Few things are as hard to define as the relationship that exists between a musician and his/her fans. I speak for myself when I say that despite never meeting artists like Frank Ocean, Kanye West or Justin Vernon, the emotional connection is undoubtedly present, and the glue that holds it together is the music.
When 26-year-old Pittsburgh native Mac Miller passed away on September 7th, he left behind a library of projects that will live on long after Mac’s time on Earth through the headphones and speakers of fans and listeners alike. Since his 2011 debut studio album, Blue Slide Park, Mac Miller has beautifully evolved as a musician, covering genres within the likes of, but not limited to, Rap, R&B, Jazz, Pop and a plethora of others, proving himself to be among the best at transforming his sound in strikingly creative ways.
Mac Miller proved himself to be an underdog story in the rap industry, and following his passing, I took a week to run through all of his music from 2011-2018 (primarily his studio albums), exploring what Mac gave us before his tragic passing.
Let’s start from the beginning:
The year is 2011. Radio stations across America are blasting Pittsburgh prodigy Wiz Khalifa’s debut studio album Rolling Papers. In Pittsburgh, Wiz is being hailed as the cities great hope to finally get a foot in the rap door. Behind all this hype, however, lives a lesser known artist named Malcom McCormick, known by his small, but cult-like following as Mac Miller.
In November of 2011, Mac Miller released his debut studio album, Blue Slide Park. Paying homage to the community park he spent the majority of his life around, Blue Slide Park was a sloppy but effective collection of stoner rap, novel sampling and heavy horns, showcasing the saxophone on more than one occasion. While the album is littered with busts, there were a few tracks that pushed Mac into the spotlight. Miller’s “Black and Yellow” came in the form of “Party On Fifth Ave.”, a tribute to the place where he and his friends would go to have a good time on weekends. The track’s obvious highlight is its addictive saxophone riff, and to this day, “Party On Fifth Ave.” still stands as one of Mac Miller’s catchiest, most popular songs.
So, was Blue Slide Park good? Not really. Sure, it wasn’t as organized or as popular as Rolling Papers, but Mac was on the map, which is enough for any budding artist to get the ball rolling.
The year is 2013. It’s been a rollercoaster 24 months for Mac Miller, rising to stardom, making music, facing critics, so to say life is stressful is an understatement. During his tour for his follow-up album, Macadelic, Mac Miller developed an addiction to Codeine (lean) and Cocaine, using both as coping mechanisms for the fast and rocky rise to fame. Though a lot has changed in Mac’s life, one thing that has stayed consistent is his music, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sure, a few gems have surfaced here and there, but for the most part, critics and fans are bored with the same “watered-down Wiz” rap that Mac has made his niche, and for this reason he’s lost his grip on sobriety and the music world.
Enter Watching Movies with the Sound Off.
Mac’s third studio album, WMWTSO was a monumental leap by Mac from an average-at-best rapper to a true artist within the genre. Everything that Mac had excelled in up to this point was turned up to 10, and on top of polished sonics, Mac introduced features from the likes of Action Bronson, Ab-Soul, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q and Niki Randa. More importantly, however, was the all-star producer lineup Mac recruited for the project, including himself under the moniker Larry the Fisherman, as well as producer legends Pharrell Williams, The Alchemist, Flying Lotus and Clams Casino.
The moment I knew Mac was something special was on the albums intro track “The Star Room”. Produced by Earl Sweatshirt under the name randomblackdude, The Star Room is a euphoric, dark record about personal struggles and self-reflection. In essence, Watching Movies with the Sound Off was Mac Miller evolving into a true powerhouse in the rap game, and as for the future, there was nowhere to go but up.
