AMY WESSON ’19
On Friday, Sept. 7, rapper, producer, and musician Mac Miller died of a drug overdose in his home at the age of 26. The death of Mac Miller, born Malcolm McCormick, is a tragic loss of an evolved young artist in the midst of his creative prime.
His fifth and final studio album, Swimming, was released on August 3rd and debuted at No. 3 on the US Billboard 200- and might’ve placed higher if it wasn’t for Travis Scott’s surprise release of Astroworld on the same day, which passed Swimming and Drake’s Scorpion to number one. But Mac was content with the outcome, telling Vulture journalist Craig Jenkins in his final interview that was published Sept. 6, the day before his death: “I’m less concerned with being king of the hill than being able to put shit out.”
The thirteen track album is a cohesive, reflective narrative about destruction and rebirth, evolving from his past, dealing with his darkness, and picking himself up again- although he acknowledges the uncertainty of his future. The sound is slow and spacey, with influences of jazz, funk, and soul. Producers credited on Swimming included Miller himself, under his pseudonym of Larry Fisherman, as well as J. Cole, Flying Lotus, multi-genre bass guitarist Thundercat- who was set to go on tour with Mac in Oct. as a member of his band, and esteemed film composer Jon Brion- known for scoring Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Lady Bird among others. Snoop Dogg, John Mayer, Syd, and J.I.D. are also featured.
On Aug. 6, Miller and his band, which featured a string quartet, played a warm and reflective Tiny Desk Concert for NPR, showcasing live for the first time three songs from Swimming– “Small Worlds,” “What’s the Use?,” and “2009”. The set is haunting to watch in the wake of his death, with predictive lyrics like: “That’s why I wrote this song, told myself to hold on, I can feel my fingers slippin’, in a motherfuckin’ instant I’ll be gone”.
Swimming came after a turbulent spring for Miller. In May, he caught a DUI after crashing his Mercedes-Benz G Class into a light pole, and subsequently disappeared from the public eye for a while, deleting the majority of his social media. In an interview with Beats 1 host Zane Lowe, Miller said of the accident, “I made a stupid mistake. I’m a human being. Like, I drove home drunk. But it was the best thing that could’ve happened… I needed that. I needed to run into that light pole and literally, like, have the whole thing stop.”
This was the same month that Miller publicly split with his girlfriend of two years, pop superstar Ariana Grande, whom many believe was the muse for his 2016 funk-jazz album The Divine Feminine, an album that celebrated and meditated on love and the feminine energy of the universe. The Internet turned the blame to Grande after the DUI, attributing Mac’s accident to her whirlwind romance and engagement to Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson just one month after the breakup, which made consistent headlines over the summer. Ariana denied any responsibility, calling her relationship with Miller “toxic”, and detailing the struggle of being in a relationship with an addict: “I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be.” Now, in the wake of his death, commenters continue to blame her, sparking an online discussion of what’s been dubbed “The Yoko Effect”- pop culture’s “desire to connect female partners to actions they may not comprehend”, as described by Rolling Stone.
Mac Miller was beloved and widely respected by musicians and fans alike for the evolution of his music and lyrics. His fourth mixtape in 2010, K.I.D.S, blew up when he was only 18, as did his 2011 mixtape Best Day Ever. His debut album, Blue Slide Park, was the first independent album to debut at number one on the Billboard 100 since 1995. These albums were a mix of 90s influenced party rap bangers and stoner music, subsequently dubbing Miller as a “frat rapper,” a reputation he had been working hard to reinvent by becoming more honest and experimental in his work. His lyrics became more intellectual and developed; he moved fluidly between genres of jazz, soul, and funk. As he battled with addiction, loneliness, and fame at a young age, his lyrics reflected this candidly. Mac spoke openly about his problems with addiction in a 2016 documentary produced by Fader, saying, “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess who can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. There’s no legendary romance. You don’t go down in history because you overdose. You just die.”