As a hip hop head, I’ve often wondered what it would feel like if an artist I truly loved passed away. Nipsey Hussle’s death was such a shock and loss to the community at large, and I continued to see how fans and hip hop heads alike felt like they had lost a family member. Logically I understand their pain and heartache, but I’ve never experienced it.
I’ve watched a plethora of rappers pass away, many of them overdosing, or promoting drug use. While I do not wish death on anyone, I was so emotionally detached from them and often angry at their criminal behavior, that I was either not surprised, or instantly moved on.
Mac Miller’s death was a different story. It hit me hard, and I shed many tears. Yes, he was a drug addict but eventually hated himself for it. His best LP, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, impressed me in its depth, creativity, and stark improvement from previous efforts. Before the release, Mac dropped his Macadelic tape that blew people’s minds. Just the year before Mac had put out his debut album that only furthered his quintessential mindless frat-boy party anthems that were more rooted in douchebag pop than hip hop.
I couldn’t stand the way he looked, the way he dressed, and most of all, the music he made. I was baffled over the amount of die-hard fans he had. Once I saw a video or two I was out and ignored any blog post or mention of new music. I made the mistake of bypassing Macadelic, convinced that it was another piece of shit. It wasn’t. The project was just the beginning of his journey into a more complex sound that was far more developed.
When his major-label debut dropped in 2013 I decided to give it a fair chance. To be honest, it was an easy decision based on the artwork and album title alone. After a few concentrated listens I was convinced Mac was a changed man. Of course, it helped that he had grown older. But it was his maturity level both musically and lyrically that stood out the most. Gone was the happy-go-lucky, ‘everything is fine’ songs that littered his previous albums.
After much success, Mac was thrown into the limelight, and as it often goes, he became addicted to drugs and faced many hardships. As such, his music became a necessary outlet to keep him sane. He showed us that he was far more talented than we could have ever imagined. Macadelic, released in 2012, was his strongest body of work to date. It was eccentric, experimental, and full. It was Macadelic that began his transformation.
In the early aughts, mixtapes were necessary for an artist’s career. They were extremely popular and had to be album quality (for the most part.) Mac started as a mixtape rapper, putting out tape after tape, building a small, but loyal following. This was around 2008/2009 when tapes were less risky to an artist’s career. The tracks were often freestyles over popular instrumentals of recent years. (“Freestyle” is a very loose term; the raps were more often than not written before the actual recording. The true objective was to feed their fans with as much content as they could.)
Macadelic was, without a doubt, a mixtape in every sense of the word. The project was released as a free digital download in 2012 and hosted by Datpiff.com. Having a front-page premiere on Datpiff was the ultimate goal for any rapper who put out mixtapes. The site was dubbed ‘The Authority Of Mixtapes’ and was officially launched in 2005. Macadelic became a commercial and critical success, shocking fans old and new. We heard a deeper side of Mac, a human being who had complex thoughts, emotions, fears, and desires. The humorous tracks he was known for were incredibly developed, featuring artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Cam’ron, Lil Wayne, and Joey Bada$$. The tape ended up being a critical precursor to his major-label debut. A certain kind of anticipation was built among listeners; one of desire to hear more of Mac’s story, and what he could do with a full-length album.
Watching Movies With The Sound Off became one of my favorite LPs of 2013. Each track flowed through me as if I was meeting myself for the first time. Mac invited me into his conscious, and I felt comfortable enough to jump in with no fear. I not only related to his demons, mistakes, anger, hostility, excitement, and confusion, I made a friend and ally in the daily struggle known as human existence.
When ‘Someone Like You’ graced my ears, I imagined Mac in the dark of a small closet, mic in hand, spilling his guts with honesty and fearlessness that I never thought would come out of his mouth. The track became the most important song of his career at the time, and arguably till his death. ‘Someone Like You’ is incredibly detailed, but overall tells his struggles with the price of fame, his fear of not being able to continue to make great content, and, because of this, coping with drugs, sex, and romanticization of suicide.
A few days after its release, I bought the vinyl version of the album to feel even closer to Mac. It was at this point that I followed Mac’s highs and lows until he couldn’t hold on anymore. I read his interviews with online publications expressing his happiness and love for Ariana Grande, his slips and falls in his recovery, and his excitement over new music he was making or the artists he was producing for. He brought joy, kindness, and positivity to his friends, family, fans and the world at large.
His passing felt out of the blue, especially since his album, Swimming, was doing so well on the charts and within the hip hop community. When he died, I didn’t know what to do. I knew something was moving inside of me, something I couldn’t explain. It hit me in places I didn’t know existed. I ran through images of Mac. His music videos, interviews (both written and recorded), his XXL Freshman cover. The Divine Feminine. Swimming. His early mixtapes. And, most importantly, where I was when I heard Watching Movies With The Sound Off for the very first time. He may have annoyed me at the beginning of his career, but how could I criticize music that made so many people happy? That made you want to dance, to party, to have fun? I felt ashamed.
Shortly after his death, I watched his Tiny Desk performance for the first time. Mac could barely get out the words to ‘2009,’ but there was such beauty in the performance. His voice was strained, and I could tell he was almost out of gas not only while singing but in coping with his pain. He gave it his best shot, and he did wonderfully. You could feel the depths of his soul permeating out of the video, almost as if you were one of the audience members.
When his light finally turned to dark, I not only lost a mentor, friend, and brother, I lost a vital part of myself that he created within me. I felt no anger, I lost no hope. Mac didn’t disappoint me. He simply was no longer on this earth. And I missed him, and continue to miss him, desperately.