So it Goes
Growing up, my main source of discovering new music was my older brother whose addiction to Limewire made him one of the gatekeepers between the world’s music and my 10-year-old self. Rap and hip-hop circa 2010 was a pivotal moment for many artists, including Kanye West who released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which many would argue marked his artistic peak. Eminem dropped Recovery, an emotionally driven work that focused on his newfound peace and sobriety; then Drake, who is one of the most notable hip-hop artists currently, released his debut studio album, Thank Me Later. Also gaining recognition at this time was a white Jewish boy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-named Malcolm James McCormick, who we would come to know better as Mac Miller.
The first song I ever heard by the Pittsburgh rapper was Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza from his fourth mixtape titled K.I.D.S. (Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit), where he covers Lord Finesse’s Hip 2 Da Game. Miller opens the song: “Kool-Aid and frozen pizza, this a work of art, I ain’t talking Mona Lisa,” and continues to rap without room for a chorus in the two minute and thirty-eight second song. From his first mixtape in 2007 at the age of 15 under the moniker of Easy Mac, we had a sense of the young artist's capabilities. From his witty and clever lyrics to his natural comfort behind the mic that shines through his effortless flow and delivery, it was evident from the beginning that this artist had potential.
From the years of 2007 to 2011, Mac Miller released six projects that led up to the release of his debut studio album Blue Slide Park, making it his seventh project in the span of only 4 years. Although he received mixed reviews from critics, it was the first independently-distributed debut album to top the charts since 1995. Detaching himself from the critic-given label of “frat-rapper,” four months after dropping Blue Slide Park, Mac Miller announced a dispiriting, heavily drug-influenced mixtape titled Macadelic that projected a more poetic sound. This mixtape is sometimes viewed as more introspective than his previous projects, but his work has always been a reflection of his thoughts and emotions during the production. Macadelic simply mirrored a darker time in his life.
Only eight months later, Malcolm releases a five-song jazz EP under the alias of Larry Lovestein, only to showcase the range of music he was capable of making.
Four months later, in 2013, Mac Miller ends up dropping three EPs, a live album, and his second studio album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, all within the span of this year. The three EPs that Miller released were under other aliases. Under the nickname of Larry Fisherman, the rapper dropped Run-On Sentences Vol. 1, which consisted of jazz-influenced instrumentals that he produced and a collab EP with Vince Staples titled Stolen Youth. The third EP that Miller released in 2013 was under the alias of Delusional Thomas, who was characterized by his high-pitched voice and horror-themed rap with absurdly dark, yet playful lyrics. Although none of these EPs gained much recognition, they promoted the versatility of the adequate rapper; from jazz to sinister-toned music, Mac Miller was able to do produce a range of music phenomenally. Not to mention, Watching Movies with the Sound Off received positive reviews from critics and fan, but more importantly, it showed a leap in the artistry of Miller. Similar to Macadelic, he gave the audience a more cynical perspective of the world through the rapper’s introspective thoughts.
In May of 2014, Mac Miller released his eleventh mixtape known as Faces. The album art’s abstract, contemporary style perfectly captures the sounds of the music that follows it. The general scope of Faces gives us a look into the artist’s problem with addiction. He opens honestly, by repeating “shoulda died already.” Malcolm suffered from addiction to many drugs, but primarily ‘lean,’ a mixture of codeine, promethazine, a soft drink, and hard candy (Sprite and Jolly Ranchers are most commonly used). Faces is frequently referred to as Mac’s best piece of work due to the interesting blend of jazz-influenced production under his previously mentioned alias, Larry Fisherman. The brutally honest approach that he takes with this mixtape obligates anyone that listens to it album to commemorate the Pittsburgh rapper.
The following year, Malcolm releases his third studio album, GO:OD AM, which signifies a new era of Mac Miller. This album disconnects itself from Mac’s previous heavily drug-influenced projects and demonstrates a more powerful sound founded on confidence. An element extremely relieving to me as a listener is the approach Miller takes with this album. Many times, we find that artists attempt to create a project essentially in an attempt to “cure” the world after emerging from a dark time in their life. These artists project an exaggerated reality that sometimes comes off as being inhumanely pure, but in Mac’s GO:OD AM, he remains honest with himself and his fans by rapping about his struggle with addiction, then countering it with discussion of his attempt at sobriety—a new component found in his verses.
