For anyone who went through adolescence in the 2010s, Malcolm McCormick was right there with them.
First making a splash in 2011 with anthems such as "Donald Trump" and "Senior Skip Day," Mac Miller would go on to become one of the most impactful artists of the decade. He came into the game with fun and cheesy "frat rap" and left it with some of the most beautiful, poetic, and honest music of our time. With his five studio albums and thirteen mixtapes, he provided the soundtrack for a generation.
He provided a soundtrack to fit any emotion or occasion; a soundtrack to bolster any high or any low.
Mac Miller left us entirely too soon, but he is kept very much alive through his timeless discography and his adoring fans, friends, and family. It seems as if Mac Miller blessed the life of everyone who had the pleasure of meeting or working with him, and he especially blessed the lives of everyone who listened to him. Luckily for humanity, his art will live on forever.
One year after Mac's untimely passing, fellow writer Ralph Compiano and I have decided to honor Mac as the September Genius of the Month. We will dissect his life and evolution, trying our best to articulate what made Malcolm McCormick such a unique and beloved artist.
Malcolm McCormick was born on January 19, 1992 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother was a photographer and his father was an architect. He and his older brother, Miller, were raised Jewish but attended Catholic school growing up (his mom is Jewish and his dad is Christian).
Mac was a self-taught musician, learning piano, guitar, drums, and bass by six years old. Mac had early aspirations of singing, as well. Growing up, Mac was an avid athlete and played football and lacrosse in school. He went to a couple of high schools, but graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School- the alma mater of fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa (an early collaborator/mentor to Mac).
Around the age of fifteen, Mac began to take music seriously. He originally released music under the moniker "Easy Mac", releasing his debut mixtape But My Mackin' Ain't Easy in 2007. He later re-established himself as "Mac Miller" in 2009 with the release of mixtapes The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown and The High Life.
In 2010, Mac signed with Rostrum Records- the independent Pittsburgh label of Wiz Khalifa and a handful of other local artists. He then released his career-changing mixtape K.I.D.S (Kickin' Incredibly Dope Shit).
RALPH COMPIANO ON K.I.D.S - FACES
Before I discuss the inception of my membership in the Mac Miller religion, and my relationship to his music, I'd like to preface this with the fact that I still can't believe his personal, real-life absence from this Earth is real. We miss you everyday, my G, and you'll be in our hearts, minds, and on the tips of our tongues till infinity.
KICKIN' INCREDIBLY DOPE SHIT (2010)
"So far, I've done pretty well for myself Couple trophies on my shelf, so what else Could I want that I don't have yet Well, a little more cash and my own fast jet
So I can go anywhere (Anywhere) anywhere (Anywhere) Cali for the kush because boy I know there's plenty there About to be in music stores everywhere but not yet They can't understand my concept"
Lyrics from "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza"
I remember the first time I'd ever heard of Mac Miller in the 7th grade. My dearest friend, Spencer Weese, introduced me to the idea of him during school. I was immediately stubborn to the idea of another white rapper existing within my playlists, "A white, Jewish rapper? And he's from Pittsburgh? No way he'll ever be better than Eminem. White guys that aren't Eminem should just stick to the MLB." Once we got out of school, we walked to his house and I was immediately in complete shock and awe after viewing the YouTube video of "Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza."
The hardly-tatted-at-the-time young man just breathed energy through his swagger, and his vibrant flow was unlike anything I'd heard up to that point in my young adolescent life. He was smooth, in control, and someone that could make my mom tap her foot just as easily as it made me want to dissect the entirety of his lyrics on Genius. In other words, he was everything that Eminem wasn't. He was calm and relaxed, yet ready to take over the world (as his lyrics suggested).
Mac was a versatile artist from the get-go. He was capable of delivering bars on top of bars on stoner-anthems like "Kool Aid," or "Nikes On My Feet," but he truly thrived on top of beats that made your body lose control like, "The Spins," and "Knock Knock." No matter what beat came his way, Mac would match the energy with his uncontainable livelihood. And of course, the hopeless romantic in me couldn't get enough of songs like "All I Want is You," and "Face in the Crowd." I would listen to the choruses over and over again until I memorized them well enough to recite them on, like almost quite literally, all of my Facebook statuses.
(I don't trust you if you don't have the same DatPiff account now as you did in the 7th and 8th grade.)
