By the age of 26, Mac Miller had released over 20 projects, over 50 music videos, collaborated with over 80 artists, got on the Billboard Hot 100 multiple times and received the Best Rap Album of the Year Grammy nomination. Virtually everyone has heard of him and his success, but what lead him to living such an intensely impassioned life that thousands of outpours of condolences came from both fans and artists, such as Chance the Rapper, John Mayer and Anderson .Paak, after his passing? What made him, him?
This is a story of, as Mac Miller said himself, “a beautiful relationship between himself and those that have been with [him] from being a 19 year old kid, to being a self destructive depressed drug user, to making love music and all these different stages”. This is the story of Mac Miller.
In order to understand the Mac Miller we all knew before he passed, we need to understand where he came from. It’s a place where so many of us know and can relate to. The drive we have as a youth, chasing a wild dream with everything we have in us simply because we love it.
Malcom McCormick was born January 19, 1992 in Point Breeze, Pennsylvania. He was involved with music since the age of 6 in a multitude of ways; from learning piano, guitar, and drums, to developing a love for singing and an eventual relationship with his talent for rapping. This was his life and all he really cared about. He’d often skip the usual routines of a high schooler to instead, stay in and rap all night with his close friend and often cutting class. The times he did end up going, he’d simply writes lines over and over again, practicing his then hobby.
When he finally started releasing, it was under a separate moniker: Easy Mac. He’d go on to release his first two mixtapes under this name at the age of 15, But My Mackin Aint Easy and How High, the latter of which was released under a duo project with his friend. It wasn’t until almost two years later that he adopted his household name, Mac Miller, with the release of The Jukebox and High Life mixtapes.
Right off the bat, Mac started getting recognition. With almost three years of passionate practice under his belt, his jazzy joyous track “Live Free,” off of his High Life mixtape brought him immense attention on Youtube, a place where he built a large following. “Live Free” captured what people loved about him, and what the world can always use more of: a reminder to live life with a carefree attitude about the menial things that won’t have any effect in the future and to instead, be happy and live with love.
It was at this time that he had gained enough recognition to sign to Rostrum Records, a label he would stick with for 5 years, which included a hot-in-his-prime Wiz Khalifa. With a reputable label behind him for his years of hard work, a steady flow of income came his way along with the aid of promotional marketing for his following releases. There was now no fear for earning a living and entering the rat race of the American world. Instead, there was an allowance to focus on his inner creativity and bring it into reality. Thus, at the age of 17, Mac began his career and meteoric rise into the rap game.
On August 13, 2010, Mac Miller released his highly successful 4th mixtape, K.I.D.S. This was his first break out project that was fully accepted commercially. It was a project that remembers what it’s truly like to be a kid, and while youthful and innocent in its nature, nothing about it showed a lack of craft. K.I.D.S. allowed Mac to embark on his first tour where he sold out every single stop. That even included a stop in Boulder, CO, a show that was presented by TSIS.
The K.I.D.S. project was accompanied by viral music videos reaching tens of millions of streams on Youtube, a phenomenon that was just starting to become a serious trend at the time, and it was something that set him apart from all other rappers. Mac was ahead of his time when it came to accompanying a large portion of his music with videos. As a result, he became one of the top artists in hip-hop on the platform at the beginning of the decade resulting in the creation of a huge fan base online. “I was at the right, place at the right time,” Mac says in this interview below:
Only six months later Mac received a huge title: he’s named in Hip Hop’s biggest magazine, XXL, as apart of their annual Freshman Class, alongside Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and YG. This was an absolutely huge honor for him. It’s an achievement that so many artists dream of and aspire to reach. With two more EPs, a mixtape and the viral breakout single “Donald Trump” to be coupled with this honor, there was a pure statement made as to who he was. He was an artist with staying power. An artist who was going to be in the rap game for a while. Mac Miller was breaking into stardom.
Mac was making a turn for the best, not only in his achievements and accolades, but also in how he presented himself mentally. Up until this point Mac only talked about attaining the dream in his music. He did not yet believe he had made it. This all changed when his debut studio album, Blue Side Park, dropped on November 8, 2011. He was now speaking of actually living the dream, and he was. At least… for a short while.