The Divine Feminine marks the rapper’s fourth studio album and was received by audiences as an ode to his girlfriend at the time, Ariana Grande. However, Mac and Ariana have both noted that this album simply reflects the intimate and non-intimate relationships that Mac has had in the past with women. Also, according to Mac, this was the first time in nearly ten years that he had had a “clear mind” and was living a lifestyle of sobriety. This album is one of Miller’s stronger works both objectively and subjectively. It features a digestible amount of records and, from start to finish, delivers the artist’s emotions, without censorship, towards raunchier aspects of love and clichés. The flexibility of tone while maintaining a coherent theme is important within a studio album, and Miller accomplishes this flawlessly. A little over a year and a half after this album released, Mac’s relationship with Ariana came to an end, yet she remained close to the rapper and was a positive source, supporting his push for lasting sobriety.
Unfortunately, Malcolm ended up falling into a more vulnerable state; this is evident through his fifth studio album, Swimming, released in August of 2018. It is important to acknowledge that this album is not the product of heartbreak, but of self-therapy. Swimming resonates the sound of a human going through psychological growth and learning how to adapt to a world that is built to break one down. Growing from The Divine Feminine, Miller’s mature vocal delivery and content blossoms in Swimming. He finds the balance between optimism and self-consciousness, and lets that balance manifest throughout the entirety of the album. We are there when Mac laments over his loneliness; we are also there when he learns to accept and revel in it. When I first had a listen-through of this project, I was not a huge fan of it-- I dismissed it because I was a bigger fan of his more upbeat- deemed “frat-rap” style of music. It was not until I accepted the work for what it is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Within a few weeks, I found myself going back to certain tracks. Then eventually, all of the tracks. It’s intensely introspective and developed lyrical content, and continuation of beautifully funky production lets Swimming top the list as his strongest piece of work for me.
A few weeks ago,
I found myself in a car with a friend listening to this album— singing along to the eighth track, Small Worlds, where Mac sings, “the world is so small— till it ain’t.” He drags out the “small” like a yo-yo, spinning heavily on the end of its string, and quickly reels it back in with “till it ain’t.” That’s when I encountered the recent news over social media that the Pittsburgh rapper was found dead in his home just an hour prior. Only 35 days after the release of Swimming, Malcolm McCormick passed away on September 7th due to an apparent overdose. Even though I momentarily stopped following Mac Miller during his era of Watching Movies with the Sound Off through GO:OD AM, when I heard the news of his passing, it brutally hit me. Understanding that Mac Miller was a 26 year old at the time, the Mac that I was most familiar with and introduced to was the 18-year-old kid walking through the streets of Pittsburg rapping about summer drinks and cheap dinners. One of the few artists that got me into rap and hip-hop at such a young age had left the world; I saw the reactions to Mac Miller’s death from my peers as filled with absolute disbelief.
Malcolm James McCormick was a truly genuine individual and it was unmistakably obvious through both interviews and his art. Many celebrities portray themselves to be larger than life, resulting in the masses viewing celebrities as flawless individuals and naturally putting them on a pedestal. That was not the case with Mac—his down-to-earth content was something people connected with due to its honest nature. He was someone that worked with many artists and that many people made an effort to work with, effectively making him a prominent figure in an industry that normally does not give someone of Miller’s description space to work. It is common for white people to use rap as a platform to kickstart their career, then later disconnect from it due to its “harsh” stigma in order to become more marketable, resulting in the white rappers fully ignoring the origins of what they profited from-- Mac Miller never did that. In his interview with fellow rapper, Vince Staples, Miller mentions, “I remember touring and doing shows, and I was the first rap show ever in all these colleges. Six thousand kids, and I’m the first hip-hop show because I’m white-college-friendly. That was always a demon for me.” The thing is, Mac Miller loved music. And it showed within the response from his fans, the variety of people he worked with, and the fact that he made a range of music stylistically, but first and foremost a rapper.
Throughout Mac’s entire career, he has been labeled as the young Jewish rapper from Pittsburgh: just another white rapper; the embodiment of frat-rap. In reality, he simply talked about what he was feeling during a given time in his life, making each project distinct and a pure chronological timeline of self-growth. He saw the effects of race within the industry, but never saw race as an influence behind who he was or the type of music he needed to make. Even if you did not know him or give a fuck about who he was, Mac was too much of an influential person to have not affected someone that you do give a fuck about. I think we all miss Mac. Hopefully, it’s a beautiful feeling in oblivion.