Following the death of 26-year-old rapper, singer and producer Mac Miller, Redbrick’s Kieren Williams explains why this is such a huge loss, both personally and to the music industry
On 7 September 2018, Mac Miller died from a suspected drug overdose. He was a true talent, even earning himself a shout out from the enigmatic Jay-Z, in a rare tweet that Miller later had framed on his wall (who wouldn’t?). He always carved his own path and made music his own way, right up until his end. Simply put, he was amazing. His albums touched the hearts and minds of so many people, from Blue Slide Park (the first independently distributed album to make it to number one since 1995) right up to his final album, Swimming, released just a month before his death. Movies Without Sound stands out as an album that particularly touched people, an album Mac Miller confessed was intimately personal. This was to become a reoccurring theme in his music from then on; he always confronted his own struggles and demons, including the ones that ultimately took his life.
There was a rawness to his music, a rawness through which his personality shone brilliantly; he captured sparks of himself and put it out in catchy three-minute snippets, something many musicians and artists struggle to do. He never shied away from any topic, because it was important and personal and he felt it had a place in his music, from the recently released and tear-jerking ‘2009’ to ‘Perfect Circle/God Speed’ and earlier. This honesty is what allowed people relate to him, is what earned him such support and respect inside the music industry and out of it. This respect and adoration can be seen in the outpouring of messages and posts online at his passing; Instagram feeds and explore pages turned into endless pictures and videos of musicians’ and artists’ tributes to the Pittsburgh rapper. He touched so many lives through his music and, for me, particularly through GOOD:AM. His third studio album was a piece of music that defined – and still defines – a good period of my life. His confidence, his smirk as he raps, his sadness and pain and everything else were feelings I found in myself, experiences I saw in my own life, and I wasn’t alone in this.
He released Swimming in August this year. This was to be his last album. With Swimming, Mac Miller and his new band were on the cusp of a new sound – one bathed in funk and soul and touched with jazz, swimming in something new and brilliant. Miller’s vocals mixed perfectly with this new sound, something he had evolved and grown into, something that had taken meticulous hard work and time to craft and perfect. It is an album that reflects the Pittsburgh rapper’s mentality and, with that, how far he has come. He has grown and matured as a musician, from a grinning college student who was drunk, high and stumbling through life on his debut, to an amazingly well-rounded artist who has created a truly fantastic album in an age when such raw, lyrical and honest music doesn’t find the support and popularity that it perhaps should.
Swimming is an amazing album, one that didn’t get the credit it deserved on its release. It was Miller’s long, hard look at himself, confessional and brilliantly executed. Sonically, it is a perfectly crafted sound through its production and lyrics. It’s the sort of music you can groove and dance to out in the club, but also just sit and really listen to, to properly appreciated Miller’s lyricism, to lose yourself in his words. His newly-found band deserve mentioning too, if you want a good showcase of them beyond the new album, listen to Miller’s Tiny Desk concert. They were about to go on tour and they were only going to get better. They weren’t done, they weren’t close to being done, they were in the middle of an amazing transformation. Sadly we’ll never see Miller spread his wings again, but we do have his music, the mark he has left on the world, and we’ll have that forever.
I always find myself returning to Mac Miller’s music; when scrolling through my library I often come back to land on him, I thumb through the albums, click one and always still enjoy. That is not something that will change, or something I can say about a lot of artists. His death is a tragedy and a true loss to music, one that I and many others took hard because of how his music touched us and helped us, how he helped us. Malcolm James McCormick, you were a true talent and you will be missed.