To call Mac Miller prolific would be an understatement. With over 15 projects to his name, from his Easy Mac days to his final album, Swimming, Mac has released over 200 songs ranging from endearing in their sophomoric quality to fucking phenomenal and soul-bearing.
As a music critic, it would be an altogether reasonable project to rank the songs in Mac Miller’s lengthy discography, with a critical eye paid to each track. But it would not nearly be as fun as sharing with you all my favorite Mac Miller songs.
In the spirit of Year of Mac, rather than get technical with my assessment of Mac Miller’s discography, I want to share with you a piece of what I have spent years loving about Mac. If sharing music is giving flowers, then consider this article a big bouquet from my hand to Malcolm’s. Take this not as a list of Mac’s best work, but as a list of the five songs that have touched me and woven their way into my lives. These are the songs that stick to my ribs. These are the songs that soundtrack Mac Miller’s legacy.
5. “Senior Skip Day”
Album: K.I.D.S (2010)
Producer: Wally West
I play this song every Sunday when I get into my car to run errands. “Senior Skip Day” burns off the clouds and brings on the sun, even in the throes of a downpour. “Senior Skip Day” sticks its nose up at melancholy and presents a new thesis: What if life were simply grand, for the little things? It’s the precious detailing that makes this track feel like an immaculate work in Mac’s early catalog. Smoking weed, running out of maple syrup, eating yogurt. Those small nuances of his everyday life made him so loveable. The smoothness of his voice as he delivers every bar, the truisms he spits about enjoying life, it all comes together to make you smile.
“Senior Skip Day” is important because while much of Mac’s discography is focused on making us stew in emotion, this song and K.I.D.S at large was dealing in joy. The goal of “Senior Skip Day” was not to push us to the outer limits of our feelings, but rather to make us happy. It was easy, and, God, it was so simple back then. This song can make me cry if only for the fact that the past always looks so temptingly easy. There’s something so becoming about the track’s breeziness when we look around and realize that life has grown to be needlessly complicated.
The video for this track, too, is iconic. It’s a simple traipsing through Mac Miller’s day off, happy as can be, and that brightness is infectious. “Senior Skip Day,” though we might not think it, is a perfect portrait of the man Malcolm was and continuously grew into. Speaking with his collaborators, we learn that Mac was a giver. He was generous, and he was kind, and he led with his heart and a smile on his life. He was brimming with life, as “Senior Skip Day” brims with life and the potential of a life made to be worth living. The song, like Mac Miller, was all love.
4. “Perfect Circle / God Speed”
Album: GO:OD AM (2015)
Producer: Frank Dukes
Fuck. Let me start with a story: I was driving to visit my father, and that’s about an hour-and-a-half trek barreling down the highway. It was a gorgeous day out, and so I pressed play on GO:OD AM to speed up the drive. Everything was going smoothly until “Perfect Circle / God Speed” came on, and my eyes started to water. I went from the left-most lane to the right-most lane and cried on the Turnpike as Mac declared he didn’t want to OD and have to have someone tell his mother. The moral of this story? This song will break you.
And it’s good to be broken. One of the best things about Mac Miller is how inviting his music is, even at its most somber. “Perfect Circle / God Speed” is wonderfully layered, too. It’s not all crying on this front. Mac packs the first half of this song with airtight bars and poetics that will tire your fingers from snapping. His delivery is thoughtfully stiff and deadpan, not a lack of personality, but rather a type of mean-mugging that only he could pull off. At this stage, Mac Miller knows he is an adept rapper, and the task has evolved from showcasing his skill to finding new ways to let the light shine through his heart.
Then we have the “God Speed” section, which is one of the most cutting moments in Mac Miller’s discography. It remains the only song that I struggle to listen to in the wake of Mac’s death. There is something incredible happening on this portion of the track, where even after Faces, and a career built on being as open as possible, Mac finds yet another way to flay himself apart for our sake. The song feels almost selfless. Mac Miller sounds like a martyr of something fleeting and tender. All of his giving, his wisdom, and his lyrical ability are on display in the final minutes.