BEST DAY EVER (2011)
"Tryna make it work out, think I need more reps Used to take a bus, now the boy board jets Cause K.I.D.S. got me buzzin' like a fuckin' hornet They say I got next, tell them that I got now It's all Disney boy, my family Proud Make 'em say, 'Ow,' make'em say, 'Oh' The hoes that tell me 'Yes', the same ones that tell you 'No' Woah, I ain't just an Average Joe, way above the average flow Boy, my life is Most Dope"
Lyrics from album-title track "Best Day Ever"
Okay, I can't even front, I straight up teared the fuck up while re-listening to this mixtape for the first time in nearly a year while typing up this portion of the worship-piece in the library.
Some may consider this mixtape to be Mac's first masterful piece of art. While K.I.D.S. was the groovy, yet inconsistent introduction to Pittsburgh's finest flower, BDE was what took Miller's status from an ultra-cult leader to a mainstream mogul.
Sure, "Donald Trump" may be the most popular song on the project, but while I was looking back on the tape eight and a half years later, I became instantly aware that it's definitely not the most influential nor memorable. That award has to go to either the intro track, "Best Day Ever," or my personal favorite anthem off of the tape, "Life Ain't Easy."
Granted, my nostalgia overcomes the rest of my instincts when I'm listening to Mac (the latter track has been one of my five favorite Mac songs for as long as I can remember), but still, the sheer joy, happiness, and excitement for life is relatively untouchable when diving through the rest of the god's discography.
I'd also like to take a moment to appreciate the genius of the goofy, yet solemnly bouncy and hopeful track "Oy Vey," because it was the first time I'd ever really learned to appreciate ad-libs. And really quick, one more thing, the verse where Mac recites,
"My people like to party so inform us where the freaks at Livin’ out my dream, people still sleepin’ The best night of your life, but we do this every weekend Life couldn’t get better, I hope it lasts forever When I spit my verse they gon’ remember every letter like Day in, and day out We tryna get this cake now You think you fly just wait until I pull my cape out Hey, life is good don’t waste it We ha-ha-ha-ha laughin’ at the looks on they faces"
is a priceless piece of Pittsburgh poetry.
Actually, one last thing one more time, "Wear My Hat," is my most-favorite cheesy love song of all-time. That song's lyrics are the epitome of Facebook statuses that make you feel the need to gag when you see them nearly a decade later.
"Red wine up in my glass plus Filet Mignon I got a army right up under me, I'm Genghis Khan Yeah, it's me against the world, I guess I'll take them on I might stop and see my girl, but I ain't staying long What if I'm gone, what the fuck you gon' think then? I told my story, put my life inside this ink pen Said I'll make it big when, everybody know me Well, I made it big and, everybody phony Ha, so could you pour me, I need a cup No, none of that liquor, mix some purple stuff I could talk my pain, but would it hurt too much"
Lyrics from "Thoughts From A Balcony"
Okay, now unfortunately (and also fortunately, somehow), the discussion of this project is where things start to get a little dark. Macadelic was seemingly the first LSD-influenced project that Mac ever made, and it shows through the variety of instruments, voice samples, and frequencies that the project experiments with.
I always found it fascinating that Nike is involved in the creation of this video. I think it was before their sponsorship of Kendrick, so the fact that they're involved with a hallucinogenic video on one of the more psychedelically influenced album of the decade is very intriguing.
The first actual song on the project, "Desperado" includes a segment from Gene Wilder's performance as Willy Wonka that is perhaps one of the creepiest monologues in children's-movie history.
What's interesting about the inclusion of this nightmare inducing speech is that it's followed by perhaps the most uplifting song on the project, "Loud" which was a return of the party animal version of Mac where he encourages the audience of devoted listeners, and his engineer as well to turn the speakers all the way the fuck up.
And, speaking on behalf of the hip-hop community, we did.
The transition from "Desperado" into "Loud" was Mac's attempt at communicating with us that he'd been through a lot of ups and downs since he'd reached the famous status he'd been praying for since K.I.D.S. and BDE. The next track, "Thoughts From A Balcony," is the culmination of the consequential depressive thoughts that come along with this newly found notoriety.
Mac meditates on several psychological thoughts: what the world would be like without him, "What the fuck is time?", and how he got to this point in life (was it luck or skill? he asks himself). As somebody who believes FACES is the greatest mixtape ever, and one of the best projects in musical history, this song is one of my three personal favorites off the album because of its introspective theme.
