Rest Easy Mac
“Used to want to be a superhero,
fly around with a cape catching bad guys.
Now my head underwater but I ain’t in the shower,
and I ain’t getting baptized.”
Mac Miller, Jet Fuel
The tragic passing of Mac Miller seems to be the inevitable conclusion to many famous creative’s lives. His musical output closely traces the traditional career arc of a troubled young star.
Like many other hip-hop fans, I was saddened to hear the new’s of Mac’s passing. As a disclaimer, I will admit I was a casual fan of his, and was more acquainted with his 2010-2013 work than any of his more recent stuff.
This piece will be a relatively surface layer analysis of Mac’s works, and I’m sure diehard Mac fans will have plenty to add or point out.
I won’t spend time discussing too much of Mac Miller’s background, as you may be familiar with it.
Mac grew up in Pittsburgh, and led a relatively normal lower middle-class suburban life. In his teenage years, he became interested in pursuing a hip-hop career, and immersed himself in the pursuit of his goal early on.
From now on, we will examine how Mac’s branding and musical content has always reflected the stage of his life.
He released his first mixtape at age 15 in 2007, But My Macking Ain’t Easy under his first rapper name: EZ Mac.
It is easy to note the amateurish nature of this early work, both in appearance and in sound.
Granted, the themes of the album are to be expected for an aspiring artist who was only in his second year of high school.
The album contained tracks such as: “Cruisin”, “I’m In Love With This Bud”, and “Barz for Dayz”. Again, all topics that you would expect a high schooler to be focusing on.
Take a listen at the most popular track, “J’z on My Feet“.
All throughout this post, remember that we’re less concerned with Mac’s literal artistic ability, although his early works still display a clear potential.
Here, Mac was in his ambitious stage, exhibiting a clear sense of bravado and hope, and a childish charisma that shines through.
He had only just begun to take his craft seriously, and is allowing himself to still have fun with his work. There was still a high degree of uncertainty regarding his artistic future, as he had yet to achieve any sort of notable traction, and was surely aware of the fact that he had to continue to develop and polish his skills.
Regardless, Mac seems to be fairly confident of his trajectory. He exhibits a large sense of self-belief, which seems to be common in people who do eventually reach success—likely because you need that sense of belief to develop the resilience needed to overcome all the barriers in your long journey to the top.
After his first mixtape, Mac played up the immature high school stoner image with his next two works released in 2009: The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown, and The High Life. It is important to note that these tapes were more professional, with quality production and co-signs from respected local influencers and artists.
Mac also interestingly enough navigated the urban/suburban lifestyle fairly easily. For one, he garnered respect in an industry dominated by black people, and did so without changing anything about himself—his authentic self was openly accepted by his industry peers. It helps that he was mostly friends with other urban minded people, and engaged in the sorts of activities common to them.
Yet, his music was revered by the typical white college frat boy, a segment of society in almost diametric opposition to the aforementioned group of people. Mac bridged this gap again, without making an active effort, but speaking about the kinds of things that both groups could identify with—getting high, partying, banging chicks, and wearing dope clothes.
What tied this all together was Mac’s undeniable talent—he had no need to rely on gimmicks or outside help, as the self-taught musician had serious skills when it came to writing music, delivering lines, and connecting with fans.
The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown contained some songs off of But My Mackin Ain’t Easy, along with tracks such as “Swing Set,” “Snap Back,” and “My Lady.”
Take a listen to “Snap Back“.
The lyrics are largely meaningless, and the song is an ode to the commercialist obsession that many teens and young adults are plagued with.
At this point, Mac was still childish in his approach (always in a way that is endearing), but now seemed to fit in and follow the trend of flexing in his music. Mac had started to make inroads into the hip-hop subculture, and as a result, emulated the lyrical content and work of his peers, albeit with his own genuine spin.
The High Life is very similar, with tracks such as: “Fly in Her Nikes,” “Class President,” and “A Million Dollars.”
Here is “A Million Dollars.”
We now have the full picture of a young high schooler who is starting to see the rewards of his hard work, and is intimately obsessed with his pursuit of success.
