Celebrated Rapper Dies at 26
Mac Miller, the stage name of Malcolm McCormick, was one of the rappers who got me into hip-hop about six years ago. Musical taste is one of those things that develops most discernibly through middle and high school, and the artists whose work is formative to you during those years are invariably those with whom you form an emotional connection. This is partly because of a nostalgia of sorts, but most of this connection stems from the acknowledgement that the artist played an integral role in your discovery of something valuable, a method of self-expression heretofore unknown and distinctly resonant. Miller’s death, at 26, by an apparent overdose in his San Fernando Valley home on September 7, hit me right in the chest. It was one of those losses you feel intuitively, where the full extent of the meaning that person held for you is revealed only after they’re no longer here.
A Pittsburgh native, Miller started rapping at age 14, spending years working his way up through the local hip-hop scene. Spanning 12 mixtapes (2 under his producing pseudonym Larry Fisherman), an EP of Miller’s trademark crooning over jazz instrumentals, a live LP and 5 studio albums, his career was marked by a continual artistic progression. Blue Side Park, Miller’s ‘frat rap’ 2011 studio debut, became the first independent hip-hop album to reach number 1 on Billboard since 1995, though it earned a horrendous 1.0 rating from Pitchfork. The album’s faults were quickly and pointedly contrasted by the lucidity that marked the emotional honesty and exploration of Miller’s next projects, Macadelic, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, and Faces. They saw the expansion of his sound, largely self-produced — with the help of collaborators including The Internet, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Earl Sweatshirt — into spaced-out, soulful, futurist funk. His subject matter transitioned as well, becoming highly personal and introspective and openly engaging with his experiences with substance abuse and depression, all the while underscored with an indefatigable, deftly affirming earnestness.
In 2013, Miller featured on “The Way,” an effervescent early 2000s R&B inflected interpolation of Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” and the debut single of Ariana Grande, which went on to peak at number 9 on Billboard. Miller and Grande collaborated again in 2016 on his fourth album The Divine Feminine and the two began a relationship that ended earlier this year. Continuing on this upward swing, the three studio albums Miller released following his signing to Warner Bros in 2015 premiered to strong critical and modest commercial reception. The most recent, Swimming, came out just over a month ago, on August 3. The album transparently deals with his breakup with Grande and charts a drifting path through Miller’s own self-acceptance and healing. His last tweets, dated September 6, relay his excitement for his upcoming tour, and in a profile by Vulture published the same day, Miller spoke about the HBO documentary The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, saying: “He was always writing the words, ‘Just be Garry.’ ‘Just be Garry.’ And that shit struck a chord with me because that’s the goal, to get better and to try to make this shit the most of a reflection of who I am.” And now all we are left with is that reflection.