The Most Dope: Remembering Mac Miller
From his first full-length album, Blue Slide Park, to his solemn final release Swimming, Mac Miller had created an intricate story with abyssal lows and ascended highs.
His music can be highlighted by a clear artistic progression, with each album sounding better and more honed, both in production and lyrical quality.
The hallmark of his progression however, was neither in his production or lyrical skills, it was in his authenticity and self-critical humanity that gave each release its own personality, and gave his listeners something that felt not just real, but familiar.
A steep Blue slide
On his first album Blue Slide Park, a 19 year-old Mac Miller raps over beats that feel fresh and exciting. The sounds are quite jazzy with a deep bass that complements the percussion.
With lyrical content consisting mostly of drinking, smoking, partying, and f*****g, the repetitiveness throughout the album feels tiring and hollow.
The content, straying away from the usual suspects, provides insight into an individual that is unsure of his identity.
Songs like “Man in The Hat,” “Missed Calls,” and “Under The Weather,” (my alarm song since 2012) while being the minority on the album, showed the majority of his essence.
There was critical reception of Blue Slide Park was mixed, and reviewers were often critical on Mac as a person and not just his music. The harsh criticism of Blue Slide Park Mac credited as the catalyst of his drug use.
Pitchfork gave the album a one.
2013’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off introduced a darker side of Mac, with eerie synth melodies backing equally unnerving lyrical content that includes heavy drug use and an unhealthy fascination with mortality.
The album is a guided tour through the abstract mind of a young artist who is absolutely lost in a reality without drugs.
While songs like “Avian,” “I’m not real,” and “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes” have Mac speaking on his disconnection from reality, the songs “Remember” and “Aquarium” touch on just how much he wants to fully be a part of it.
Watching Movies with the Sound Off was a complete change of direction from Blue Slide Park, and while it may have been a change for the better artistically, that change came at too high a cost in many aspects of Macs well-being and continued to haunt him later into his career.
The Many Faces of Mac Miller
Faces is the only mixtape included in this article, and for good reason.
Released on Mother’s Day 2014, Faces is undoubtedly Macs most insightful work in regard to his drug addiction, with every song spotlighting his submission to, and complete dependence on them.
The first line of the album is “shoulda died already.” In Track 12, “Funeral,” Mac asks for the song to be played at his funeral, and the last song of the mixtape is “Grand Finale.”
The complete tape is wrought with many more allusions to his death, specifically by overdose, and yet the mixtape sounds like nothing Mac had made before.
Faces’ sound is jazzy, punchy, heavy in brass, and is often heard juxtaposing the grim details of his lyrics. On “Diablo” Mac demonstrates a mastery of word play and lyricism that has been finely developed into maturity, and yet touches on something darker than drug use.
With Faces, Mac had created his best and most personal work so far, and dived ever deeper into the darkest parts of his mind.
2015’s GO:OD AM is the album that fans were waiting for. Mac Miller returns with the same Jazzy Boom Bap sound from Faces, but with a new perspective on life.
The song “Brand Name” starts with the classic alarm sound, and has Mac speaking on his steady recovery from drug abuse and his positive outlook on his future. He makes it clear many times through the album on songs like “Weekend” and “Ascension,” that while he isn’t completely drug-free, he uses them in a more controlled manner and no longer depends on them.
On the masterpiece of the album, and arguably one of the greatest songs of his career, “Perfect Circle/Godspeed,” Mac opens up completely to the listener and spills his heart out in a fashion that is heartbreaking in retrospect.
At the 5:21 mark, Mac raps, “Everybody say I need rehab/Cause I’m speedin' with a blindfold on and won’t be long ‘til they watching me crash/And they don’t wanna see that/They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother/Telling her they could have done more to help me/And she’ll be crying saying that she’ll do anything to have me back.”
After the release of GO:OD AM it seemed Mac Miller was on the road to a strong recovery, and with a well-developed sound of his own it seemed the best days, and his best work, were just around the corner.
With the release of The Divine Feminine in 2016, Mac released an album as beautiful as the title subject alludes to: a concept album dedicated to the beauty, allure, and the experience that is being in love with a woman.
Mac goes through great lengths to ensure this album is not only his most well produced but also his most concise, subject-wise.
On the hit single “DANG!”, Mac (with the help of Anderson.Paak) perfectly explains the pain of losing his significant other and the extent he would go to get her back. The whole album brings a depth to Mac that had not been there previously, it adds a piece of music to his discography not to be compared to any of his other works, but taken as it is.
With the most beautiful album of his career released, Mac Miller had completely removed any previous doubt of his musical ability and personal identity. Highly respected by other artists and listeners alike, Mac had earned his spot as a hip hop great. At 24 years-old the future was brighter than ever for Mac Miller.
With his fifth and final album, Mac leaves behind a melancholy piece that still leaves this author with a tear, just like the first time he listened to it.
With solemn strings and deep bass, Mac raps throughout the album on topics that have been with him throughout his career, and issues that had recently broken him.
On the albums first song “Come Back to Earth,” he seems hopeful and positive yet repeats, “I just need a way out of my head, I’ll do anything for a way out of my head,” throughout.
In the chilling video for “Self Care,” Mac is inside a coffin recreating the famous Kill Bill Vol.2 scene complete with ‘memento mori’ carved into it by Mac himself. The song eventually cuts to the second part titled “Oblivion.”
On the song “Small Worlds,” the song changes at the 3:25 mark to nothing but Mac playing piano. He proceeds to sing,
“Nine times out of ten I get it wrong/That's why I wrote this song,/told myself to hold on/I can feel my fingers slipping'/In a motherfuckin’ instant, I'll be gone,” followed shortly by,
“Ooh, I been a fool but it's cool, that's what human beings do/Keep your eyes to the sky, never glued to your shoes.”
The final song “So It Goes” is a beautiful piece whose final instrumental was designed to sound like the ascension to heaven. All of Mac’s releases including Blue Slide Park, and after have ended in a song referencing his death wishes. “So It Goes” was the final realization of that design.
Out of all the songs on the album, and maybe his career, it is “2009” that is the most heartbreaking to listen to.
With the beautiful and gentle violin work making up the intro and a sudden transition to morose chords played on grand piano, “2009” is the story of a young man who understands the mistakes he has made in the past and the lessons he has learned throughout his whole journey.
It is a masterpiece, but more importantly, it is human.
Malcolm McCormick was a talented kid from Pittsburgh who lived a life that most people couldn’t dream of. But he had demons just like everyone else.
It was through music that he held those demons at bay and shared his struggle with the world, and with other people struggling just like him.
It’s that same music kids play when they have a crappy day. Kids like me, who looked up to him ever since freshman year of high school, back in 2011, when I would go to class with nothing but earbuds and a downloaded playlist full of songs by a random dude named Mac Miller.
As I look back and reflect on his life, I write this not with a heavy heart but with complete conviction: Mac Miller was a man with flaws just like any other, yet his gifts outweighed all of them tenfold. He was a paragon of progress, whose music will continue to bring beauty to those who listen and carry his legacy for many years to come.
Rest in peace, Mac.
I don’t know where you are, but I know you’re smiling.