchis at Stage AE.

But to get to the come up, Miles had to make a lot of mistakes.

Born in Chicago and raised by a single mom, Miles moved to Virginia at age 11 where he began to take interest in music, forming a band with his friends in junior high school for simple reasons.

“We thought it’d be sick to play shows and get girls,” Miles said. “That’s what you expect to happen when you’re a kid.”

What came from that experience would act as the building block to his career in music. Miles played bass guitar and eventually transitioned into vocal work. The band itself disbanded after a year, but he continued to play bass and sing on his own. He started by playing covers of songs he knew, gravitating to rock and R&B music. But after not wanting to be a “copycat,” he started to play chords and make his own lyrics, changing his inflections and words depending on what the melody sounded like.

While the building block to his career laid in place, Miles didn’t believe he could make it as a musician. He originally attended Pittsburgh University to learn business and economics. He figured that getting into the world of music marketing or being the band manager would give him a good chance to get involved with the industry.

Fate had other plans.

His freshman year, he won a rap battle contest along with his resident assistant, Tory Hains, securing an opportunity to open for Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco. He then started to make songs like “On a Dime” and the musician bug bit him fully.

“People were just f****** with it,” Miles said. “And I enjoyed making it. I was set—I’m going to be a musician.”

As he continued to grow as an artist, his grades slipped. He felt misery every time he went to class. School just didn’t feel like the right path. So, he dropped out.

Returning home to Virginia, he struggled in the job market. After receiving two consecutive pink slips, Miles found a home at Zara, a retail company that he described as a European H&M. There, he met his current producer Nxfce (pronounced ‘no face’) and nothing would ever be the same.

Nxfce and Miles talked music regularly on the job, but Nxfce had reservations about working with Miles until he showed him his music. The first studio session, Miles said they didn’t get anywhere. The second studio session, they made “Bad Habits,” Miles’ most popular song to date and a turning point in his career.

Soon after, he returned to Pittsburgh because of the youthfulness of the city and already having a fan base intact.

Originally, he mirrored acts like the Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Miguel. Now, with Nxfce’s more dance-infused and rhythmic beats, he began to cultivate his own sound.

Trying to describe Miles’ sound would give even the greatest music critic problems.

At times, he brings an energy and vigor reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Not to say he matches the king of pop, but when listening to the opening of “Neon//Love,” it’s hard to not hear the inflection of late ‘80s MJ. On “Fade” he sounds like a more exuberant and upbeat Chet Faker. On “Bad Habits,” he inflects the soul of a Sampha, with the vivacious catchiness of “Can’t Feel My Face” Weeknd. No matter what track you play though, he keeps an atmospheric and sexy vibe intact, reminiscent of Ginuwine and Usher.

All these comparisons have one thing in common: it’s music that makes people move. It just so happens that Miles’ biggest concern when he makes music is if it makes people move or not. He used Drake as an example.

“People hear ‘God’s Plan’ and they’re willing to give themselves up (to the song),” Miles said. “They sing, dance, act a fool, because they know the song. They trust the song. They know where it’s going.”

While he may not be Drake, Miles’ recognizes that the buzz he’s obtained from projects like Faceless has made people more comfortable with his music. In turn, he’s starting to get the action he desires from the crowd — dancing.

“That’s what I get most excited about before I go on stage,” Miles said. “Watching people bop, jump, get rowdy. That’s what I love about making music.”

Of course, he’d be the first to tell you that there’s a love/hate relationship with the live show, especially as an opening act.

“Sometimes it sucks,” Miles said. “Yeah, you get to open for these great acts and be like, ‘Yo, I’m a part of the show, I’m a part of the experience.’ But, you’re usually performing for people that don’t know who you are, don’t know what you’re about, don’t care what you’re about and don’t want to learn what you’re about in 30 minutes. They just want to see the main act.”

Miles said he believes this mindset has spread due to the internet.

“I feel like in the ‘90s and ‘00s, people were more artistically curious at live shows because that’s how you found new music,” Miles said. “But now you find music on Spotify, so if you go to a show and haven’t heard the opener’s music on Spotify or SoundCloud, you’re less likely to care about their music.”

But Miles’ biggest concern comes from capitalizing during the come up. He knows he has buzz now and reflects on how people are watching him. Before the come up, he could do whatever the hell he wanted. Now, he has labels making decisions about distributing his music, concert venues considering if they should book him and most of all, people waiting for him to fail.

“It’s do or die,” Miles said. “The next singles have to hit, because if not, then there’s stagnation and that’s the kiss of death in the music industry.”

Again, Miles said the internet has changed the time window. The turnover rate due to social media has become so fast that you need to find a way to stay relevant. Otherwise, people forget you exist.

That’s just the double-edged sword of the modern music industry powered by what’s shareable and viral.

Miles obsesses over music. He soundtracks his life with Gus Dapperton and Rex Orange County. He sings when he gets ready to go out. Hell, even as he’s brushing his teeth, he’s working on his craft.

His conversation topics always include music. One minute he’ll talk about the intricacies of Migos, explaining what creates the draw to the triplet flow. Another he’ll dive into the mystery of Frank Ocean and why his aesthetic matches his art.

The unwind period for Miles comes from watching anime and being around people. He has a complex of wanting to be liked but doesn’t work hard to please. Genuinely, he just wants a good energy and for people to enjoy themselves.

In his dingy, lowly-lit apartment Miles plays Madden as he reflects on his career. He’s using the Seahawks, his favorite Madden team. In the time we’ve talked, he’s won one game but lost the other off a two-point conversion against the New England Patriots, of course.