Mac was clearly focused on the chase, or the hustle, and his young age and excitement created a vibrant and ambitious spirit in his work.
These mixtapes solidified his early buzz, and pivoted him towards the next stage of his career.
By this point, Mac began to taste the first real fruits of success. His mixtapes were receiving notice from trending music blogs, and his YouTube videos were rapidly increasing in views. His reach was still largely limited to the Northeast, but he finally began to develop a small but loyal fanbase.
This all changed with the release of his 2010 mixtape, K.I.D.S.
To many present day Mac Miller fans, this was the first introduction they ever had to his music.
There are few hip-hop albums out there that better capture the spirit of what it’s like to be a millennial high schooler. Mac clearly shined through on expressing that spirit, given that he had been practicing doing so with his first three pieces.
This album was also his third collaboration with producers I.D. Labs, a Pennsylvania based collective that propelled other local artists to stardom. The synergy between Mac’s rapping, and I.D. Labs’ production is evident all throughout the tape—clear evidence of the relationship they had been cultivating.
The mixtape is one of the most highly streamed and downloaded on DatPiff.com, the premier mixtape hosting website, and songs from the album garnered over hundreds of millions of views on YouTube.
Needless to say, K.I.D.S. put Mac Miller firmly on the scene, and catapulted him to stardom. After the release, Mac embarked on a nationwide tour that sold out every single date.
The tracks on K.I.D.S. famously included: “Nikes on My Feet”, “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza”, and “Senior Skip Day”.
He clearly exhibits the demeanor of someone who is standing on the cusp of glory—retaining the youthful energy of someone his age, but anticipatory of the lifestyle boost to come. The visuals still retain an amateurish vibe, but it is a purposeful one, as Mac had now made the commitment to cultivate his independent and rookie image in order to parlay it into wide appeal.
While previously Mac’s sense of bravado was entertaining in its hopefulness, and it seemed like he himself didn’t take it too seriously, his cockiness is more polished in this stage of his life, as he had begun to see serious validation of his efforts.
Both videos prominently feature Mac and his buddies smoking weed, which also was integral to Mac’s rise and life as a whole. Even in the face of impending success, Mac chose to not shy away from his drug use, but instead lean in to it. This is of course reflective of the genre, and the company that he himself kept. Unfortunately, this heavy embrace of drug use would later contribute to his emotional problems.
This tape also closed the chapter on the overt high school image Mac had started out with, and he transitioned gradually to a more mature one in the albums that followed.
After the release of K.I.D.S., Mac followed up with Best Day Ever in 2011. The title of the mixtape demonstrates clearly what Mac was feeling: pure jubilation at his success, and even more excitement as to what was to come. Plain and simple, Mac was feeling on top of the world.
This tape featured more well-known producers, and quickly achieved success given the acclaim that K.I.D.S. had received. Even the artwork had a new sense of prestige.
It included tracks such as: “Donald Trump,” “All Around the World,” and “In the Air.”
Appreciate the boldness of the notorious “Donald Trump” here.
Newly famous and rich, Mac now had the chance to enjoy his life in the way that he had predicted in his earlier songs. Clearly, there was some excess to be had.
Prior to releasing his debut studio album, Mac dropped I Love Life, Thank You, a piece of work that once again was succinctly described by its title.
It is interesting to note that Mac does not appear on the cover of this album, which demonstrates a shift away from Mac the persona, and places the focus on his art/music. It was only from this tape onwards that Mac seemed to be fully comfortable letting the music sell itself.
At this point, Mac was eager to solidify his place in the hip-hop world, and was grateful for the opportunity to do so. In anticipation of his debut album, Mac clearly had high hopes for its success and wanted to express appreciation to his fans for propelling him thus far.
This mixtape included songs such as: “Family First,” “Just a Kid,” and “Pranks for Players.” You can already see a hint of the introspective stage to come, as Mac may have been in the early parts of contending with some of the challenges of fame, especially in the lost “Lost Love.”
Take a listen to “Pranks for Players,” and observe the calm and collected confidence of a young man with the world in his hand.
All of this was of course a lead-up to the most important moment of Mac’s young career—the release of his first album, Blue Slide Park.
