Music has the capability to offer comfort when life starts to feel overwhelming and uncontrollable. Many people look to music as a way to feel less alone, to relax, to find courage and express oneself.
One artist, in particular, has served as a vice for many because his work exemplifies a unique persona that allows his listeners to feel an intimate connection. The late Malcolm McCormick, more affectionately known as Mac Miller, developed a loyal fanbase, not only through his diverse production of mixtapes and studio albums, but also through the energy he radiated every day.
The Pittsburgh native rose to fame in the late 2000s when he was just a high-schooler, and made a name for himself beyond his music. Miller, who died of an accidental overdose in 2018 at the age of 26, had an unparalleled ability to infuse every lyric with raw, honest emotions. His albums, which are essentially a soundtrack to his life, explore growing up, depression, addiction, falling in love and falling back in love with life.
In his early adolescence, Miller taught himself to play the piano, drums, guitar and bass. He started rapping when he was in middle school and made the decision to commit himself to the craft when he was 15. He built his career on the premise of creating music that could effect change by rapping about difficult emotions and topics. This, in turn, gave his fans something that felt more important than music.
Miller caught the attention of the public with his early mixtapes “K.I.D.S” (2010), “Best Day Ever” (2011), and “I Love Life, Thank You” (2011), which critics categorized as frat rap, although it is clear there are deeper emotions behind the upbeat lyrics. His debut studio album, “Blue Slide Park” (2011), which was the first independently released album since 1995 to reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, expanded Miller’s reach. The album paid homage to the park in Pittsburgh where he grew up and would always return home to.
The park is now visited by fans everyday, and has been renamed Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park. Throughout his career, Miller was intent on sticking true to his values and producing music that he felt was genuinely relevant to where he was in life, even if it was deemed different or experimental. Miller grew to actually prefer that characterization.
In his mixtape “Macadelic” (2012) and studio album “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” (2013), Miller starts to rap about his experimentation with drugs and the dark emotions he carries in his head in a newfound psychedelic way. In WMWTSO, Miller takes a retrospective view of “Macadelic,” as if it’s the morning after the party lifestyle exhibited in the previous album and he is beginning to realize the consequences of his actions.
Miller then transitioned into his mixtape “Faces” (2014), my favorite album personally, where he truly begins to express his battle with addiction and the paranoia in his head. He finds a way to discuss mortality in an abnormally valiant way that expresses a greater fear of never truly living, rather than dying. He wrote the final track, “Grand Finale,” under the impression that it would be his last musical creation on earth.
Each of Miller’s albums evokes a different type of emotion, however, “Faces” manages to encapsulate every emotion while exemplifying every skill that Miller had as an artist.
Miller then came out with “GO:OD AM” (2015), which he described as a breath of fresh air. In this album, he acknowledges the consequences of his drug addiction and the hurdles he had to overcome in order to, as he explained it, open his eyes again. His newfound appreciation for life is evident through the way he raps with more confidence and clarity while recognizing “you make your mistakes, your mistakes never make ya.”
Miller also embodies great versatility when he released the heartfelt album “The Divine Feminine” (2016) and his jazz album, “You” (2012), under the pseudonym Larry Lovestein. Miller described these albums as his perception of his love toward women and the Earth as a female persona. It’s as if he found reconciliation in himself through his ability to profess undying love and adoration toward another. These albums have a remarkable way of extending these emotions to their listeners, allowing listeners to almost feel as though Miller loves them, too.
Just prior to his death, Miller released “Swimming” (2018), which illustrates Miller’s true vulnerability as he discloses the suffering he is still experiencing, but also his commitment to persevere through it. The album essentially explains the importance of taking care of oneself in order to develop the capability to be there for those around you.
“Circles” (2020), Miller’s posthumous studio album, builds on the concepts in “Swimming” by demonstrating the acceptance of such suffering, because progression isn’t always tainted by agony. “Circles” gave Miller’s fans a sense of comfort and consolation after his death by solidifying the fact that even though he was distraught and experiencing great pain, he was still at peace.
Mac Miller had a way of producing music that evoked emotions that many shy away from or have trouble admitting they are feeling. He collaborated with artists he felt were influential and sought to develop relationships that were based on more than just music. Miller was insistent on being everything he could be for his fans.
Rest in peace, Mac. I still remember where I was, what I was wearing and the color of my nail polish when you passed. You will forever continue to touch the lives of your fans everyday, and the light you shared will never burn out.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to New Mexico State University, the NMSU Department of Journalism and Media Studies, Kokopelli, or any other organization, committee, group or individual.