On Friday of last week we lost rapper, producer and all around icon Mac Miller. He’d been struggling with drug addiction for a long time, which fans of his music had known about for a while, and tragically died of an overdose. Despite having a long discography full of jams, he was only 26, although most of us were introduced to him back in 2010 when he was just 18.
I was just a freshman in high school when I first heard of Mac. After school waiting for soccer practice to start someone showed me “Knock Knock” and I was hooked.
It was such a fun song and introduced us to this guy who would become a frequent talking point in our friend group. This is also a time when rappers like Hoodie Allen, Asher Roth, Mike Stud, and so many other “white frat fun” rappers were starting their careers. It was a crazy time for rap music and we were getting so many new names, some who became beautifully talented artists despite their original immaturity and more playful early music (Tyler the Creator and Childish Gambino for example), and others who fell by the wayside because they didn’t evolve (basically any of those other white frat fun rappers I mentioned). Miller stuck around though, changing his lyrics, production, collaborators, and attitude as his life changed. One of these biggest changes was his introduction to drugs and the implications of addiction.
Mac released “Blue Slide Park” in 2011 and with songs like “Frick Park Market” and “Party on 5th Ave” it was just simple, new Mac. Everyone liked it. It was par for the course. Then in 2012 he released Macadelic. An album that I, to be honest, dismissed altogether. Looking back now it was an interesting change of pace for him. A little darker, a little more introspective, and this is probably why 16 year old me wasn’t really into it. Especially songs like “Vitamins” talking about his first encounters with drugs and his newfound interest in them.
I wanted the same old fun Mac rapping about being a kid over catchy beats rather than more experimental beats and existential lyrics. That being said, after moving towards the end of high school and being more and more exposed into life outside being a young innocent kid, his 2013 album Watching Movies with the Sound Off captivated me.
An album with crazy out-there production, a lot more talk about his struggle with drugs and realizing the problems they cause, him struggling with fame and fortune: it was so interesting to me. I remember it was released on the same date as two of my favorite albums Yeezus from Kanye and Born Sinner by J. Cole. Mac’s was the last of the 3 I got to listening to but I was pleasantly surprised. I was just getting into some more alternative rap artists and seeing Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler the Creator and Action Bronson all featured was gold. That summer was a tough one for me because it was my first one working 40 hours and 6 day weeks, I was stressed about college and I was just depressed about impending changes in my life and my mind. Despite Mac seeing this on a whole other scale, it was therapeutic to hear another dude who was trying to adapt with big changes in his own life.
Mac released the Faces mixtape next, one that I (unfortunately) dismissed like I did Macadelic. This one however is probably the one that dove most into his dark drug culture. I’ve been listening to this just in the past week and it’s incredibly interesting to hear. In a way I feel like this was the first time where he was sort of accepting that his drug addiction was something he couldn’t beat. The first song “Inside Outside”, Mac flat out says “I should’ve died already”.
Again, just progressing from the crazy on drugs era of Watching Movies to an acceptance and almost mastery of the drugs on Faces. His next progression led to my favorite of Mac’s entire discography, GO:OD AM.
This album was a massive part of my sophomore year of college. It was sort of the first time you could hear that Mac wanted to get better and was focused on becoming better at handling his addiction but also at perfecting his music. The name of the album came from him sort of waking up to his problems and having the epiphany that he has the power to change and work on getting better. He’s got incredible production and the verses on this are so honest and clever. It’s the perfect mix of his bangers/hits (“Weekend”, “100 Grandkids”, “Break the Law”), his more reflective songs (“Brand Name”, “Perfect Circle/Godspeed”), and we even get a taste of his upcoming romantic album with “ROS”. In my opinion these instrumentals, the messages he was trying to get across, and just the character he was at the time created the most true-to-himself album.
It was then he released his 10-song love ballad The Divine Feminine to the world. It was extremely obvious the dude was in love inspired by his girlfriend at the time Ariana Grande. He made some sexy songs, some elaborately beautiful songs, and of course a few fun ones (like “Dang!” probably one of my top 5 Mac songs). It was here that he took some time off and didn’t put out an album till just a few weeks ago, Swimming.
I love this album. In my opinion it was his best album production-wise and it showed that he was growing as an artist and heading in a new musical direction with so many possibilities. Fellow artists, including Thundercat and John Mayer, said he was extremely meticulous throughout the production of this album and wanted it to be his best. Small Worlds had me hooked as a single, then give me “Ladders”, “Come Back to Earth”, “2009”, and the catchiest song of the year “What’s the Use?” and it’s certified all-time. Despite breaking up with his longtime girlfriend and getting a DUI just a few months before, he seemed to be in a better place. He was on social media a bunch, his songs were sad but hopeful, and he gave this gorgeous performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk series.