Here the artwork has fully crossed over in to the abstract, yet it retains Mac’s youthful vibrance. The actual inspiration is an ode to his hometown, specifically a park that was near Mac’s house.
The album had mixed reviews from professional critics, but Mac’s fan base was more than happy to purchase and enjoy the album, and therefore Mac could rest assured that he had fully made it.
This album included the tracks: “Party on Fifth Ave,” “Frick Park Market,” and “Smile Back”. The tracks are largely celebratory, but we already see more hints at the darker side of success, particularly in the tracks “Missed Calls,” and “Under the Weather.”
Take a look at “Frick Park Market,” a video which retains the original Mac style of prominently featuring himself and no one else, but also foreshadowing a turn towards the more outlandish. “Party on Fifth Ave,” is more of the same, showcasing a successful young man who is just happy to be sharing that success with his friends.
Now that Mac had achieved widespread commercial and critical success, how would he contend with his rapid rise to fame? What would be motivating him for the future, now that he had completed the chase?
Mac had demonstrated a willingness to be be very transparent in his work, and as a result, we were able to get an authentic peek inside his head. With the albums to follow, we were offered even more vulnerable glances.
In 2012, Mac released Macadelic, a mixtape that arguably signaled the end of his chest out, I’m on top of the world phase. The jet-setting lifestyle was clearly causing Mac to have some strange reflective thoughts, and there was a recognition that his priorities had been warped by fame.
The cover here represents the many nameless and (faceless) woman that Mac had run through because of his newfound fame. To Mac, these woman’s identities had become a blur, partly because there were so many, and partly because his drug use had not been tempered.
The tracks on this tape included: “Loud”, “Fuck ‘Em All”, and “Thoughts From a Balcony”.
Here is the video for the most popular song, “Loud.“
As the lyrics suggest, Mac seemed to be growing cynical of the perks of being wealthy and well-known. The allure of fame had worn off and Mac was simply going through the motions.
Perhaps Mac realized that the only thing that would bring him fulfillment was refocusing on his music. This is why he declared that he liked his “music real loud,” in an attempt to drown out the distractions.
2013 brought Mac’s second studio album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off. The title is a reference to Mac’s habit of making music in the studio with movies playing on the TVs in the background (muted of course).
Here the artwork returns to a picture of Mac, albeit a shocking one. Mac is sitting completely naked at a table—inviting the listener to sit on the other end of the table and take in all of him, including his most intimate insecurities.
This album marked the full artistic pivot towards more serious material, as evidenced by the tracklist, which included: “I’m Not Real,” “REMember,” and “Someone Like You.”
Take a listen to “I Am Who Am (Killin Time).” Mac is certainly more raw and emotional in this song, but the overall message is still uplifting.
Anyone who has experienced depression, or has had a loved one experience depression, knows that it is a cyclical condition. People may spend weeks on a steady uptrend, convincing themselves they are cured, only to be sent spiraling back down in an even darker hole by a certain trigger.
Mac fully crossed over to the darker side of expression with his next mixtape, Delusional Thomas. This mixtape was released under an alias, an alter ego named Delusional Thomas.
The Mac Miller photographed in this album cover is demonic looking in appearance, which is furthered by the pitch shift (higher) that Mac employs throughout the whole tape.
This mixtape came during a time in Mac’s life were he supposedly was abusing drugs the hardest.
The tracks on this mixtape included: “Vertigo,” “Grandpa Used to Carry a Flask,” and “Halo.”
Take a listen to “Labido,” one of the darkest tracks on the list.
The final lines are particularly illuminating, and examine the internal struggle that Mac was facing in his head:
“Exhausted, better call the cops quick
Cause I’m by myself going crazy in a moshpit
Left hook, right hook, uppercut
God and the Devil playing double-dutch.”
Unfortunately, as we now know the conclusion of Mac’s life, it seems the demons in his conscious may have won out, despite his good faith efforts to battle them.
Mac continued to use music as a therapeutic outlet with the release of his 2014 mixtape, Faces.
The colorful and surrealist cover art accurately describe the tone of the mixtape, which like the previous one, is almost entirely produced by Mac himself.
