This past Friday, September 7, 2018, Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller passed away from an apparent drug overdose in his Studio City home. He was only 26 years old.
The devastating news comes just two months before Mac was set to go on tour for his new album, Swimming. The Swimming Tour was one Mac was especially looking forward to, as he shared on Twitter: “This show is going to be very special every night. I wish it started tomorrow.”
It’s always painful to cope with the death of a young artist, which is something I’ve gotten entirely too used to in 2018— but this one stings more than usual. As a 19-year-old college student from the suburbs, I’ve been a part of Mac’s main target audience for much of his career.
Mac’s commercial debut Blue Slide Park was the soundtrack to my middle school years, while Faces, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, GO:OD AM, The Divine Feminine, and Swimming have kept me company since. I consider myself lucky to have grown up during Miller’s career because I got to witness and appreciate every step of his progression as an artist. His growth both musically and personally directly coincided with my formative years which, like many of his devoted fans, made me feel connected to Mac. He was a relatable figure who offered reassurance and positivity regardless of what he was dealing with himself. His emotionally complex and introspective tracks often felt like there was a light on the other side no matter how bad things seemed to be going.
As the young rapper evolved and matured, he became increasingly transparent with his struggles with depression and drug abuse while never seeking pity or sympathy. During Complex’s tribute show to Mac, longtime friend and collaborator Kendrick Lamar said, “No matter what he was going through, he didn’t make you feel sorry for him. He was strong about it and always had a smile on his face because he wanted you to smile too.” Mac’s demons were substantial but he never let it hinder his infectious personality.
The unique dichotomy between Mac’s unwavering charisma and cumbersome battle with depression made his music so compelling. It’s rare for such a young artist to have so much self-awareness and depth; Miller was one of a kind.
As a longtime fan of his music and avid follower of his artistic progression over the years, I’m completely heartbroken. Mac’s decade-long career left a huge mark on more than just hip-hop. What Mac was able to accomplish both artistically and commercially in his short career was unprecedented and he’ll undoubtedly be remembered as one of modern music’s most important figures.
Following his discography takes listeners on a winding path of his life; his ability to put out projects almost yearly provides for an intensely accurate depiction of a rap star’s navigation through mental health, drug use/abuse, and love.
“It’s inconceivable that someone so young, and with so much talent, could do that. […] Mac, wherever you are, I hope you’re happy now.” -Elton John
Mac came up as a fun-loving, exciting, fresh face in hip-hop. His breakout mixtape, K.I.D.S., thrust the 18-year-old rapper into the spotlight, and as his career went on, his maturation only seemed to accelerate. He lived a fast life full of musical expression and positive energy.
The energy of K.I.D.S. evolved into Blue Slide Park, the release that really put Mac over the top, with his hit singles “Frick Park Market,” “Donald Trump,” and “Party on Fifth Ave.” Next was Macadelic, the project that signaled his more emotionally complex side that would fully reveal itself on Watching Movies with the Sound Off.
His life may have been at its darkest point on Faces, the 24-track drugged odyssey of a mixtape. The unconventional production on Faces was sharpened on GO:OD AM, an album that feels like a fuller, more accessible version of Faces, but replacing features from Mike Jones and Earl Sweatshirt for Miguel and Lil B.
His fiery relationship with Ariana Grande seemed to pick his life up from the depths he had explored on Faces, making The Divine Feminine a beautiful declaration of love to Ariana as well as mother earth. His emotional intelligence had seemed to shift from the depths of Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Faces to this symphonic appreciation of love. Swimming seemed to take one step back and then two steps forward from that feeling.
He had been heartbroken and had several run-ins with drugs, but the album still had a strong feeling of inner peace. It was instrumentally daring, a piece of art that will age well given the more melodic direction that rap is heading.
With seemingly limitless creativity and potential, Mac Miller was one of the most important and innovative artists of his generation. He valued being true to oneself.
He was always pushing the boundaries on what fans expected from rap albums, and rap will never be the same without him. Beyond the music, Miller’s death marks the loss of a uniquely positive force in pop culture. You’ll be missed, EZ Mac with the cheesy raps.
– Michael Gorman & Andrew Gonzales
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