The year is 2015. Mac Miller, now established as one of the hottest rappers in the game, releases his 3rd studio album, GO:OD AM. In the year leading up to the album, Mac decides that it’s time to make major changes in his life, and as a result, he gets clean from the addictions he’s battled for years. GO:OD AM is, in summary, a revitalization of an already constantly improving rapper, and as the title of the project suggests, Miller has woken up, effectively beating the demons of temptation that have plagued him for much of his career. On this album, Mac Miller exhibits many of the same themes and sonics of his previous project, but there’s something different about it this time around. Mac sounds refreshed, he sounds awake, and most importantly, he sounds happy. Throughout the album, the central theme exhibited by Mac is sobriety, enjoying the finer things, and above all else, making himself as well as the people that he loves proud. He isn’t just a rapper anymore either, he’s really a true musician, including elements of live music and band-style instrumentals into the album.
On the track “Perfect Circle/God Speed”, Mac flips the beat halfway through the song, and in a now haunting fashion, we hear a voicemail left by Mac’s brother, Miller McCormick, assumedly to Mac who is in rehab at the time of the call. Mac’s brother says;
“Hey man, I wish you were here, happy holidays
Uhm, I love ya. And I hope you have a good night/weekend
/I hope I talk to you soon, alright, godspeed”
In the wake of Mac’s death, this voicemail almost serves as a terrifyingly real foreshadow, with Miller McCormick calling into the afterlife, wishing his brother was there.
GO:OD AM was and still is considered by many to be Mac Miller’s most complete project, and everything really was in its right place. So, where would Mac go from there?
The year is 2016. Mac Miller has shocked the music world with the curveball release of his 4th studio album, The Divine Feminine. This album wasn’t a curveball because it was a surprise, but rather the route that Mac took this time around. Taking it upon himself to play and record every single instrument on the album, Mac Miller went down the alley of Alternative Hip-Hop and true-to-form Jazz Rap. Already an established rapper, Mac Miller decided to expand his musical imagination, cultivating an album that would pass at any jazz club or blues room. With features from Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, CeeLo Green and then girlfriend Ariana Grande, The Divine Feminine shined as Mac’s well formulated attempt as pushing the boundaries of what he was already capable of as a rapper.
Mac Miller forced his foot into the door of genres that most rapper wouldn’t dare to touch, establishing himself as one of the most versatile rappers in recent memory.
The year is 2018. Mac and Ariana Grande have officially split, and many fans wonder how this will affect the rapper’s well-being, as well as his music. Months after the split, Mac releases his 5th and now final studio album, Swimming.
On Swimming, Mac is in full control, as the album has no credited features. The album highlights prosperity, coping with hardship, and above all self-care (see “Self Care”). The project truly is a culmination of all of the sounds Mac has showcased in his short but incredible career, touching on themes and instrumentation from his previous four studio albums. Swimming is a victory lap of sorts, as Mac Miller shows the world that despite the numerous hardships he’s faced in his lifetime, he’s still swimming, and as long as he has anything to say about it, he isn’t going to drown anytime soon.
In most Mac Miller tributes that I’ve seen to this point, every single one ends the article by talking about his death.
I’m not going to do that.
While mourning is a given in these situations, I want to take this time to celebrate Mac Miller’s beautiful career. Seven years ago, Mac Miller was smoking with his buddies at Blue Slide Park in Pittsburgh, rapping about kool-aid and frozen pizza. Today, Mac Miller is one of the most beloved rappers in the game, breaking walls in the industry and living life by his own terms.
Isn’t that the dream?
Here’s a quote from the great Stevie Wonder I found years ago;
“Music, at its essence, is what gives us memories. And the longer a song has existed in our lives, the more memories we have of it.”
Do not let Mac Miller’s music die. Mac may be gone, but is he really? Malcom McCormick gave Earth one of the greatest gifts anyone can give, the beautiful contribution of music.
Just remember, music is the world’s greatest form of communication. Mac Miller isn’t dead, in fact, he’s very much alive in the speakers and headphones of listeners, and will continue to be as long as we cherish what he gave us during his time here.
God Speed Mac Miller, God Speed.
- Carter Ferryman -