All of this just goes to show that you really don’t know what anyone’s going through. I’d also like to say here that you don’t know how Mac’s life was going. Despite his music, what other celebrities say, or even what he said publicly: only he knew what was really going on. I was so sad when I heard this news and I think a bitter part of me blamed Ariana Grande, which is just so wrong. I’m sure that was hard for him to see all of her life going seemingly amazingly while he was still struggling with addiction, but we don’t know what was going on between the two. For all we know they could still text every day. When they broke up she had a post about how she still loved him it’s just what she had to do at the time.
That was just a few months ago and I’m sure she’s incredibly upset over this loss too. It’s not fair to blame it on her or on just one thing, when something like this happens it boils down to issues of addiction, mental illness, and any other demons Mac was fighting in his own private life.
It’s really eye opening, especially this year, how much the drug crisis has made itself apparent in our culture. Lil Peep was another artist that died from overdose, Demi Lovato relapsed, and it seems like every day I’m hearing new facts about opioids, fentanyl, and other dangerous drugs consuming people. J.Cole’s entire K.O.D. album this year was in hopes to alert artists about the downfalls of seemingly harmless vices (hence the acronym for “Kids On Drugs, King OverDosed, and Kill Our Demons”).
It’s always sad to hear that someone has an addiction and couldn’t beat it, but it’s also just sad in general to lose someone so young and talented with a world of achievements ahead of them. I recently lost a friend of mine unexpectedly. He was 22 with the brightest possible future. No one had a bad word to say about him and he affected so many people’s lives in a strictly positive way. It really messed me up just because I couldn’t process why or how he was even taken. It seemed unfair and still does. There are two things that I tried to do in order to cope and I think it can kind of apply in this situation as well.
First of all, I think one of the best things you can do is take the best parts of someone you lost and try to emulate it in your own life. Mac Miller clearly left a lasting legacy with his music alone, but when you look at some of themes of his music you can also see character traits we’d all want to have. He literally grew up with us and matured when we did, realizing mistakes he made in the past and trying to learn from them. So many people paid tribute to him by remembering KIDS and Blue Slide Park and their high school days with him but he grew from that when many rappers of the time didn’t, and went on to create even more relatable expressions of music. It seemed like almost every celebrity paid tribute to him, including one of my favorites from John Mayer.
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This was going to be Mac Miller’s year. He made a quantum leap in his music. That’s incredibly hard to do, to evolve and get better and more focused while your career is already underway. You don’t get there without a lot of work, and Mac had put the work in. I didn’t expect to play on his album the day he played some songs for me at his house, but when I heard “Small Worlds,” I gave it a short, chirpy little “yup,” which is the highest praise I can give a track. It means we don’t need to say another word, it’s going down. I grabbed the nearest guitar in the room and within a couple of hours we had finished a tune that made me so incredibly happy to have a part in, not to mention we established a nice little friendship. He was so funny I just kind of stopped typing “LOL” back in our texts. Mac was, to me, on permanent LOL status. I gave him whatever guidance I thought I had the right to, having been through the press ringer in the past and wanting him to understand that none of that noise could ever really take a bite out of the music he was about to put out. The last time I saw him, he was playing Hotel Cafe’ in Los Angeles for a crowd of 100 people. He was nervous, and honest about it with the audience. I thought that was so endearing, especially seeing as he would go on to play one of the best sets I’d seen in a very long time. His band was unreal. You gotta know that if you weren’t familiar with Mac Miller, you were about to be, whether you would have seen him at a festival, or a friend was going to catch a show and tell everyone they knew about it (like I did.) Mac put in the work. He made his best album and formed the band that was weeks away from becoming a breakout live sensation. Believe me when I say that. I send my love and support to everyone who knew him better, because what relative little I did, I just adored.
So many people had pictures and nice things to say about him. He clearly impacted a lot of people’s lives and encouraged people to try their best and follow their dreams, despite their demons. He was referred to by most as just a sweet genuine guy. If we can take that energy and put it out into the world, it will add to his already impressive legacy.
The other thing I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is treating people like they could be gone tomorrow, because another day is never guaranteed for anybody. Whether someone has an addiction or a mental illness or a terminal disease or if it’s a completely random thing doctor’s couldn’t even detect; you can lose somebody any instant without warning. It’s awful and confusing and sad but, if anything, it should make us take time out of our day to connect to and enjoy our community of love. Tell people you love them. Even if it’s weird. Check in on people. Even if it’s just a text about a TV show you like or a joke you saw on twitter or you just want to reminisce about something stupid you did years ago. Especially on a day like 9/11 when something so horrifically unexpected happened, you realize you have to cherish every moment you’ve got with the people you love.
I tried to do as much as I could to pay tribute to Mac Miller in this post and many people over the past few days have done the same, but I think one of the best and most powerful things we can do as a tribute to him, would be to listen to his music, take what we love about it, put that energy into the world, and share it with loved ones.
Rest easy Mac.