The Bug was cheap and covered in primer. It was about his age, maybe a little younger.
Adrian Miller didn’t care.
He just needed some wheels.
Story: David Kvidahl
Photo: Phillip Hamer
A student at the University of Tulsa at the time, Miller’s uncle, Ken, took him to the used car lot where they stumbled upon this perfectly imperfect gem.
"I paid $600 for the Volkswagen Beatle so I could pick up the girl who said ‘If you pick me up we can go on a date, I guess,’” Miller said. “We dated for two years before I moved to L.A. When I got to L.A. I drove the bug for about a year.”
Miller had a friend upgrade the Bug with a Bowman sound system, tape deck and amplifier. As he rolled around Tulsa and eventually Los Angeles, music was ever-present and often played at speaker-cracking volumes.
It was in the Bug that Miller began his ascent into the music business where he would become one of the biggest movers and shakers in the industry. Miller’s resume is simply astonishing as he’s been in, around and part of some of the most influential groups, labels and personalities that have defined American popular music the last three decades.
He’s worked with and been mentored by the likes of music executives Paul Stewart (PMP), Steve Rifkind (Loud Records) and Benny Medina (Warner Brothers). He was briefly signed to Rick Rubin’s sublabel, Ill American Records, where he and a friend wrote the song “Ours,” which Sugar Ray bought and used on their self-titled fourth album that was certified gold.
“It had sounds in it because I was the king of have to have my sound system,” Miller said. “I was always bumping some pro-Black medium of exchange. De La Soul, Brand Nubian, KRS-One, you name it. Public Enemy for sure.”
“I went on to write other records with other artists but my passion is not necessarily to be creative,” said Miller, 53. “It’s really being a voice for creatives.”
He was there when Wu-Tang Clan inked its first deal with Loud Records in 1992. It’s a historical oddity that one of the East Coast’s defining rap groups was signed by a record label based on the West Coast.
“I was one of the first hirees at Loud Records and definitely part of the team that heard the first demo from Wu-Tang,” Miller said. “Loud Records was based in L.A., it started in Los Angeles. Wu-Tang couldn’t get fired in New York City at that time.”
Anderson.Paak with Dr. Adrian L. Miller.
“I’m 11 and I was very rowdy and I wasn’t listening,” Miller said. “She sent me back to St. Louis for a summer vacation and told my grandmother she wasn’t sure if she wanted me to come back to L.A. ‘Let him go to school in St. Louis.’”
Miller hopped from Loud Records and eventually landed at Warner Brothers where Medina became a close friend and guide. But in 2000 when he was let go from Warner Brothers—where he said he signed a very favorable contract should he be let go—he had enough resources to start a company with another friend called Worldwide Heavyweight that distributed DJ Rectangle mixtapes. While DJ Clue and DJ Drama were the more notable names of this mixtape era, Miller puts DJ Rectangle ahead of them both.
“I had an opportunity with my boy Jordan. We started what was called Worldwide Heavyweight and started immediately selling mixtapes, records, vinyl, whatever. We became a full press, discounted one stop shop for (distribution),” Miller said. “DJ Rectangle outsold everybody. We were getting more mixtapes bootlegged than we were actually selling but we were outselling everyone. We sold to everybody, twice.”
There has always been plenty of hustle in Miller, which should come as no surprise as he’s from St. Louis, born and bred. He lived at the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project as an infant. He was a toddler in the Central West End before his parents landed in Florissant and eventually Madelaine Manor in Berkeley. Not long after, his mother and father split. His mother, Joyce, found her high school sweetheart in Los Angeles and took Miller with her. Miller bounced between his parents’ homes in L.A. and St. Louis. It wasn’t long before he was back in St. Louis on a semi-permanent basis.
It was in his hometown that Miller’s love affair with hip-hop culture and music bloomed. His father and uncle owned Black Circle Records on North Kingshighway, which gave him access to anything and everything on vinyl in the mid to late-‘70s and early ’80s. Even when he was spending time in L.A., St. Louis was influencing him. He saw someone popping and locking as a kid and thought he could do that. Miller didn’t know at the time that the dance was in part invented and popularized by Don Campbell, who was also born in St. Louis.
The most popular artist to work with Miller recently is Anderson .Paak. Miller managed .Paak as he shot to superstardom following his appearance on Dr. Dre’s 2015 record Compton, an appearance that Miller helped make happen.
Miller was part of a dance crew and at the family get-togethers he was a star as he got down with the latest dance making its way through the community.
His slick moves translated well at the skating rink. Miller and his friends spent their fair share of weekends rolling through Saints Roller Rink, Aloha Roller Rink and Skate King. He didn’t have a car then but he could put the four wheels on his feet to good work as he and his friends worked the room in search of young love.
“We definitely had somewhere to go where we could dance, do acrobatics, be seen in our fresh gear outside of school,” Miller said.
“For me, I was going to meet so many different girls from so many different schools. If you were there I had to hurry up and meet you if you were my type. It was a wrap. That’s where I had to do my most work.”
Miller graduated from McCluer High in 1988 and enrolled at Tulsa where he studied theatre and history.
It wasn’t long after that his uncle took him car shopping and they found the Bug.
Nowadays Miller’s endeavors run through Xyion Inc., the company he founded in 2009 as a way to service artists and help them become better entrepreneurs. Among the clients Xyion works with are civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and Jordan Brand, a Nike subsidiary.
Pictured at 50 years anniversary screener of “Enter the Dragon”, Mario Van Peebles, DJ Classicz, RZA, and Dr. Adrian L. Miller. Photo: Danny Hastings Anderson.
Miller’s latest work can be found in the hit television series “Wu-Tang: An American Saga.” Miller was asked to supervise the music for the show’s third and final season, which premiered on Hulu in February. He said working with Wu-Tang Clan super producer RZA, who’s also the show’s director, was memorable and informal.
“It’s definitely one of things where you have to pinch yourself, take two steps back and make sure you don’t make a mistake,” Miller said. “Typically, people would think ‘RZA’s not going to let anyone touch the music for his show because it’s his music.’ And they are partially right. RZA is who he is. He thought it through very thoroughly, made sure he didn’t make any bad choices along the route.”
RZA trusted Miller’s ear in part because it was one of those that believed in Wu-Tang Clan way back when.
“God is good and it’s crazy to me that some weirdo kid from the projects in St. Louis gets an opportunity to see and be a part of this,” Miller said. “I’m humbled by it, trust.”