The saddest part about this whole thing is that Mac Miller had seemingly found happiness in the end.
“I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess who can’t even get out of his house… Overdosing is just not cool,” Malcolm McCormick, known by his stage name Mac Miller, said in 2016. “There’s no legendary romance, you don’t go down in history because you overdosed… you just die.”
Mac Miller died at age 26 last Friday, Sept. 7, at his Los Angeles home due to an apparent overdose. The above quote came from a 2016 documentary The Fader made about him, titled “Mac Miller Stopped Making Excuses.” In it, Mac discusses his choice in 2015 to move to a small, homey apartment in New York City with only his two cats and his piano. He also brought with him his newfound decision to turn his life around.
It was no secret Mac was battling depression and drug addiction; these themes remained deeply rooted in all of his utterly reflective music. With the release of his third studio album in 2015 titled “GO:OD AM” and The Fader’s mini-doc on his refocused approach to life, the message was clear: Mac decided that it was finally time to wake up from the drug-induced haze engulfing his life. As he says on the “GO:OD AM” cut “Perfect Circle / Godspeed,” “White lines be numbing them dark times / Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up / Admit it’s a problem, I need a wake up / Before one morning I don’t wake up.” But on that Friday morning, to the dismay of his countless fans, Mac Miller didn’t wake up.
Mac’s music has always had a special place in my heart, for he was my key to unlocking the universe of unorthodox rap music. I had always been interested in hip-hop, hearing it on the radio or hanging out with friends, but it wasn’t really until my sophomore year of high school that I became fully immersed in the special niche it occupies within music. That immersion began with Mac and his 2013 project, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.”
On “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” Mac’s lyrics were both blunt and complex over production that gave way to psychedelic synths and ominous pianos. The album was alternately dark and jovial, but most of all, it was an honest dive into the making of honest music. Mac ditched the goofy – albeit very fun – feel-good rap style of his late teens and aspired to make something more. In doing so, he discovered raving success, the next step in his artistic evolution – and a newfound battle against drugs.
It was Mac’s 2014 project “Faces” that really caught my attention. It is, in my opinion, his best work to date. At a whopping 24-tracks long, the mixtape showcases Mac’s sharpest lyrics yet and has him experimenting with sounds like never before. If “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” is a dark rainstorm, “Faces” is a week-long monsoon that destroys the houses and the lives of entire families. While it was sad to hear him depict his struggles with depression and drugs, it was an artistically jaw-dropping moment; the lyrical acrobats and candor of “Faces” grasped onto me and hasn’t let go since.
It’s sad to say this, but if Mac was going to die of an overdose, I thought it would’ve been in the “Faces” era. Every song on that elegiacally gorgeous mixtape has a handful of references to hard drugs and an inevitable, impending death that stared him directly in the face. As a result, “Faces” now feels hauntingly prophetic:
“I’m losing to all of my vices, they kicking my ass,” “Doing drugs is just a war with boredom but they sure to get me,” “A drug habit like Phillip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin,” “I’m a bit surprised that I’m even still alive / Mixing uppers and downers, practically suicide.”
And the list goes on and on. I don’t think many fans will truly understand Mac until they’ve listened to “Faces” front to back. Its scalding honesty and ominous, drug-inspired sound gives us a look into Mac’s exact emotions at that point in his life. Yet, these days seemed all but behind him.
With the release of 2016’s “The Divine Feminine” and this year’s “Swimming,” Mac appeared to be on the ascension to a happy life. Both albums possessed, for him at least, an uncommonly lighthearted buoyancy. Gone were the psychedelic trips into the dark corners of his psyche; what remained were bouncy, upbeat tales of love and reflection. He appeared to be past the days of not leaving his LA home-studio for weeks, strung out on a medley of different drugs as he crafted song after song discussing this personal hell. “The Divine Feminine” and “Swimming” revolved around far different worlds than “Faces,”: the former playfully juggles Mac’s appreciation for women and the love they can reciprocate if treated right, while the latter sounds like a survivor’s retelling of the hardships faced on a road to redemption.
The most stirring song from “Swimming” has to be “2009.” If you watch Mac’s Tiny Desk Concert performance of the song, it’s hard to not be moved close to tears. Mac sings his heart out over passionate string sections as he details his bleating ignorance in the year 2009 and how he now knows the dan-gers of drugs, fame and the music busi-ness. When he sings, “And sometimes, sometimes, I wish I took a simpler route / Instead of havin’ demons that’s as big as my house, mhmm,” or “I was diggin’ me a hole big enough to bury my soul / Weight of the world, I gotta carry my own,” it cuts deep enough to touch bone marrow. This sounded like a rejuvenat-ed, refocused man who had seen enough personal struggle for two lifetimes and was ready to accept happier travels. He truly seemed ready to live out the rest of his life, to grow old and grey with his rough days behind him.
Looking at Mac’s music through the lens of his death, the song that hits me the hardest is “Wedding,” the eleventh song off of “Faces.” The way he pleads with a significant other to give him just one more chance, his sadness as he sings over somber piano keys, his tone as he discusses their future together: these things hurt the worst. When Mac says with heavy brevity, “I envisioned us – married and 50 / Couple of kids that we drop off at little league,” I can’t help but feel like he was robbed of this future he hoped so badly for. He’ll never get to be married at 50, he’ll never be able to bring his future kids to little league and he’ll never be able to air out all of life’s anxieties over a beautiful song again. He was a person, just like you and me, and he’ll miss out on all of these experi-ences we crave as we find ourselves stretching into the intimidating nature of adulthood.
While I found in his work an artistic freedom and lyrical sincerity that very few have been able to accomplish, Mac Miller found the freedom to purge his mind of the ongoing wars he was expe-riencing. In doing so, he gave us ways of healing, of forgiving, of moving on, even in the wake of his premature departure.
So, in short, thank you, Mac. Count-less fans appreciate and love what you accomplished through your art. We felt as if we were able to grow and mature with you right by our side, through the good times, through the bad times, and through it all, really.
Rest easy, Easy Mac with the cheesy raps. You will be missed.