The jazzy and vibrant beats of Faces are prolific, yet they do little to disguise the lyrics that explore Mac’s personal pain—as a matter off fact, they run as a perfect complement. Some critics and fans have labeled Faces as Mac’s greatest work, as it represented a culmination of complete creative freedom and expression.
The pet project is also Mac’s longest, clocking in at almost an hour and a half with 24 tracks, tracks that include: “Therapy,” “Angel Dust,” “Funeral,” “Diablo,” and “It Just Doesn’t Matter.”
Listening to “Funeral” may be especially haunting for some in light of his recent death. Mac seems to veer towards accepting his inevitable young death, and has a desire to go out with a bang.
Faces announced to the world that Mac had fully matured into a talented wordsmith and musician, and also clued us in to the loneliness that enveloped his post-success life.
In 2015, Mac released his third studio album GO:OD AM. It was his first major studio album, having newly signed to Warner Bros. Records, after parting ways with PA independent label Rostrum.
Why was Mac yawning? Was he bored at how easy this rap game was becoming to him? Or was he just tired of everything going on in his life and career?
In many ways, GO:OD AM was a continuation of Faces in themes, and also in quality. To other critics and fans, GO:OD AM was Mac’s magnum opus.
The album was a bit shorter than its predecessor, but still on the longer side for a hip-hop album, clocking in at 70 minutes. The 17 tracks included: “Time Flies,” “Jump,” and “Break the Law.”
The few throwbacks to his cockier stage (“When In Rome”) were overshadowed by the more frequent vulnerable pieces like “Brand Name.”
In “Brand Name,” Mac specifically says he wishes to “not join the 27 club”. This is of course referring to the collection of famous people who died at age 27, including Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.
Mac followed up the following year with his fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine. It comes as no coincidence that Mac decides to release an album entirely dedicated to the female gender after starting a relationship with Ariana Grande in the summer of 2016.
At this point, Mac perhaps felt like an empty shell, a broken man. His passionate love for Ariana saved his emotional well-being (temporarily), and he channeled his infatuation towards creating a tribute to female energy.
The cover art seems to suggest that Mac no longer viewed himself as an individual, and is relying on Ariana (and the other women throughout his life) to rescue him and define him. So long as they stand behind him, he can look in to the mirror and see sun rays parting the clouds of his depression.
The Divine Feminine includes tracks such as: “Stay,” “Soulmate,” and “We.”
Take a listen to “Planet, God Damn.” This is Mac’s “softest” album, and indicative of the supposed comfort he had found at this stage in his life. Unfortunately, this created a false sense of security, and instilled a dependence that would kill him when he withdrew from his relationship.
Mac waited almost 2 whole years to release his fifth studio album, his final album, called Swimming.
There’s quite a bit to unpack in this cover. Mac’s appearance is that of a dead body that is about to be buried, as indicated by his dirty barefeet and formal apparel. Even the box he is sitting in resembles a casket.
The title of the album is swimming, but the apparatus Mac is in, and the view outside his window more closely resembles a flight. Mac has always alluded to aspiring to get to heaven, and also has frequently referenced getting lost in the “clouds” as a result of his drug use.
The pessimistic body language needs little explanation. The fact that the majority of the album is white space, and Mac is confined to a small box instills a sense of claustrophobia that suggest a man trapped in a mental prison.
Given that Swimming was released just a few short weeks before Mac’s death, and is objectively a high quality piece of art, I recommend that everyone listen to the album all the way through.
It includes track such as: “Come Back to Earth,” “Self Care,” “Hurt Feelings,” and “Jet Fuel.”
Take a listen to the most popular track “Self Care.”
I will end with this musing. Given the title of Mac’s last album (and the fact that he had a tour planned), I do have a genuine belief that Mac was trying harder than ever to turn his life around and escape the general malaise that had been plaguing him since he became famous.
It seems that his relationship with Ariana Grande was the lifejacket in his struggle, and without her, he could just not tread water long enough to rescue himself.
Rest in peace, Mac Miller. His music has touched millions and will continue to do so for many years in the future. There is a very strong possibility that his art has saved someone’s else’s life, and for that he should feel that his life was worth living.