Mac Miller — A Rapper With No Boundaries

On September 7th, 2018 the ever-talented rapper and musician Mac Miller tragically suffered from a drug overdose in Los Angeles, California and died at the age of 26. Meanwhile his impact on the lives of all those around the world is still apparent in modern musicians such as Tyler, the Creator and more. Throughout his almost 10-year career, Mac Miller, or Malcolm McCormick, continuously evolved his music and creativity into a discography with no bounds and changed the persona of the common rapper.

His debut album in 2011, Blue Slide Park, became the first ever independently released project to top Billboard 200 in over 15 years. This album focused on his life growing up in Pittsburgh and how he was finding himself in the world of rap. He shows himself as a fun-loving kid whose enjoyment for life matches his enjoyment of the white privilege that brought him his success so suddenly. Blue Slide Park became a classic in the “frat-rap” scene and McCormick spent the next two years trying to shake the idea of him as nothing more than an artist to play in the background of parties. He challenged this casting on his track, “The Question” with lyrics stating, “I’m a hostage in my own world [...] I think they underestimate the grind [...] Sometimes I catch a buzz just to help me picture love.” However, Malcolm used his success, no matter who was giving him it, to lift others trying to make their own in the music scene. In 2012 he brought a fresh-faced Kendrick Lamar as his opener on tour, and offered Chance the Rapper the same opportunity the following year. Miller also produced tracks on SZA’s 2014 EP; who recently wrote in an Instagram post after his death: “You were the first person I met when I moved here. U let me come over everyday and be whoever I wanted. Showed up for me in ways I can never express or repay. My gratitude is infinite.” 

Mac Miller refused to settle into a position of the classic cookie-cutter party rap and in 2013 under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman produced the entire collection of Vince Staple’s “Stolen Youth” and released his own second album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off. This album showed a man whose main focus was no longer parties and women but instead discussed his standing in hip-hop, mental illness, interpersonal relationships, and addiction. This emotional intelligence developed further in his 2015 album GO:OD AM, where he rapped about race and how being on tour affected his struggles with addiction. On his track “Perfect Circle/God Speed” he raps: “Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up / Admit it’s a problem, I need a wake up / Before one morning I don’t wake up / You make your mistakes, your mistakes never make ya.” In this almost eight-minute track he confronts his family, God, and his inner demons. He displays self-awareness of his mental illness and simultaneously excuses it and apologizes for his actions.

After confirming his relationship with Ariana Grande in 2016, Mac Miller taking his artistic approach to a level he has never experimented with before on his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine. He embraced himself as a vocalist, prominent jazz and R&B influences, live instrumentation, and finally, a refreshing positive outlook on the world around him. This album was a methodical exploration of his perspective on love and the place it holds in the universe. This album reaffirmed him as an ever evolving artist who could not conform to one particular music style. This album showed tenderness that was world away from his previous work, with an equal amount of rap as there was orchestral arrangements. This was Miller’s attempt at poetically capturing his encounters with the feminine energy of the world and discussing how romantic attraction desensitizes a person’s stronghold.

Fast forward to 2018, his fifth and last studio album, Swimming echoes the darker themes of his earlier work but with a mature outlook that brings a type of sophistication and sharpness that wasn’t present before. Rather than rapping about his awareness of his demons, on Swimming we see him discussing his search for stability and he continues to change his sound with the addition of synthesizers and the incorporation of soul and funk parallels. Miller is urging his listeners to see the big picture of life with this record and showing them that it is possible to always move forward. We see Miller singing more than ever on this album and bringing a sense of tranquility into the work with the reinforced idea that he is a person who has learned to accept his own chaos and create meaning within it. The melancholy overtones from previous works are hinted at but overcome with Miller’s determination for redemption and composure. HIs last work truly showed him in a state of mind to make peace with his demons, but not eliminate them.

While every album he puts out differentiates and shows growth from the next there is one underlying default in his work: honesty. Mac Miller was an artist who was honest about his perils and used his music as a therapeutic release. HIs open discussion of his struggles does not create a sense of glorification but almost as a way for him to track his progress. Miller was aware of his illness, but was also aware of the physical and mental burdens his journey possessed. There is still a tendency in today’s society to categorize addiction as a person’s own deviance rather than a systematic failure. However, Mac Miller’s disease was not able to change his character and his fans and loved ones emphasized the supportive, gentle soul he stayed throughout his whole career. His premature death has left a hole in the music industry that can never be fully filled again and it is a tragedy the world will never know how he was going to evolve next.

*If you or a loved one struggle with addictions, depression, or suicidal thoughts please reach out to the Substance Abuse + Mental Health Services Administration: 1(800)-662-HELP

— Stephanie Terando