“I missed him immediately. In more ways than I could count, he had been the secret sharer and unwitting accomplice in the best and most disgusting of my adventures” —Dave Hickey
During the 10th episode of the second season of Californication, there’s a flashback scene of actress Natascha McElhone watching a news report announcing the death of Kurt Cobain. The look upon her face is one of distress, as if she was suddenly told of a relative’s passing.
I was one month away from my fourth birthday when Cobain committed suicide and left music in mourning. I knew nothing of him, his music, or the wave of emotions flowing over the countless lives he touched. Later learning of Nirvana and Cobain’s legacy contextualized what he meant to the world, but there remained a disconnect from feeling as if someone special was taken from me.
“I can’t imagine waking up and feeling like a Nirvana fan on 4/5/1994,” I wrote in a March 2015 article on Lil Wayne and self-destruction. After September 7, 2018, I can now do more than just imagine.
That evening, at 7:20 p.m., my cousin Devin sent me a text that read, “They took our boy, Mac.” Devin recently turned 21 this past June, a baby in the eyes of some and a grown man in others. In the 21 years that I have known him, and seeing how he’s reacted to the various deaths of musician and celebrities, I have never seen Devin use the word “our” to describe any of them.
Prince wasn’t ours. Michael Jackson wasn’t ours. Tupac wasn't ours. Aretha Franklin wasn’t ours. Whitney Houston wasn’t ours.
As babies of the '90s, we were born into a world these icons had already conquered. We lived amongst their greatness, but it arrived before us and will remain beyond us. This is not true for Mac Miller; he was one of us. A man of my generation; an artist we can proudly claim as ours.
Throughout dozens of conversations over the past 72 hours, I’ve come to realize that Mac has been so many things to so many of us. This is true of most artists in the public eye, but due to his ever-changing artistry, the way he affected people was always evolving. I remember a time when, initially, Mac Miller was the butt of blogger jokes and the soundtrack to stoner smoke sessions. This perspective remains as a frozen memory but doesn’t stick to the sole representation of who Mac Miller was. There are too many to be just one.
To some, he’ll always be the loveable goofball who had an uncanny way of making people laugh. Others will remember a philosopher who explored the raw edges of life with a smile. Some of his more recent fans will recall how they were won over because of the drastic creative polish that made him one hip-hop’s most improved MCs. Others will forever champion the late creative as a lover of music and people, who left a positive glow on every song he touched and every person he met.
Mac Miller was a universe of a man, and the layers of his being were coated in positivity. If I had no prior knowledge of his existence, it's likely the above description would make it seem as though he was too good to be true, and that’s exactly what he was.
Life seemed simpler when Miller was rapping about skipping school, with Nikes on his feet, frozen pizza to eat, and Kool-Aid to drink. I’ve always appreciated how his musical progress mirrored the progression of life. There was no attempt to remake K.I.D.S.—his fourth and, at the time, most polished mixtape—after he ceased to be a child, and we are all the better for it. Mac Miller wasn’t infatuated with the nostalgia of his past; he never looked back. Life doesn't reward those who dwell in yesteryears no matter how safe they feel.
Entering adulthood isn’t some magical experience like ‘90s sitcoms poorly advertised; the pains of growing up are brutal. It's even more difficult when there’s a monkey hanging from your back—and we all have a monkey, or demons, or an army of skeletons weighing upon our souls. Mac made us feel less alone, though. In the transitional period from adolescence to adulthood and all the stumbling of self-discovery, the Pittsburgh MC was in our ears and by our sides.
In the days, weeks, months, and years to come, Mac Miller will receive his well-deserved roses for being a thoughtful wordsmith, a stellar multi-instrumentalist, and one of hip-hop’s most inventive and well-rounded artists, but what has always made him stand out is how well he captured a true sense of realism in a uniquely radical way of living. In this whirlwind we call life there’s been comfort in Mac Miller’s music because he crafted songs that showed he was just like us—imperfect but fighting to figure it out.
Mac Miller was not only transparent, he never allowed himself the comfort and bliss of naiveté. He wouldn’t rap of drugs or drinking without acknowledging the potential consequences of his choices. The only romance was with how real it could get.