If you're curious, or even if you're not, the other two are "America" featuring Casey Veggies and Joey Bada$$, and "The Question" featuring Lil Wayne. The former is a bar-based-ballad that showcases Mac's genius vocal delivery, self-awareness, and ability to illustrate hallucinogenic trips through his vocabulary and voice distortion. It also features a couple of quality verses from Casey and Joey, two of Mac's favorite rappers to have as featuring artists.
An awesome thing about "America" is that Mac went to Genius.com to annotate the lyrics himself, and there full of gems like:
that are instantly followed by even more magnificent gems like:
Good God, I miss you so fucking much, Mac. Where are the rappers with good senses of humor at? Somebody get Vince Staples his own MTV show.
"The Question" is a song that details the human condition, and begs the question "Who the fuck am I? What am I supposed to do? Why do I sip this devil juice? Do we ever get to know the truth? What am I doing here?" Some thoughts that every sane person has asked themselves at one point or another, unless they've decided to become entirely detached from reality (in that case, good for you, the rest of us are jealous as fuck, but at least we have Mac and Weezy on our side, so fuck back off to your happy little corner of fantasy land).
If you're ever looking for a quick four-minute psychedelic trip, then just listen to the sixth track off of Macadelic, "Vitamins" which details one of Mac's trips that he has with a woman who slips him a little something that he can't find the words for to perfectly describe it.
"I hope one day it all makes sense." - Mac Miller, 'The Mourning After'
WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF (2013)
"Shut your pie-hole, I'm dope and I know My voice sound like it was a sample off a vinyl I don't mind those hating on my style I tend to take the high road, get stoned and fly low I'm no God, I don't think that I'm a human, though cause I'm so odd People selling drugs cause they can't find no job Wonder if Christ made a million off selling the cross Let bygones be bygones, my mind strong as pythons The day that I die on will turn me to an icon"
Lyrics from "S.D.S."
I think it's important to inform you, the reader, that this is my mom's favorite Mac project. Honestly, I don't think she can even name another one, but she always adored his vibrant vibrations, vocal effects, moments of comedic relief and "jiggly" beats (her word, not mine).
There's this image instilled in my memory of her bobbing her head and folding her hand to look like a closed mouth and bouncing it back and forth along with her head bobs to the beat of "S.D.S. (Somebody Do Something!)". And who can blame her? She's just like me in a lot of ways: a person who appreciates incredible, new music, and someone with terribly embarrassing rhythm who doesn't give a fuck that other people are watching them make a fool of themselves. Okay, now time for more Mac analysis and less mommy appreciation.
Now, where to start? Should I continue down the path of depressive lyricism, and accepting the cruelty of reality by discussing songs like, "I'm Not Real" featuring Earl Sweatshirt, "I Am Who I Am (Killin' Time)" featuring Niki Randa, or "Objects In The Mirror"? Or should we transition into continuing the praise of Mac's unparalleled lyricism on "Avian"? Yeah, let's go with the second one, for sanity's sake.
Here's the entire second verse of "Avian" (which is in my top five favorite Mac verses of all-time) along with its music video, which is an aesthetically pleasing visual of a Monk lip-synching the track:
It's an impression of Bueller Yeah, yeah, a little TV money (okay), dollars for sense of humor (yeah) Scholar but my attendance like Bueller, so no use for a tutor Some cold brews in the cooler (have one) Coming through in the wood grain PT Cruiser, stunting I'm pissed off like a blind person looking for a restroom (restroom) Probably be dead soon inhaling cigarette fumes (coughs) Sorry for that blind people comment, that was just rude (yeah) And I was raised better, say God bless you (God bless you) I'm Kenny Powers, you're more of a Debbie Downer My bitch taking off her trousers every time I get around her I'm nasty, I never shower, go sleep on a bed of flowers Not into this conversation, I've been in my head for hours I'm out
Mac may have not been a revolution once Watching Movies, but he surely demonstrated a significant amount of progress, and became more at one with himself following the confusion, and deliriousness of Macadelic. Overall, this project is a lot like BDE in the manner that it's literally all over the place thematically, but that's part of what makes Mac the genius that he is. He can rip your heart out with "Someone Like You" one minute, and make your foot instinctively tap itself to sleep with a track like "Gees" where we first experienced his alter ego, Larry Fisherman.