“I just be like fuck you, what you need? You can’t get nothin’ from me. You was talkin’ shit, now I’m somebody you would love to be”
When Blue Side Park was released he was at the top of his game. The LP actually accomplished amazing feats too. It was the first independent album to hit number 1 in the Billboard Charts in 16 years, a ridiculously impressive accomplishment, especially for someone only 19 years old. However, despite this initial success the album received harsh criticism. Pitchfork even gave it a rating of 1.0 stating, “The Pittsburgh rapper is mostly just a crashingly bland and intolerable version of Wiz Khalifa”.
These reviews absolutely crushed him. To be so sure of yourself only to be pushed down and placed under so much scrutiny, to have the carpet pulled out from under you by such a massive influence, one can only imagine what that felt like. It was ultimately this type of pressure that grew his demons and began his dependency on drugs such as codeine. Mac Miller changed as a person, and so did his music.
“A lot of the reviews were more on me as a person. To be honest, that was even worse. You’re 19, you’re so excited to put out your first album, you put it out — and no one has any respect for you or for what you did.”
- Mac Miller in an interview with Complex
Mac decided to take a leap in his career and move to LA where he released his 7th mixtape, Macadelic. It was a highly unique project unlike anything he had ever put out before, and you can hear it right away with the opening track. There’s French language, heavier production, unique delays and textures, a bit more singing this time around too. It was still Mac Miller and it was still rap, but it was different, and what he spoke about was different.
“Said I’ll make it big when, everybody know me. Well, I made it big and, everybody phony. Ha. So could you pour me, I need a cup. No, none of that liquor, mixing purple stuff. I could talk [about] my pain, but would it hurt too much. Go head, judge me, hate cost money, but this love free.” .
Mac was always destined to become more than just a rapper. We know this now from his most recent albums. However, we knew this early on too from the albums he listed as influences. The Beatles, Outkast, Pink Floyd, and A Tribe Called Quest were all artists he had mentioned in his past who created records that were more than their genre. They were works of art, and he wanted to create at that caliber. He was ready to show people that there was greater depth to him than just a rapper from Pittsburgh, so he evolved. His rap performance greatly improved during this time period of his life and he befriended artists such as Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Earl Sweatshirt, all of whom pushed him to work overtime in order to become better, and the results showed. Macadelic allowed people from other generations to understand what he was trying to do.
The quest for his second studio album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, began. Mac holed himself up in his apartment where he produced almost 400 songs, under his alias Larry Fisherman. This was turning into a dark and truly inner-directed album. It was one that was made without a #1 goal in mind, but rather with substance and sincerity, in hopes of longevity. He opened up about his fear of losing motivation due to his insecurities.
“But me, I’m still trapped inside my head, it kinda feel like it’s a purgatory. So polite and white, but I got family who would murder for me. Think i’m living paradise, so would I have to worry ‘bout? Dealing with these demons, feel the pressure, find the perfect style. Making sure my mom and dad are still somewhat in love. All these backfires of my experiments with drugs”
- Lyrics from “The Star Room”
It appeared that this was the time that Mac was really trying to figure himself out. Keep in mind that was was only 21, a time when most of us are still studying in college, yet he’s already lived multiple lifetimes. He continued to swim in this space, going deeper and deeper into figuring out who he was, and sometimes that’s exactly what we need. We need to figure ourselves out before we can move forward. That’s when we were given the last mixtape he’d ever put out in this time of self discovery, Faces.
Faces was Mac at his most raw and unfiltered. He produced most of it himself, creating psychedelic and jazzy instrumentals to accompany his darker lyrics. This was another introspective project where, again, he had holed himself up and stayed in his home studio, The Sanctuary.
His dependency on drugs was at a peak during this time and it was not anything he hid from his fans. He touched on it throughout the mixtape and in interviews.
“A drug habit like Phillip Hoffman [that] will probably put me in a coffin.”
- Lyrics from “What Do You Do”
It wasn’t until a tour in Europe got a little too out of had that he had to come home and take care of himself. He was at a turning point in his life and it was time for him to decide which road he wanted to go down. How would he choose to be remembered? Rick Rubin, the music industry tycoon, helped him reach sobriety during this time and stayed with him for a month. Mac had made his decision. In October 2014, he finally left Rostrum Records and signed a 10 million dollar deal with the most independent thinking company he had met with. The major label, Warner Bros.
On September 18, 2015, Mac released his third studio album, GO:OD AM: a jazzy upbeat record with good vibes, a victory lap and a detachment from the darker music he had been putting out. The good attitude, happily contagious Mac we grew up on was starting to shine through once again and audiences were thrilled that he was taking his music back into such a positive light. GO:OD AM received high praise and critical acclaim, topping at number four on the US Billboard 200.