Album: Swimming (2018)
Producer: Eric G
The last time I heard “2009,” and I hear “2009” quite often, I was drunk on the floor of the living room in my apartment, crying. If you’re wondering how often I cry, it seems we’ve just met. And jokes aside, there is not enough ink to spill in honor of perhaps the most touching song in Mac Miller’s discography. Written mostly in one take, “2009” is Mac Miller’s heart. The song is his ethos. It takes the “It was so easy then” sensation of listening to Mac’s early works, and pairs it with the redemption story that he has spun across his career, and packages it into one neat song about no longer fearing the future.
“2009” is fucking beautiful. The swells of strings, the blithe elegance, and the steady piano mesh into something magical. Disney has nothing on Mac Miller’s ear for arrangement. At the onset of the track, we feel as if we hear stars prick the night sky with their light. Everything about “2009” is delicate and purposeful. And Mac sounds so resolved! He seems so healthy and clear-headed, which is an important note after the benders he’s taken us on.
To me, “2009” sounds like hope. “2009” sounds like a promise that there is nothing doomed about any of us. “2009” is a promise that there will be better days. Everyone is capable of happiness; no one is banned from joy. No matter how you cut it, no matter who you are, your time will come to stand in the sun. Even as Mac rattles off the perils of fame and celebrity, he does not sound entrenched in fear. It is that fearlessness that makes this track a top three Mac song. He sounds unabashed in his love of life and courageous in the face of the future. Mac sounds ready; we were ready with him.
2. “Here We Go”
Album: Faces (2014)
Producer: Drew Byrd
Thankfully, this one doesn’t make me cry; it's just a well-constructed song that speaks to the obsession I feel Mac and I both shared with creation. Hearing Malcolm spit triumphantly about making it, sharing his money with his mother, and outdoing his legends evokes nothing but smiles on this side. But deeper than hearing Mac in a good place, this song is so evocative because of the countless bars about hard work. “I’m the hardest working person in the universe,” he spits before bringing in images of temptation and Lucifer. When you work in music and feel that this is all you have, hearing one of your rap heroes level with you in that way is very becoming.
“So many things that I’ve created, but this right here might be my favorite” echoes through my head whenever I work on a piece for a handful of hours. Something happens in the creative brain when you’re poring over a project. You go from loving it to hating it, to eventually admiring it and yourself. While everyone raps about how hard they work, there was a sincerity and humanity to Mac’s boasts that made this song in particular stick out to me as a beacon of relatability. For all of his hard work, he never escapes his demons. And while I sit here and struggle with understanding my worth, all while sublimating on the page, I nod along and agree.
Mac declaring that the people weren’t hearing him until he hooked up with Flying Lotus, and that he did it all without JAY-Z or Drake, is invigorating. This song is an anthem for creatives everywhere looking to get theirs. Even as we hear Mac get everything he’s ever worked for, he still has time to muse on his mistakes and shortcomings. He still has his drug problem, and not everyone around him is living the life he is. The weight of that guilt, too, makes this an impeccable song. How Mac manages to turn a success anthem into a confessional is beyond me, but he does it.
1. “I Am Who Am (Killin’ Time)” feat. Niki Randa
Album: Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013)
I’ve already written so much about “I Am Who Am,” but I will always have more to say. At its core, this is a song about living against all the odds; the crushing Jewish Diaspora and a particular neurosis that I have not heard any other rapper touch on; wanting to be left to find peace. “I Am Who Am” is the song I play on first dates and last dates; it’s the song I play when I want someone to know who I am at my very core.
“I Am Who Am” is about the weight of survival, and feeling the desire to die in your bones and still battling to live despite the crushing craving of passing away. “I Am Who Am” is about breaking the cycle of depression and making a life worth living. Without this song, there is no Swimming. Consider this the drowning and the treading water before Mac finally starts taking long strides to the shore.
As with all of Mac Miller’s music, there is a weight to this song that is almost unexplainable. There is an avant-garde quality to it, as well. We move perspectives from verse to verse, but the message of the track remains clear throughout: you have to live. You have to. “I Am Who Am” brings me to the same place as Frank O’Hara’s poem “Adieu to Norman Bon Jour to Joan and Jean-Paul,” which boasts the lines: “the only thing to do is simply continue / is that simple / yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do.”
“I Am Who Am” does not give us a choice to fail much like O’Hara does not allow us to stagnate or die. The only option is to prosper. Mac wrote Swimming before he even knew the album was coming. “I Am Who Am” is, in that way, transcendental. The song is everything to me and everything a song should be. It’s stunning. It’s touching. It’s true.