Blending styles with success

Between cracking the Top 10 and rubbing elbows with the likes of Jay-Z, Mike Posner has had an amazing run over the past year. But one of the singer's most memorable interludes happened in the Triangle, before Posner graduated from Duke University in the spring - a show at Cat's Cradle, in enemy territory near UNC Chapel Hill.

"How many Blue Devils in the house tonight?" Posner asked when he came onstage, and a few dozen people yelled. Then he asked whether any Tar Heels were there, and the rest of the packed house erupted. But it was all positive.

"I remember that being one of the coolest feelings to date," Posner says, calling from New York. "Because, A, there I was onstage at Cat's Cradle, where I'd listened to so many awesome acts during my undergraduate years; and, B, the support from people in Chapel Hill. That meant the world to me. I've got nothing but love for Chapel Hill. Except," he adds with a chuckle, "during basketball season."

Things are pretty great in Posner's world right now, and not just because Duke won the NCAA basketball championship. He has a single in Billboard's Top 10, "Cooler Than Me," a pop confection about snooty members of the opposite sex. That's just the first of what could be multiple hits from Posner's debut album, "31 Minutes To Take Off" (J Records), which was officially released last week.

A debut near the top of the Billboard 200 album chart seems likely, and it's easy to see why. The album's merger of pop with the sensibility of R&B and hip-hop is immensely likable, with Posner projecting an easygoing everyman cool. He can handle smooth balladry or nasty revenge songs. For the classic-rock enthusiasts out there, he even covers the 1975 Electric Light Orchestra classic "Evil Woman."

Posner doesn't sound much like Justin Timberlake, but he projects a similar crossover vibe. He can appear onstage alongside rapper Sean Paul or play the emo-leaning Warped Tour, and he fits either place.

"We're living in an exciting time in music, where words like 'genre' and 'pop' and 'hip-hop' seem to mean less and less every day," Posner says. "If you looked in my CD book in high school or on my iPod now, you'd find all types of ridiculous stuff that doesn't seem to go together. For me to feel like I'm doing something exciting, I have to incorporate all the things I love about music. I didn't want to do a boring record where all the songs sound the same."

Posner has been writing and recording music since he was a young teenager growing up in his native Michigan. Once he got to Duke (and he would like it known that he was also accepted to UNC but chose Duke), he put out a self-made mix tape CD that triggered major buzz.

Originally, Posner figured it would take two do-it-yourself releases to get a record deal. But labels came calling after the first one, so his plan happened ahead of schedule.

"These are all goals of mine that I've achieved, but there are many more that I haven't," Posner says. "I just try to be grateful for the opportunities I've had over the past year or so. Still, I'm not content. I'm super-excited for people to hear my album, and to make more music."