Remembering Mac Miller: one of the most refreshing acts in hip-hop

Mac Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick, passed away on Sept. 7, just four months away from turning 27. (Creative Commons)

Many great artists died at 27. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, etc. The list goes on. The phenomenon of creatives dying at the age of 27 is well-documented.  

Mac Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick, passed away on Sept. 7, just four months away from turning 27. On “Brand Name,” a song from his 2015 album, “GO:OD AM,” Mac briefly mentions his desire to not join the long list of artists having met an early death at 27:

“To everyone who sells drugs / Don’t mix it with that bullshit / I’m not trying to join the 27 club.”

As of now (Monday, Sep.17th), we don’t know Mac’s exact cause of death, but these lyrics may prove to be more prophetic as time goes on.

The similarities between Mac and the untimely deaths of the aforementioned artists are undeniable. Each artist found success relatively early, spending a majority of their early twenties under a pop culture microscope.

Each artist had publicly struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse, often using their music to explore themes of excess and mental-illness — a combination that can be described as the contemporary speedball.

But now isn’t the time for preachy anti-drug messages. The disease of addiction is never that simple to begin with. Now is not the time to assign blame to those around him, to those who loved him or to those impacted by his death in ways we’ll never understand. Now is not the time to pretend you understand.

Now is the time to memorialize an artist who consistently reinvented himself in ways that were both exciting and unexpected. Every album that came after his frat rap debut sounded sonically different and felt fully realized in ways that are uncommon for a younger artist.

Mac’s first album “Blue Slide Park” became the first independently distributed debut album to premiere at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart in 16 years. The record became a soundtrack for angsty high schoolers who fell in love with an energy that was more concerned with having fun than being emotionally deep.

For many, listening to Mac Miller captures the feeling of being young. He’s the sound of inescapable nostalgia, bringing about equal amounts of pain and pleasure.

Normally, when an artist changes his sound as drastically as Mac did from album to album, they would end up alienating a part of their fan base that fell in love with the previous record. That wasn’t the case for Mac. He grew up with his audience. The progression of his music followed the narrative arc of young people who have struggled to find a purpose.

His sophomore album, “Watching Movies With the Sound Off,” is worlds away from his whimsical debut. It’s dark and brooding and he’s constantly exploring the merits of his own existence. It’s similar to what a high schooler feels when they find out they don’t have a clue who or what they will become.

His music gives hope and continually displays a love for hip-hop that’s both rare and under-appreciated among contemporary rap acts. It’s through this love that he’s able to reach so many people. To love something is a relatable feeling, but to share this love so willingly and with such vulnerability takes a special kind of person.

Mac is one of the rare hip-hop artists who almost never made an enemy. He exuded positivity and opened his home to creatives from all around the world. His singular purpose was to avoid the existential dread he openly rapped about on his songs by making music with his friends; and we’re so glad he did.

“All the best rappers are usually dead,” – Mac Miller, on “Gees” featuring Schoolboy Q.

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