It’s been exactly two months since Mac Miller died. I’ve been thinking about him a lot since his passing. I’ve been “around” the blogosphere for the deaths of artists in the past– although none quite felt as surreal or as impactful as Mac Miller’s; that’s not a slight towards any other recent deaths, but a comment that is purely a reflection of myself. If you’re a fan of an artist, that artist’s death, foreseen or otherwise, will affect you. It will also affect some more than others; even those within the same fanbase, and that might depend on the type of fan you are; how devoted, how much of a stan, how feverish. Or it could simply be how you handle the news of a death, any death. It’s all subjective, it’s all personal.
This does not make any one artist’s death any less important or impactful than another. It’s all subjective, it’s all personal. However, when it comes to Mac Miller, I don’t think I am alone in saying that this death in particular– already in the wake of tragic passings from stars on the rise, Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION– felt stabbing and gut-wrenching, in another way. In an unfamiliar way– because I had never really felt so upset about the death of an artist, someone who I did not know personally– and yet in a familiar way, because I have grieved the death of a loved one in the past.
I did not know Mac Miller. I never had the chance to meet him, throughout my years at HNHH– at one point, we had planned out a digital cover with the Pittsburgh star, however Mac pulled out at the last minute, I forget why, it’s unimportant. Even leading up to his last album, Swimming, I was itching to speak with him about the idea of self-care specifically. I swallow a lump in my throat, one which I can still feel now stuck unwillingly in my chest, whenever I think about this.
The tragedy twisted in Mac Miller’s death extends beyond his age and his talent. There’s a sadness that permeates Swimming, right down to the album title, but there’s also this very clear sense of “letting go, and letting God,” as it were. Letting life do and be what it may, unfold as it will, and finding happiness in that.
It’s an idea that Mac shared in interviews as well. “Everything has so much weight, but it’s all just chapters. It’s all just pieces of the story. There’s gonna be a next part. It’s not a big deal. It’s not. That’s the thing. Trust. The more I trust in who I am as a human being, the more I’m like, Okay, this will all kind of figure itself out. As long as I do what feels natural,” he said in one of his last interviews with Vulture. The idea exists on songs like “Small Worlds,” “Dunno,” and “So It Goes”; the latter record a most-perfect ending to Mac Miller’s final album. “You could have the world in the palm of your hand / You still might drop it,” he raps.
Although there may be some comfort in this attitude, knowing Mac Miller’s sense of ease with his own self — “Now every day I wake up and breathe / I don’t have it all but that’s all right with me,” (“2009”), it can also be heart-wrenching and perhaps, an act in futility, to dig into the nuances of every lyric. Songs like “Come Back to Earth,” strike harder when I listen now: “I just need a way out of my head / I’ll do anything for a way out / Of my head.” Each lyric seemingly a missed opportunity. “Now I’m in the clouds, come down when I run out of jet fuel / But I never run out of jet fuel.”
The sadness we collectively felt, or feel, with the death of Mac Miller is because he seemed like a friend, a brother, a kind person, a well-meaning person, to mostly any and everyone. His good nature seemed genuine on film or in paper interviews. He was likeable, in a word. He seemed like this, despite the fact that he didn’t live near or with us. For all intents and purposes, he did not know a single one of us personally; but we seemed, or thought, to know him so well. That’s because, over the course of a 10-year career, he gave us so much of himself in his music. Not only that, he gave us growth, self-improvement, self-awareness, a desire to do better, to be better. We witnessed it. I was not a Mac Miller fan when the K.I.D.S. mixtape dropped, but I became one and I remained one, easily.
Mac Miller had a unique ability to constantly update and work on his musical sound, while maintaining the day one K.I.D.S. fans alongside a steady influx of new members. It was a given, that with each new release, Mac would gain a new listener, simply because the rapper and artist was always moving forwards. Each project introduced us to new a facet, somehow we hadn’t realized prior, of Mac– a new depth to his talent, or else, a depth to his person. With a release like “Donald Trump” defining his early resume, he could have very well stuck to that sound, immutable in growth or development, and there would have still been a fanbase for him. Not every person, let alone every artist, finds consciousness and motivation to spur growth, but Mac was able to do this in a public and oftentimes tumultuous sphere. Not only that, we accepted him, we didn’t mind the constant changing of Mac Miller. Was it because the constant change was in and of itself constant improvement? Perhaps it also speaks to us as Mac Miller fans– we weren’t bitter about a change in his music, as we can be when other artists “try” something new out. Two years after K.I.D.S., and a year after the equally youth-friendly Best Day Ever, Mac gave us Macadelic, a turning point career-wise and a clear statement: Mac does drugs.
It wasn’t something he glorified or promoted on social media, but it was embedded into his lyrics both slyly and forthrightly, and discussed openly in his interviews. It wasn’t seemingly harmless weed references either, there were harder drugs infiltrating Mac’s lyrics and sound. With Macadelic it all seemed good fun– it sounded fun, too. However as he continued to explore drug use further, and equally, explore music, the references grew murkier, darker. “A drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin,” he raps, on “What Do You Do.”
Yet, that’s not where Mac wanted to be. “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,” he said in the 2015 FADER documentary “Stopped Making Excuses.” “There’s no legendary romance, you don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.”
It’s a hard contrast, to think about Mac Miller as a person– the image of a goofy white guy with a grin across his face, tattooed to the neck up, looking happy– and the darker blemishes within his lyrics and music, made even darker in the wake of his death. Re-visiting his music now can be a chilling experience, if you let it. Because we’re not over Mac Miller’s death. There’s a pang whenever I think about it, that same lump in my chest, a specific kind of emptiness, which, again, says something about how easily he connected with his fans. We won’t find out where he would have gone after Swimming — what new avenues he might have stumbled upon. Surely, he would have grown his sound yet again; he may have surprised us with a radio-friendly hit or he may have veered into some sort of obscure jazz territory. Both seem like possibilities when it comes to the unending musicality of Mac Miller.
“And I was drowning, but now I’m swimming / Through stressful waters to relief”