Do you remember when you opened a mixtape by tapping the mic and saying:
“Yo, yo, it’s the kid: Mac Miller. The high school rapper y’all love. For a lot of y’all, this is your first time meeting me. For a lot of y’all, y’all been listening for a little bit. I just wanna tell everybody this: this hip-hop shit right here, I live it. 100 percent, point blank, motherfucking period. I ain’t got no other options. I ain’t got no backup plan. This is it for me.” —Mac Miller
Conviction, confidence, and a touch of humility—that is how you open your 2009 mixtape, The Jukebox: Prelude to Class Clown. While we never did get Class Clown, and while we did get a lot of Easy Mac’s best work re-mastered, what you did with The Jukebox was establish yourself as a loving student of the game. You formed your modus operandi on that intro. You were Mac Miller, no persona necessary. You were in love with hip-hop, and we heard it in your various impersonations and penchant for punchlines. And you were hoping to be around for a long time; thankfully, you were.
“Welcome to the motherfucking Jukebox… We gon’ have a good time. It’s only getting better from here, Q,” you conclude your intro. And boy did I feel welcomed.
I heard the leap from Easy Mac to Mac Miller immediately. Yes, the music sounds resoundingly like 2009, but you’re leaning more and more into your natural voice and relying less and less on rap truisms to structure your bars. “Sound Like” is a great example of you dipping into the tool of call-and-response, too. “PA Hustla” is a great bridge between the young rapper you want to be, and the artist you know you can become, where your wit starts to bore through the trappings of being a green artist.
“What Up Cousin” is the first in a long line of singing attempts and an early precursor to your striking ability to eulogize those you love, from fallen friends to your grandfather. The wheels were really turning on this mixtape. “I been thinking that I found my passion / Rapping ‘bout the future in an old school fashion,” you spit as if you really could see the future. Perfect example: snaring a classic sample on “On Some Real Shit.” This was, of course, what made K.I.D.S. such a smash just one year removed from The Jukebox. Rapsody said it herself, Mac. You discovered how to make yourself timeless, and you were speaking it into existence a decade ago.
You even tried your hand at love songs, to mixed results, on The Jukebox. The smoothness of “Got A Clue” is noticeably undercut by many of the sophomoric bars, but there is something so endearing about the raspy, pre-Larry Lovestein delivery of the sung portions of the track. “My Lady” is just as sweet in its teetering between laughably childish and convincingly sincere.
I really do believe these songs were taking us to the outer limits of what you understood love to be: taking care of someone, getting high with them, and reminding them that they’re a dime. Is that all there is to love? Of course not, but you never masqueraded as a fake philosopher and that is as evident in the shortcomings of this tape as anywhere else. The flaws, of course, become the tape and that is why we love you, Mac. We got to grow with you in every aspect.
Your musicality shines through on Jukebox even more than as Easy Mac, too. “Swing Set” has soulful energy that was mostly missing from your genesis. The swing and plunk of “Love My Name” is a welcome addition to your musical quiver. You used your feature there very well. There’s a wonderful funk to “A Night In The Studio,” and the sample choice on “Keep Me Alive” reminds us that chipmunk soul sampling is an artform. You had an ear for music then that matured so quickly, but hearing the seeds sow in real-time is a real treat.
There’s so much music packed into Jukebox—21 songs—but while much of it is still in its infantile stages, the tape is thusly peppered with gems and the scraps of blueprints for songs and songs to come. You become Mac Miller, firstly, on K.I.D.S., but you start that process of becoming with Easy Mac, then and with The Jukebox. The magic of following you is realizing that you were always in a state of becoming. Be it sonic pivots or impressive growth spurts, you were always out to outdo yourself and you loved the game. You loved to play and it showed in all the care you put into every release.
The Jukebox is an antique, a box of seeds that come to sprout across a decade of incredible music. You are all the things you do, Mac, and you became all the things you first spit in 2009 and beyond. “There’s a lot of speculation on my future as it is,” you admit on “Comin Soon.” Already, your anxiety over your presentation and your future was taking hold, but you made good on your dreams, man.
You gave us hits and you gave us your journey, and you gave us endless hours of life music and reasons to root for you across every iteration of your musical creation. The Jukebox was meant to be a prelude to another project, but really it’s the prelude to your prolific career. In the context of everything, this all seems self-evident, but you deserve to hear it all the same.