Although the new video for his song "Diemonds" shows the lanky, tattooed rapper, born Travis Mills, owning stages on the Warped Tour and greeting underwear-throwing fans, he is looking at a bigger picture.
"Everything just kind of hit me when I was 18," he tells The BoomBox. "Not what happens when you die, but what do you want to be remembered by?"
For the California native, forging his legacy in the music industry meant quitting sports at 15 and joining a band. Despite his family's initial hesitation -- his parents didn't understand his excitement at yielding 30,000 plays on the internet -- they attended one of his shows and witnessed his fans' reaction to his music. Subsequently, they gave him a year to land a record deal.
It was game on.
"I have parents who care about me, so it wasn't like, 'OK, Travis is going to drop out of school and he's going to do music and we'll see how this goes,'" he says. "I really had to put in the effort and start something from nothing."
T. Mills' determination is inspired by the willpower he sees in his entrepreneur father, and is reflected in "Diemonds" with the line, "Kind of like a diamond, you mine yourself." (By the way, his dad makes a cameo in the video. Look for the "the huge dude in the red shirt all the way to the right" around the 45-second mark.)
Talking to the rhymer about his yet unnamed 2013 album, it's clear that his determination goes hand in hand with perfectionism. Case in point: a favorite track he is considering as the lead single.
Produced by a slew of players in the hip-hop game -- including Boi-1da, Cook Classics and Ludwig Göransson -- "Somebody to Miss You" has T. Mills singing soul melodies alongside his raps, a sound he promises is "groundbreaking." It took eight months and seven stints in recording studios across North America before he was satisfied with the finished track.
"Sometimes you record a song and it will take you a day, sometimes three days, but I've never recorded a song in the States, flown to Canada and recorded it, and flown back to the States and recorded it," he reveals. "It has all of these different pieces from where I was in the world."
The Leaving Home creator -- the name of one his prior EPs -- uses the experience of "Somebody to Miss You" to set the standard for the legacy he wants to leave behind.
"When I'm old, I want to have an album to show my kids that I can be proud of," T. Mills shares. "I'm taking my time and like I said with 'Somebody to Miss You,' we didn't stop until we got it right. That's how I feel every song on this album needs to be and I'm down to put the work in to do it."