"I'm half man-half amazing Probably half God, but that don't fit my calculations (don't make no sense) I know the planet Earth is about to explode Kinda hope that no one save it, we only grow from anguish"
Lyrics from "Friends" featuring ScHoolboy Q
Oh God, here we go (haha, Faces puns are the best). Fuck. This is going to be the most emotionally draining thing I've ever done. It's a good thing this piece isn't going to be released physically, because it'd have all of my missile-sized tears, and shedded hairs polka-dotted and littered all over the pages. I guess the only appropriate place to begin is with the introduction track, "Inside Outside".
Please, for the sake of your mental health and progression towards becoming the genius you've always wished you could become, please read the introductory verse to the greatest mixtape of all-time. Actually, fuck that, read it and listen to it simultaneously. You're already this far in the article, you might as well dive all the way in at this point. Don't give me some half-ass effort, we both know you and I both deserve more than that. So, press play on this SoundCloud link, go to SoundCloud, make sure that the tape is playing, and then come back to this article so we can reflect on it with one another. This is a safe space. Shoot me a text or snapchat or FaceTime or whatever the fuck you want if you feel the need to talk it out. Enough said, let's ride.
"Yeah, yeah Shoulda died already (Faces) I shoulda died already, shit (Faces) Yeah, I shoulda died already (Faces) Came in, I was high already E'rybody trippin' that my mind ain't steady For my sin shoulda been crucified already, rah! Why the fuck you need me? (Faces) Don't you know how to fly already? Try and tell you that it ain't real (Faces) Tell 'em 'Find that yeti' (Owoo!) Ohhhhh, Motherfucker! (I'm that yeti!) And it all could end right now (Faces) I never been so ready (Faces) All my homies philosophers (Damn right!) Yeah (Faces), all my homies philosophers And I don't need nobody, I would love somebody though Don't you ever get it fucked up (Faces) Everybody wanna be God Besides God, he wanna be like us"
Ol' Jewish is back at it again with the religious references, meditations on mortality, and psychedelic psychologies on this intro song, and it's truly the best that he's ever been as a musician and artist.
You won't find a more experimental mixtape in your lifetime, especially in the genre of hip-hop, and the sheer honesty in this first verse is reflective of the rest of the mixtape where Mac lets out all of his most inner frustrations, appreciations, and abuses.
The wildest part about the mixtape is the legend that Mac was under the influence of so many different drugs during the production of this album that he doesn't even remember recording it. I don't know if I entirely believe in that myth, because not every drug out there has the side effect of memory loss (although a lot of them do), and Mac has always been someone who was intimately connected with his work. This excerpt from "Angel Dust" does assist the suggestion of this claim:
"My brain fried, always chasing the same high I'm too fucked up to function, do nothin' but waste time Woke up annihilated, lyin' on the pavement Covered in items I regurgitated"
Honestly, Faces feels like a myth in its totality. It's like somebody put a recorder in Mac's brain during one of his lucid dreams, and he's standing at a podium reciting the poems that identify everything about his life. There's the good, the bad, the ugly, the ups, the downs, the unders, the overs, the highs, the lows, and the inexplicables, and I'm appreciative for all of them.
If you're not familiar with this album, and are a fan of Mac for his uptempo songs that could fit seamlessly into a 70's disco party, then you'll appreciate the tracks "Angel Dust," "Therapy," and "Thumablina," more than any other songs on this album. Because the rest of the tracks are either super fucking depressing, or make you want to run through a wall for Mac Miller and his music.
The make-you-want-to-run-through-a-wall because they're better than anything you've heard before or since songs include, "Inside Outside," "Here We Go," "Diablo," "Ave Maria," "Insomniak," featuring Rick Ross, "Rain," featuring Vince Staples, and "New Faces Vol. 2," featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Da$h.
The songs that make you feel like you need fifteen different therapists for each of your different altar egos are, "Friends," "Malibu," "What Do You Do," featuring Sir Michael Rocks, "It Just Doesn't Matter" which features an intoxicatingly horrifying Bill Murray speech much like the Gene Wilder speech on Macadelic, "Polo Jeans," featuring Earl Sweatshirt, plus the trio of "Happy Birthday," "Wedding," "Funeral," which seem to be placed in an order for some significant reason, and also the ballad about taking acid on the West Coast and going absolutely berserk "San Francisco," plus "Colors and Shapes," "Apparition," and "Grand Finale," which ties together the perfectly constructed bow on the project with a quick statement on the behalf of Bill Murray, in the movie Where The Buffalo Roam, who says, "The hallucinations have stopped, finally, thank God, but uh, my adrenaline reserves are burning out and I'm staring straight into the face of a total psychotic freakout."
