Remembering the life and legacy of Mac Miller

Illustration by Jake Barnard

Illustration by Jake Barnard

On Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, rapper Malcolm James McCormick, better known as Mac Miller, died as the result of a drug overdose.

I remember this day vividly. In Duluth, it was one of those cheerful, sunny, blue-sky days; the kind that make you feel guilty about spending all afternoon indoors. The weekend was in front of us, the view was great, and morale was high. Unfortunately, the feelings only lasted a few seconds longer. I grabbed a beer, sat down outside, and instantly felt my iPhone vibrate beside me. Without even unlocking it, I could see I had a new text from my brother: “Mac just died.”

I remember sitting in the living room listening to songs like “Someone Like You” and “Objects in the Mirror,” hoping that somehow it wasn’t true. I even remember texting my brother back hours later saying, “I feel like a friend died.”

Mac Miller, the Pittsburgh native who originally began rapping under the name EZ Mac, dropped his first mixtape at the age of 15. According to Aceshowbiz, three years and a few mixtapes later, Miller signed to Rostrum Records alongside Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa. However, it wasn’t until the release of his K.I.D.S mixtape in mid 2010 that his music really started to make a buzz.

Heading into my sophomore year of high school, it seemed like everyone was listening to Miller’s new project. To me and my friends, K.I.D.S. was more than just a mixtape; it was a soundtrack orchestrated just for us. It perfectly embodied our carefree and playful lifestyle, which revolved around strong friendships, laughter, the occasional mischief and just enjoying our youth.

Music videos for songs like “Senior Skip Day” and “Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza” introduced us to people like Rex Arrow, Miller’s career-long video director, Big Jerm, his producer, and his friends TreeJay and Quentin ‘q’ Cuff.  I still remember going to the mall specifically to buy a pair of Nikes after the “Nikes on my Feet” video dropped. “Ride Around” provided the perfect nighttime ambiance for young teens trying to sneak out of their parents’ basement, while “Outside” was almost impossible not to listen to on a warm day.

Miller’s first ever studio album, Blue Slide Park, dropped in 2011 and debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. This made Miller’s album the first independently distributed debut to secure the  number one spot since 1995. The album featured stand out tracks such as “Frick Park Market,” “Smile Back,” and “Blue Slide Park.” Despite the album having a more pop-sound than previous material, Miller landed on XXL Magazine’s annual “Freshman Class” that same year.

After releasing his seventh mixtape, “Macadelic,” in 2012, Miller’s music began to change quite drastically. The first change came in the form of a jazz EP titled “You.” The project was credited to “Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival,” which is a likely nod to Larry Fisherman, Miller’s producing alias. The EP had just 5 songs mostly composed of keyboards, light drums and a soft crooning Larry Lovestein.

I believe this album was Miller expressing his musical creativity and showing the world there may be a little more to him than meets the eye. His subsequent releases continued this trend, ditching his ‘frat rap’ persona and establishing himself as a skilled lyricist and talented producer.

On June 18, 2013, Miller released his much anticipated album, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.” The album made one thing very clear: the Mac Miller we once knew was gone. He was no longer talking about light-hearted predictable topics or rapping over pop-sounding beats. His new production was both sporadic and smooth, with complex rhyme schemes, live instruments and introspective lyrics covering topics like love, death, drug use, depression, and women. While some moments on the album may seem dark, others are nothing short of beautiful.

According to Pitchfork, the song “REMember” is a dedication to Miller’s close friend, Reuben Eli Mitrani, who passed away in 2012. Miller’s label, “REMember Music,” is a tribute to his late friend.

“REMember” became a special song to me after the death of a very close friend in 2014.

Lyrics like “It’s a dark science when your friends start dying. Like, How could he go? He was part lion,” seemed to perfectly describe my anger and confusion. Other lyrics like “I hope you’re proud of me, dude I grew to be,” hit home even deeper and made me think about the person I want to grow up and be.

As I continued to grow older and mature, so did Miller and his music.

He decided to leave Rostrum and signed a distribution deal for REMember music with Warner Bros. During this time, he released “Faces,” a 24-song mixtape that many fans consider his best work. The Larry Fisherman produced mixtape provided a raw and unfiltered look into the drug and depression infested world that Miller was living in. Although listeners may be fooled by jazzy and psychedelic instrumentals, the lyrics on the tape speak for themselves.

Mac can often be heard foreshadowing his own death, even titling one song “Funeral,” in which he sings “This music goes with my funeral.”

Despite having always been a huge fan of this project, listening to it now is a little heavier, knowing the demons he described are the ones that ultimately took his life.

Miller’s final album, “Swimming,” was released just seven weeks prior to his death. Despite having recently gone through a breakup with Ariana Grande, he seemed to breathe new life on this album. It’s as if he had finally been lifted from the darkness and was then trying to figure out how to stay there. Or, as Miller put it, “I was drowning, but now I’m swimming, through stressful waters to relief.”

The Larry Fisherman produced album contained 13 songs with no credited vocal features, emphasizing the themes of self-reflection and healing. However, there’s also a sense of eeriness throughout the album that makes you question whether or not he’d really left his habits in the past.

The opening song title, “Come Back to Earth,” combined with lyrics like, “Don’t wanna grow old so I smoke just in case” are very reminiscent of his drug fueled days. Other lyrics like “I just want another minute with it/ f--- a little, what’s the use?” leave the listener questioning if he could be talking about a girl. Despite the ambiguity of many songs, it’s easy to hear that Miller poured his heart into this album.

Remembering Mac Miller as the frat rapper who created “Donald Trump” isn’t only wrong, it’s a travesty. Miller was a once in a lifetime artist who took his listeners on an almost ten year journey through the life and development of a talented young kid from Pittsburgh. Throughout that time he released five studio albums, one live album, twelve mixtapes and over 30 singles. He sold millions of records, played shows around the entire world, and connected with a countless number of fans.

Mac Miller wasn’t my favorite rapper because of any particular song or mixtape. I didn’t follow him closely since I was 15 because he was a white rapper that I thought I could relate to. Mac Miller has always been my favorite artist because he never failed to reflect his life and reality onto the music he created. Every new project was a chance to peek inside the life and mind of a man who had been trying to learn to navigate wealth and fame since it first found him at 18. While his valleys were low, his overall growth was incredible as he transitioned from high school freestyles and skits to the producer behind beautifully cohesive albums like “Swimming.” Although he’ll be missed, I know that his spirit and story will live on though his truly timeless music.

CultureJustin Flesher