Since the release of GO:OD AM, Mac's third studio album, I have religiously played “Perfect Circle / God Speed” as a reminder of my own mortality, and how I don’t have the luxury of pretending my vices aren’t poison. Mac created a musical space where the edge is acknowledged and how easy it is to drive off is articulated.
Mac begins the second half of “Perfect Circle / God Speed” by detailing the way he thought his life would go before painting his reality and personal struggles with drugs. The song walks listeners through an overdose, an ending that isn’t happy. It’s with a poignant pen that he details the reactions of friends and family, a scenario so thoughtful it’s how some fantasize about winning their first GRAMMY or a Super Bowl. For anyone who is living fast, chasing their dream, and being devoured by their vices, the ending of “Perfect Circle / God Speed” articulates the rawest of truths: waking up tomorrow isn’t promised today.
On September 7, 2018, Mac Miller didn’t wake up.
The tears wash over my keyboard. I type with disbelief. I still don’t believe he’s gone. I miss Mac Miller. I missed him immediately and immensely. As a person, as a musician, as a distant stranger who had a presence in my life. He will be cherished the way legends in the past have been but let us not overlook how close to home this hits. If life is a classroom, we all just lost a classmate—a classmate who has sat with us since kindergarten and died during our senior year, right before graduation.
Graduating signifies change, entering an exciting, uncertain new phase, and to know death came before that hard-earned transition was realized, it’s impossible not to feel like we've all been cheated by this tragedy.
Swimming, Mac Miller’s recently released fifth studio album, is an artistic and personal graduation. There’s a grown-up clarity throughout its 13 tracks that is sharp and concise, the aftermath of emerging from a successful self-exploration. In many ways, Swimming sounds like the rightful sequel to Faces. The acclaimed 2014 mixtape turned self-destructive tendencies and contemplative stream-of-consciousness into a vibrant firework. Swimming channels the same loose soul-searching but with a refined, poetic candor. Miller doesn't explode; instead, he floats with the lucidity of a relaxed body laying upon gentle ocean waves.
The depth of this pool of thought is what Miller swims through. He continues to be frank about life and its imperfections, but the music is soothing, calm, and beautiful. Swimming is the sound of surviving from a reflective survivor.
Swimming, unlike Faces, didn’t have me worried about Miller’s well-being. There’s hopefulness in his honesty; the once anxious uncertainty was replaced by sage-like acceptance. On “2009,” Miller speaks to understanding where you were and unpacking the past to move forward.
As someone who graduated from high school in 2009, even before his passing, the song was a memento and reminder that we aren’t kids any longer. It further drives home this feeling of growing up with Mac Miller, and the expectation that we would grow old with him. Swimming was the body of work that would guarantee Mac would be with us for a good and a long time; someone we would look to as an example of overcoming and the beauty of that triumph.
Writing, reading, and speaking of Mac Miller in the past tense has been the hardest. Just hours before the news of his passing hit the internet, we talked of his forthcoming tour as a concert soon to be arriving; we talked of his Vulture profile as a reinforcing portrait of a man who was putting his darkest days behind him.
Death, unlike any other circumstance, has a way of slowing us down. In part, that is why we are able to reflect on the life and career of Mac Miller today in ways we couldn’t before. How can we expect to truly appreciate the living when we're all just trying to live? It’s only in passing do we actually stop, reexamine, reassess, and rightfully celebrate everything that we adored, and all we took for granted. The saying is painfully true: you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.
Death is hard to cope with when it’s someone close, but I’m finding it difficult to rationalize when the person is a stranger you’ve spent almost a decade watching underneath a magnifying glass. Mac Miller is dead, but I still view him as a fighter who never quit fighting; the survivor who lived by the mantra that our mistakes don’t make us; the evolving artist who never allowed complacency to hold him captive.
Mac Miller means many things to me, as he does to you. This collective ache tells us how much he meant, and how much he will continue to mean. These tears, this sadness, and the feeling of grief will not last, but don’t forget how raw these emotions are. They are as real as he was. Mac Miller was our boy, our artist, and it hurts to lose him.
Since he can no longer speak, we must be his voice, the keepers of his tale. We must give him life after death, for all he gave us while he was alive. Rest easy Mac, WE got you from here.
By Yoh, aka Yoh2009, aka @Yoh31