Overall, the listener and Mac Miller fanatic is much like Bill Murray's character by the end of their experience with Faces. I recall driving back to Iowa City from Des Moines earlier this year, and listening to the project from front to back. There's nothing that better compliments and hour-and-a-half long drive than an infinite amount of Millerisms that make you question your life as well as his own. There were several moments during the drive where I just wanted to pull over to the side of the road and take a moment to listen even closer, and then cry all the tears that I've never had the opportunity to let loose before. But I thought to myself, I have a destination to get to, and a passenger in shotgun who's half asleep and probably enjoying the beauty of this music too much to want to listen to my hideous sobs. So for the sake of Mac, and my dear half asleep friend, I just kept on driving and shed the tears somewhat silently, and I think that's what Mac would've wanted.
EVAN LINDEN ON GO:OD AM - SWIMMING
GO:OD AM (2015)
I'm not sure if this is a hot take or not, but GO:OD AM might be my favorite Mac Miller album. Swimming comes very close, but it's really too hard to pick. That's neither here nor there, though; each Mac album is uniquely wonderful.
In accordance with its title, GO:OD AM was an awakening album. GO:OD AM saw Mac come to real terms with his flaws and addictions, trying to embrace sobriety and an overall healthier lifestyle. GO:OD AM was also a wake-up call to fans, showcasing Mac in a brand-new light while proudly boasting a wide array of brand-new sounds.
Despite the experimentation and new approaches, GO:OD AM saw Mac at a very polished point in his lyrical career. GO:OD AM saw Mac confidently take the leap to the next stage of his career; GO:OD AM saw Mac etch his name further into the book of legends. He brought big-boy bars and backed them up with real, often-chilling anecdotes and depressed, subtle flexes. Mac truly exemplified next-level, otherworldly lyrical ability across the 17 tracks on this album.
Tracks such as "Cut the Check" (ft. Chief Keef) and "Break the Law" see Mac come with full force, lacing hard-hitting beats with even harder bars. Tracks such as "Ascension" and "Perfect Circle/God Speed" see Mac break down while acknowledging his shortcomings with full honesty; this excerpt from "God Speed" makes me want to bawl my eyes out:
"Everybody saying I need rehab 'Cause I’m speedin' with a blindfold on and won’t be long until they watching me crash And they don’t wanna see that They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother Tell her they could have done more to help me and she’d just be Crying saying that she’d do anything to have me back"
On a happier note, tracks such as "Two Matches" (ft. Ab Soul), "In the Bag", and "100 Grandkids" are fun and braggadocious. Tracks such as "Weekend" (ft. Miguel), "The Festival" (ft. Little Dragon), and "Clubhouse" see Mac get wavy and poetic.
All in all, GO:OD AM is Mac's boldest and most well-rounded album.
THE DIVINE FEMININE (2016)
The Divine Feminine is arguably Mac's most pure, yet most experimental album-even more so than GO:OD AM. The Divine Feminine is Mac's tribute to the emotion of love, seeing him recount his past relationships and learning experiences with women.
If the previous paragraph didn't paint the picture, Mac is seen at a very mature and wise point on The Divine Feminine. He still spits endless sex-related bars on it (it wouldn't be Mac if he didn't), but he gives more praise and appreciation to women than ever before.
Sonically, The Divine Feminine sees Mac and a wide range of guests- Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Ariana Grande, Cee Lo Green, Ty Dolla Sign, Bilal & Njomza- bring fantastic vocals while mixing genres such as R&B, jazz, soul, electronic, pop, and alternative.
Swimming, down to every last detail, is an album as beautiful as they come.
Swimming is hopeful; Swimming is intelligent. Swimming is the culmination of years of growth, pain, success, wisdom, experimentation, and mastery.
Unfortunately, Swimming is the last original Mac Miller album we will ever receive. Swimming was quite the statement to leave behind, though; Swimming stands as an absolutely beautiful testament to Mac and his legacy.
Swimming was the final confirmation that Mac Miller is one of the most important and influential artists of our time.