In 2018, rapper Mac Miller passed away from a drug overdose. James Roque writes about his passing, and the effect Miller’s music had on him growing up.
This post was first published 8 September 2018.
This morning the world awoke to the tragic news of the passing of artist Mac Miller.
I found out after rolling over in bed, checking my phone and seeing a message from a close mate that said “Bro, Mac Miller :’(“ and I immediately knew what it meant. I frantically typed his name into Google to check – there was no way that it was true – this is the inevitable Google search that comes with every celebrity passing, especially when that celebrity has had noted, public struggles. Even though Mac has had a well-known history with depression and substance abuse, all signs in the public eye pointed to him doing better now. But then the search results loaded and I read those words – “Rapper Mac Miller has died age 26 of a suspected overdose”.
For those of you unfamiliar, Mac Miller, born Malcolm McCormick, was a young rapper from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who blew up in the early days of the Youtube era. He was one of the signature success stories of the internet music industry – an artist who connected with his audience without the help of a big label. Later on he signed with Warner Bros, but it was those early years that cemented Mac as a major name in hip-hop.
I loved Mac as an artist. I connected with him and because he entered adulthood the same time as I did, felt like I could relate to his music on a personal level, which might seem strange to say about a rapper who made songs about being rich, but he genuinely spoke to me. I felt like I grew alongside his music. When he was in his late teens, faking a rap bravado – I was too. When he grew out of that phase and started questioning whether there was more to life – I did too. And when he found himself falling into depression – it was happening to me too.
A lot of people wrote Mac off because he was a white frat boy rapper in his early days. When he dropped his first mixtape K.I.D.S., he drew the obvious comparisons to Eminem. And while they might have been right at the time (and say what you want about that tape, “Senior Skip Day” still bangs in my opinion) he grew into so much more than that later on. He became an artist that not only played with his sound but poured his heart into his music.
After his debut album Blue Slide Park was panned by critics, Mac fell into a deep depression and started working on his craft and expanding beyond the frat boy persona. He started baring his soul into his music in a refreshingly authentic way. His second album Watching Movies With the Sound Off is a masterclass in bottling up the dull melancholy of life. It’s a perfect encapsulation of an existential crisis through the eyes of a kid in his early twenties. At times problematic – but always honest. It was BoJack Horseman before BoJack Horseman. And for me – it was a piece of work that understood the way I was feeling at the time when no one else did. It was real.
Mac’s music has a way of speaking to me when I need it most. When I need to pump myself up full of confidence – I bump his track ‘Smile Back’. When I’m going through troubles with a girl – I take the song ‘ROS’ out for a spin. When I was feeling funky and good about myself – I put ‘Dang!’ on repeat. And in the dark times when the voice in my head made me question my self worth – ‘Objects in the Mirror’ was there to tell me it was going to be all right. He felt like a friend I could talk to.
I think that’s why this celebrity death feels so different for me. Usually when I see headlines of famous celebrities passing away, while I might admire their work, they’re usually so far removed from me. Mac wasn’t. He felt like the talented kid that you knew from high school who was really troubled but found his passion, grew up and made something of himself. He was someone to look up to.
Honestly, he was just a kid. A kid with limitless potential, who grew into a talented as hell adult and was unfairly taken from us at the peak of his game. Just last month he dropped Swimming – his most mature, nuanced album to date, to rave reviews. While the album still had his trademark melancholy, he also rapped openly about coming up for fresh air after years of suffering from depression and substance abuse. In the chorus of the song ‘2009’, he sings:
“I don’t need to lie no more/
Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind”
This is what makes this morning’s blow to the gut even heavier. Despite his hard public breakup with singer Arianna Grande (which by the way, I saw some people blaming her for this on the internet, which is awful, please stop that bullshit), the general consensus in the public eye was that he was in a better headspace. This, inevitably, made me think of the conversation around mental health and the importance of looking out for your mates.
This trend of thinking that someone is “fine” and then finding out that they had been struggling is growing all too common. And it’s started to make me question what the best way to approach this conversation really is. We can’t allow ourselves grow numb to all the calls to action that we post on social media when an event like this happen.
“Please look out for your mates” can’t become the new “thoughts and prayers”.
I don’t claim to have the answers to this question, and I don’t think any one person can have those answers, but it’s something I’ve noticed and I’ve been guilty of myself. The hollow gesture of posting “look out for each other” and not really following through on it with the people in your life is an all-too common one. For me as a human and a friend, it’s a work in progress, but more and more I’m learning the importance of being a vigilant friend and on the flipside, accepting that there’s no shame in reaching out for help when you need it.
They say music has a way of speaking to you in a way that no other artform can. In the case of Mac Miller I can honestly say that that’s true. His music taught me it was possible to change – to adapt, to get better and become a better version of yourself. To back yourself when no one else does. These are some of the things that Mac’s music has left me with. Some of the pieces that I’ve taken from his music, some of the pieces that helped me during a huge transitional period of my life.
I lost a friend today, even if he didn’t know who I was. I’m going to miss him a lot. Rest easy, Mac. Thank you for everything.