Unlike the Seahawks though, he sees the end zone.

He’s planning to move out to Los Angeles next year to push his music more and work with other artists. He also plans to write for record labels. Going to LA may lead to one of his biggest fears: fame.

“I’m worried about turning into a commodity,” Miles said. “I don’t want to lose myself. I’ve seen enough people crack. One slip up and people pounce. They’re waiting for you to fail.”

He also worries about his relationships if he indeed becomes famous.

“They’re not going to be natural,” Miles said. “They’ll always be skewed, and people have agendas. Like, do they f*** with me for my music, for me? Do they want something? Do they truly just want to connect? That’s always going to be in the back of my mind now.”

Miles still has a way to go before reaching that point, but it still scares him. He’s not in the business for the money or the fame, or even the girls. He just wants the experience few will ever know.

“When I’m on my death bed and I think about where my life went, I’ll be able to say it went everywhere,” Miles said. ”I’m here for the adventure. I want my life to be a f****** movie.”

Check out Miles at Stage AE June 6th when he opens for Kali Uchis. Tickets are available here: 




Men’s basketball: Pittsburgh Preview

By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio and Jeff Fasoldt @Jeff_Fasoldt

Finals week might be over and done with at St. Bonaventure, but the 6-1 Bonnies still have one major test: a road matchup vs the 5-3 Pitt Panthers on Saturday at 2 at the Petersen Events Center.

This will be the toughest game of Bona’s young season by far. This Panthers team isn’t the dominant version we are used to, but as an ACC team playing in one of the toughest arenas in college basketball, they are nothing to take lightly. They also lead the series against SBU 5-2.

Will Pitt defend home court, or can the Bonnies steal a signature one on the road? Here’s the full breakdown:

The Coaches:

St. Bonaventure- Mark Schmidt. 113-110 as Bonnies coach.

Pittsburgh- Jamie Dixon 293-99 as Panthers coach.

Key players for Pitt:

Michael Young- 6-9 sophomore forward. The New Jersey product (St. Benedict’s) is Pitt’s leading scorer at 12.8 points per game, and is shooting 54 percent from the field. He’s also been rebounding well at 7.8 per game—leading the Panthers in that category as well. He’s a dominant threat inside, but hasn’t seen a true center that can patrol the paint and swat it like Youssou Ndoye so far this season. Look for the Panthers to get the ball to Young and for him to make some moves in the post, which in turn will open up the three-point line.

James Robinson- 6-3 junior guard. Robinson comes into the game averaging 12.6 points per game, 5.6 assists per game, and 3.9 rebounds per game. Pitt’s point guard is no joke and has intrigued a few NBA scouts so far this season with his play. His numbers may not jump out at you but the assist and point numbers tell you he’s capable of scoring on his own or dishing it out to his teammates. Considered to be the top-point guard in the nation of the 2012 recruiting class by some, Robinson has struggled from beyond the arc, but has multiple moves he uses combined with pure strength to slash and score or kick the ball out to an open teammate.

Key players for Bonaventure:

Jaylen Adams- 6-1 freshman guard. The back-to-back A-10 Rookie of the Week is quickly becoming a household name in Bona Country. After the Buffalo game, Adams was 10th in effective field goal percentage in the nation with season totals of 16-for-32 shooting from three-point range and seven-for-ten shooting from inside the arc. The efficient shooting of Adams was enough for him to be honored by the conference once again, and he will hope to continue that mark against the Panthers while holding onto the ball, an area he has definitely shown improvement in.

Marcus Posley- 6-1 junior guard. The other half of the Bonnies’ backcourt remains the team’s leading scorer at 15.7 points a game, and he had his third game with 20-plus points this season a week ago at Ohio. The quick trigger and lack of hesitation from three makes Posley the special go-to offensive player Bonaventure needs, and he has already shaken off a rough outing in the Niagara game by getting his shot back on track. All indications point to another solid game from number three.

Keys to victory for Pitt: Chris Jones, Josh Newkirk and Jamel Artis are all quietly shooting over 37 percent from beyond the arc for the Panthers and could cause the Bonnies, who have struggled defending outside shooting so far this year, some major problems. The students will be gone so the crowd may not give this team the energy it normally does. If they win, it will be because they hit more three’s and more free-throws than Bonaventure.

Keys to victory for Bonaventure: To pull off a signature win away from home you need to shoot well from the floor, and the Bona backcourt will be counted on to lead the way in that department. The Panthers have some good shooters, so the Bonnies have to match that production from the floor considering they are going to have the edge in the post. If the guards hit some big shots and play some strong defense, they can let Youssou Ndoye and Dion Wright take care of the rest and have a decent shot at victory.

The Predictions: 

Chuckie- I’m cautiously picking the Bonnies in this one on the strength of their frontcourt. Youssou Ndoye will be the difference, and I’m looking for him to come up big in this one as Adams and Posley hit some big shots and Schmidt’s team wakes up some of the people who are still sleeping on them in the A-10. 75-72 Bonnies.

Jeff- The Bonnies get to go on the road for a nationally televised game against Jamie Dixon and the Pittsburgh Panthers out of the ACC. While Bonaventure is no doubt a talented, deep team—they don’t have the recruits Pitt has and they can’t guard shooters well enough to stop what will be a barrage of three-point attempts tomorrow. Also, they are going into uncharted waters (Peterson Events Center) with young players that will be rattled by the environment. The Bonnies will be fine this year and could very well be the best college basketball team in New York right now, but Pennsylvania’s Pitt Panthers get the win tomorrow 68-55.