On September 7th, 2018 I walked out of class and was hit with the notification that Mac Miller had died of an apparent overdose.
It took me a while to process what that meant. Mac was only 26. Sure, young people die every day, but I had never felt that reality before.
In the hours and days after his death, the internet was filled with comments criticizing music fans for ridiculing Mac’s decision to release his album Swimming on the same night as Travis Scott’s highly anticipated Astroworld. At the same time, others were urging fans to “give people their flowers while they’re alive.”
I realized the latter group was right. I never took the time to reflect on how big of a role Mac played in my life until he was gone. I didn’t give him his flowers while he was alive.
This is the piece I wish I had written before he passed.
One day in sixth grade there was a rumor going around my school about this kid’s sister marrying Mac Miller’s cousin. Or maybe the kid’s cousin marrying Mac’s brother? Something like that, I don’t know. Looking back, it wasn’t that important even if it was true. Still, it was the talk of the grade for a brief moment in time.
Realizing I was apparently the only bum who didn’t know who Mac Miller was, I scrambled to tell my friends how “sick” it was.
Once I got home I searched Mac’s name on YouTube and dug right in. I started with “Donald Trump.” Then “Knock Knock.” Then “Senior Skip Day.’ Then “Nikes On My Feet” and onward. I quickly saw why everyone seemed to care about this Mac Miller guy so much.
Nothing dramatic happened after that day. I didn’t suddenly decide I wanted to be a rapper. I didn’t start making beats instead of doing my homework. Life was pretty much the same, I just listened to Mac Miller now.
Even though he was a few years older than me, it started feeling like I was growing up alongside him. When I judged songs solely by how electric they were, he gave me “Donald Trump” and “Loud.” When I got older and started appreciating deeper lyricism and production, he put out “Weekend” and “So It Goes.”
That’s how it went for years. Mac was a fixture in all my playlists, but I never spent much time actively thinking about him.
In reality, Mac’s journey had already started inspiring me and has stayed with me since.
A New World
Looking back, that day in sixth grade was huge for me. It marked the first time I discovered music outside the radio.
Knowing there was a whole world of artists waiting for me to discover them made me, a kid who doesn’t play any instruments, feel like there was an active role for me in the music world. This feeling opened a new door that led to my enduring love of music. I loved being one of the few to know about the next great artist — a feeling I spent hundreds of hours chasing in high school.
More important than the musical side of this experience is the lessons it taught me. Even though I’m still figuring out what my dreams and interests consist of, Mac was evidence of the virtue of following one’s dreams unapologetically. It’s an ideal I’ve always tried to apply to my life as I grow into the world.
Chase Your Dreams
Our society tells everyone to follow their dreams no matter how unlikely they may seem. It’s better to try and fail than always wonder, they say. Is that advice pragmatic for most people? I’ll leave that up to you. What’s more important is that very few people seem to even try to live out that ideal. And Mac was one of the few.
At first look, he was an unlikely candidate to become a famous rapper. He didn’t look like a rapper. He didn’t carry himself like most rappers. He didn’t fit the tough guy archetype. It didn’t seem like he came from nothing. On the surface he probably had more in common with the people who listen to rappers on their commute to the office than he did with the rappers themselves.
Of course, he went out and did it anyway.
Once he broke onto the scene, it looked like he could carve out a nice career as another white rapper for white kids. It seemed like he’d found his niche. Based on his sound at the time, who would’ve guessed he’d go on to collaborate with legends like Lil Wayne, Kendrick Lamar, Cam’ron, Ab-Soul, and Thundercat. Of course, his dream was greater than being another white rapper, so he did it anyway.
I have no intentions of ever making a rap track, but Mac’s process of actively transforming himself into the artist he wanted to be will inspire me forever.
By the time Mac was 19 or 20, he had already discovered a solid formula for topping the charts. It seemed like he was making hit after hit. Most people would probably stick to this winning formula. What did Mac do instead? Repeatedly overhaul his entire sound.
It’s tough to believe “Loud” to “Dang!” were even made by the same person. To transition from rapping about diamonds in your chain over heavy hip hop drums to trying to win a girl back over a jazz track, in just four years, would be incredible for any artist. Mac reinvented himself in some way every time he released music, and that guessing game always kept things exciting for me as a fan.
