When Mac Miller (born Malcolm James McCormick) passed away from an overdose September 7, the impact was felt around the world of music. Artists like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and more expressed their grief for Miller’s family and their personal experiences and opinions of him.
Over his past seven years in the mainstream music industry, Mac released five albums (his most recent being Swimming released August 3), two mixtapes, and a live album. He appeared in Scary Movie 5 with fellow rap icon Snoop Dogg, and toured over four times.
Miller made his battle with drugs during his career well known through his music and his friends. The true killer of Mac Miller wasn’t the drugs; it was his bout with depression during the aftermath of his hugely publicized break-up with Ariana Grande. A few months after the break-up, Grande was engaged to then-fiance Pete Davidson.
Much of Miller’s most recent project revolves around his depression and his difficulty dealing with it. “I was drowning, but now I’m swimming, from stressful waters to relief” is a perfect way to summarize the album’s themes. The tones are jazzy, but have a dark and minimalistic undertone. The incorporation of these tones exemplifies how he was feeling. He looked happy, but underneath it all, he was really struggling.
Miller burst onto the scene in the early ‘10s under the alias “Easy Mac” with songs like “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza” and “Donald Trump”. His first commercial album Blue Slide Park debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 charts, making it the first independently released album to top the charts since Snoop Dogg in 1995. Songs like “Frick Park Market” and “Party On Fifth Ave.” were sitting atop the charts for weeks. The album was the soundtrack of a young Pittsburgh kid living his best life.
The most astounding and impressive part of Miller was his development and maturity. His “follow up” to his fun, but at points childish, debut was the album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, a musically stunning, hour-long project with darker, much more serious tones and uses of strings and guitars to create a more atmospheric sound. He matured an incredible amount from 2011 to 2013, and it shows in this album. WMWTSO is his best album, according to critics and (most) fans alike. It is serious, conceptual, and atmospheric, a whole new side of Mac Miller.
After “WMWTSO” came Miller’s 3rd album, GOOD A:M, an album revolving around his waking up and changing things in his life (Hence the title meaning Good Morning). The album had the same atmospheric sounds of his previous album, but it’s more condensed and adds some funk and jazz tones to it. This album wasn’t his largest selling album, but did spawn his largest single to date, “Weekend,” featuring R&B Singer Miguel. The release of the album was another huge leap forward in sound and dealt with way more serious topics, again expressing how the teenager from Pittsburgh was becoming an adult.
Miller’s fourth album wasn’t really a rap album at all, The Divine Feminine was an R&B album about his love for his then-girlfriend Ariana Grande. A huge switch-up in his catalog, Mac had completely lost the fun bouncy sound of his debut and went to a jazzy, bouncy sound. On the project he talks about his undeniable affection for Grande. Songs like “Dang!” and “My Favorite Part” featuring Ariana herself are perfect examples of the album’s themes and sounds. “TDF” was a beautiful change of sounds for Mac and was his happiest-sounding project. “Love and respect everybody” is the line that ends the album. The boy wonder came full circle.
And finally, we get Mac’s fifth and final major label album, Swimming. The tones on the album are jazz influenced, but dark. The dark tones are undermined by optimistic lyrics about coming out of the dark place he was in after his breakup with Ariana Grande. The metaphor used throughout the album is Mac was drowning in the waters of excessive drug abuse and depression, but began swimming to the shores of relief and freedom. His mind was a mess, but he was on the track to fixing himself. The album feels bittersweet now, knowing how he passed away from everything he was trying to escape, but nonetheless was arguably his best project. His lyricism was absolutely flawless. Every line he sings or raps is entangled in meaning about his mental state and attempts to recollect his true self. The dark, jazzy, smooth, ominous sounds that make up the melodies on the album blend in perfectly with Mac’s delivery. It feels like this was the album Mac was destined to make, and thankfully he recorded it before he passed.
Mac’s music was constantly evolving and every time you heard a new album it was fresh and never repetitive. He was beginning to enter the debate of the best rappers alive, and he was becoming more and more popular by the day. His passing was incredibly untimely and saddening. But the world will remember the man for more than his excellent music. He was an excellent musician, a hilarious actor, and an awesome person. Any interview or discussion any musicians or journalists had with him was called “pleasant” or “entertaining,”His soul burned through the screen into our hearts, and his charismatic personality shined in anything he would do. Rest in Peace Malcolm James McCormick.
Photos by Nicolas Völcker. 7 July 2017. Der US-amerikanische Rapper Mac Miller beim splash! Festival 20 (2017)