Thumbs High, Mac Miller
The first time I ever listened to Mac Miller must have been around 2010 — I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. It made sense for me and my friends to bump K.I.D.S., the mixtape. Mac didn’t seem too far off from us. Consequently, we wound up listening to his music.
Not even a year into adulthood, he’d given us K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever. He delivered classics like “The Spins,” “Wear My Hat,” “Knock Knock,” and of course, “Donald Trump.”
These projects were rooted in fun, carelessness, and youth.
I refuse to pretend Mac Miller was an artist who “helped me through the rough times, man.” His music didn’t start out like that — as a kid, he was chipper and impish. He had genuine passion for music, though. Mac taught himself to play piano, guitar, bass, and drums. The boy could spit, too.
Malcolm had motifs: indulgence, love, temptation.
As a teenager, he did not inspire me to “make good decisions,” rather just accept the bad ones. Mac was influential, but his influence was far more grounded and pragmatic.
A Friend In Me
My admiration for Mac Miller was unusual in the sense that I didn’t idolize him, or see him as a larger-than-life celebrity. He was more like a homie you’d dap up on your way to 4th period — or the cool kid you wanted to hang out with because he made everyone laugh.
He was carefree — the life of the party, always having fun.
The young artist was not afraid of authority; inevitably, young minds were drawn. He “made it big” because he exuded that fun, playful energy every kid feels.
Unfortunately, fame would soon magnify Mac’s degradation.
The next couple years moved fast for Malcolm. In 2011, he released his debut album, Blue Slide Park. It debuted at number one on US Billboard 200 and was the first independent-album to top the chart since Dogg Food in ‘95. In 2012, Miller started on the Macadelic Tour — during this time, he picked up an addiction to promethazine, which is commonly known as “lean.” Later this year, he began filming a reality show for MTV.
This time frame would prove to be a turning point in his career.
Fast forward to late 2013 and ‘EZ Mac’ had abruptly vanished. McCormick reportedly split up with a girl he’d known since middle school. He also became highly addicted and experimental with drugs; the symptoms shadowed.
Watching Movies With The Sound Off, his 2nd studio album, had a noticeably different aesthetic. Mac’s demeanor morphed; he became eerily philosophical, absurdly religious, and he took on strange, horrific personas (e.g. Delusional Thomas).
Drugs had him — a force that would eventually take his life.
Death and Swimming
Mac Miller died on September 7th, 2018 from an apparent overdose. At the time of this writing, there is very little detail regarding his death. While rash to speculate, part of me can’t help but wonder if he died intentionally, under the power of his own will.
I’ve taken to his latest album, Swimming, for answers. It released just one month prior to his death; let’s just say, it’s unsettling.
Across the album, there’s an undertone of self-pity and internal discord — but it’s also full of acceptance and calm embrace. It’s like he’s saying “This is who I’ve become…” He seems at peace.
Swimming feels like a preface to Mac Miller’s death.
The first song on the album is titled “Come Back to Earth.” He projects:
“I just need a way out of my head,
I’ll do anything for a way out.”
Later, we uncover “Wings.” A track on which Mac states he’s found comfort in time moving slow. He alludes to feeling perpetually discontent:
“Still ain’t adding up,
I’ll let you know when I’ve had enough.”
Moreover, the artwork for Swimming is of question. On it, you find Mac sitting under what seems to be an airplane window. This is an interesting juxtaposition to the album concept of “swimming.” Is it foreshadowing a crash? How else would water come about? (He does mention, “like September, I fall.”)
See track #11, “Jet Fuel:”
“Woke up this morning with a bright idea.
Maybe I can exist forever right here.”
It’s become increasingly hard for me to ponder if Mac’s death was premeditated; hindsight is 20/20. I’ve found many of his lyrics take on new meaning now that he’s gone. Perhaps the most compelling evidence lies in his last music video.
In the “Self-Care” video, Mac begins buried inside a coffin — a Kill Bill: Vol 2 reference. As he looks around, he notices it’s securely nailed shut. He struggles for something in his shoe. At this point, one might assume he’s reaching for a phone or tool to help him escape. Instead, he sparks a cigarette, as to confirm the condition. While he smokes, he whispers:
“Self-care… I’m treatin’ me right.”
Which could imply suicide by “self-treatment.”
The video progresses. He begins carving a message into the wood above his face. Mac’s message reads ‘Memento Mori’ which stands for “warning of death.” Next, he repeatedly punches the carving until the entire casket collapses in on himself. The landscape switches and depicts a solid black mound. Mac crawls out from the dirt, signaling he’s escaped (died). The camera takes a long, hard shot of him standing tall, brushing himself off. Moments later, his world explodes and the artist is sent into blissful oblivion.
Near the end, he’s seen floating upward, seemingly “swimming.”
Death tends to leave us with more questions than answers. Regardless, Mac Miller died under his own infliction — his premature passing serves to transcend his creativity, spirit, and message.
Rest Easy, Mac 👍