It’s now 2016 and things are really looking up for him. He’s dating pop-star Arianna Grande, he’s happy, and he’s finally making the music he’d been afraid to make. The Divine Feminine, the fourth studio album he released was an album that he had been longing to do for years, equal parts hip-hop and funk. A collection where he’s as much of a singer as he is a rapper.
“I’ve been creating songs like this for a long time and I’ve just been scared to put them out. Singing to me just feels really vulnerable. I haven’t been as confident in my singing voice in the past. But I realize it’s not about whether my voice is the most incredible singing voice.”
Up until this point, his music mostly reflected him, and as a result, a largely male population. When Mac began to write The Divine Feminine, he wrote not just about romantic love but also about learning from women throughout his life and what those experiences meant to him.
The album was highly critically acclaimed, topping at number two on the charts and produced the hit single, “Dang!”, a collaboration with Anderson .Paak and Pomo which was performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Normally after finishing an album, he would move on to the next. Mac always said he knew exactly what he wanted to do and where to take it. However this time was different. He took his time as he, for once, was unsure. Mac and Arianna split in May 2018 and a few weeks later he was arrested on a charge for DUI after he ran his car into a power pole in the San Fernando Valley. He fell radio silent soon after, dropping off of social media. Not many people knew what he was up to as he retreated into himself.
On July 12, 2018 he announced his upcoming and final LP, Swimming. Tour dates were announced just less than two weeks later and finally, the album dropped on August 3rd, 2018. This was the album he had been searching for his entire life. A pinnacle of a clearly defined path he had laid out throughout his life, seeds planted both intentionally and unintentionally over the years culminating into this 13 track LP.
“The goal here is to be as much me as possible,”
- Mac Miller interview with Rick Rubin
Through a life of ups and downs, turmoil and glory, 2018 seemed like a point in life where Mac was finally happy and content, and at a level so that can also only be achieved by living such a rollercoaster of a life. We’d seen the start when he was a happy go-lucky naive kid, simply following his passions, only to be swallowed up into the music industry, chewed and spit back out. Years of darkness followed him as he delved deep into the recesses of his mind, struggling with deep, personal issues and drug abuse while still culminating his craft. He came out stronger than ever before and found love during The Divine Feminine. He lived a new life with hope and prosperity only to be reminded once again that all good things must come to an end. It was at this time that he found a way to wrangle his inner-facing struggles and although he wasn’t living a perfect life, he was staying afloat. It was during this point of his life that we were given Swimming.
Swimming debuted at number three on the charts and received the nomination for Best Rap Album at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
On September 7, 2018, Mac Miller passed from an accidental overdose; a mixed toxicity containing Fentanyl. To those who are unfamiliar, Fentanyl is a killer drug that has been repeatedly laced with drugs in order to cut a profit, but at what cost? The drug has had twice as many deaths as heroin, a fatality rate that has increased tenfold in 5 years.
An extremely tragic end to such a beautifully inspiring story, to such a beautifully inspiring person. Mac was described as a sweet, easy going individual with an innate gift for music. In a period when everyone was trying to put on an image, Mac was himself and that’s what allowed him to win himself out.
In early 2020, just a week before the time of this article, fans were surprised by Mac Miller’s family taking to social media and officially announcing his posthumous sixth studio album, Circles. Just a day later, they dropped “Good News,” a heartbreaking yet addicting single that exposed the still fiercely deep-seated issues Mac dealt with on a regular basis.
Unbeknownst to many of us, Mac was in the process of completing a companion album to Swimming, a project that would complete his “Swimming in Circles” vision. Jon Brion (who has worked with artists from Kanye West to Beyoncé) was the producer who was working with Mac very closely on Circles. He was tasked with perhaps the hardest job of his career, finishing Mac’s last album, using only what he had left behind.
The result was an unbelievably powerful and heart-wrenching project that meant so much to so many people.
His music will live on forever, but Circles was and will likely remain the last chapter of Mac Miller’s musical story. There’s no denying that Mac, although still obviously struggling during the making of the album, was at his most mature. Some parts are difficult to listen to, but Mac prided himself at always being unforgivingly himself. Circles is exactly that.
“No one is ever really gonna know me and that’s okay. The people that have the best chance of knowing me would be by listening to my music.”
- Mac Miller