When the public just thought of him as one of the better frat rappers, he came back with more introspective and melancholy tracks. When it seemed like that was working well, he came back with soulful music about love.
How does one go from talking about rapping about not wanting to get out of bed before noon to dedicating an entire album to the concepts of love and femininity? By growing up. There aren’t many themes that encapsulate Mac’s entire catalogue, but the one that does is most important: every project represents Mac in some way.
When Mac knew something would work, he went onto the next thing. Not for the sake of being different, but because he was in a different place. He didn’t worry about whether people only loved him for a specific sound, he didn’t worry about what would sell the most, he just made the best albums he could.
As experts continue pitching the importance of sticking to a specific niche in music, business, or anything else, I admire Mac’s conviction to allow his music to roam wherever his life took him.
Do It Before You’re Ready
If you watch some of Mac’s earliest music videos, it genuinely feels like some kids just found a camera and decided to make a music video. Even though they got millions of views, Mac looked like any other 19-year-old having fun with his friends. The organic quality of his work made me feel like I knew him.
Putting himself out there so early didn’t come without criticism. A now infamous review of Miller’s first album, Blue Slide Park, gave it one star out of ten and included unnecessarily harsh remarks like, “the Pittsburgh rapper is mostly just a crushingly bland and intolerable version of Wiz Khalifa.” This same album became the first independently distributed debut album to land at #1 in 16 years, but that’s besides the point.
Most adults probably wouldn’t rebound from such a harsh review of something they were proud to put out into the world. Instead, Mac was back within four months with a more mature project called Macadellic that even addressed the review with lyrics like “Some devil with a pitchfork keep talkin’ like he know me” and “now these writers taking shots without a Nikon.”
Mac could’ve lived in fear of bad reviews. He could’ve waited to put out his first album, hoping the extra time would allow him to perfect it. He could’ve taken a step back after the first bad review, questioning if he had what it took to be a respected rapper. He could’ve waited for seven or more years until he was ready to make Swimming, but look at all the music he made while he was just finding himself as an artist. I don’t love Blue Slide Park, but it contains one of my favorite songs ever — “Missed Calls.” It was also memorable enough for his hometown to later change the name of the park he titled the album after to to “Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park.” A lot cooler than a nice review, if you ask me.
Even if a few reviewers didn’t love the music at first, Mac made his impact felt elsewhere. Six years later, Mac’s music was impactful enough for Jay-Z to mention him in a thread about artists who have inspired him. I can’t think of a higher honor than that.
Mac didn’t wait until his music was ready for every critic. He took the risk and found himself in public. If something didn’t work perfectly, no worries. He’d be back with his next try soon enough.
I could have written everything I just wrote before Mac passed. I was always a fan, but I never took the time to actively think about how much of a fan I was or how much Mac had impacted me. It’s not that I didn’t care — I just always had tests to study for or practices to go to. More importantly, I assumed Mac would always be there, mainly because he always had been. He was like any other friend, except we only hung out through my headphones.
Your friends are your peers. You’re used to growing with them and experiencing new things alongside them. You know it’s possible something tragic could happen, but you probably don’t think it’ll happen to your friend. Mac taught me it can.
I loved him even more after he was gone, and that’s the cycle I’ve decided to change with Flower Fridays.
I always glossed over the line “everybody got dead homies” in “Diablo,” but here we are. Mac was my first experience losing a friend, and I’m going to make sure I do a better job appreciating everyone else in my world in his honor.
Where to start
If you haven’t listened to Mac much, here’s where I’d start:
If you want more, here are some of my favorite Mac Miller songs in (roughly) chronological order:
- Knock Knock; Nikes On My Feet; Another Night; Donald Trump; Best Day Ever; Diablo; Missed Calls; Thoughts From a Balcony; Avian; Watching Movies; Therapy; Weekend; Cinderella; My Favorite Part; Small Worlds; 2009; So It Goes; Good News; Everybody; Hand Me Downs.
Check back next Friday for the second installment of Flower Friday — Kobe Bryant.
Here for the first time? Check out last week’s post for an explanation of Flower Fridays.