Hip-hop brags are artful. Moxie, swagger, and charisma are necessary to execute bravado. The best braggers weave commercial accomplishments, peerless self-praise, and materialistic symbolism within tightly woven verses to display the height of their status and the minuscule nature in which others appear by comparison.
JAY-Z’s “Imaginary Player,” a record from his 1997 album In My Lifetime, Vol. 1, is braggadocio of a masterclass. With a mixture of king-like elegance and superstar arrogance, the Roc-A-Fella rapper separates the haves from the have-nots; the moneymakers from the window shoppers; the 4.0 from the 4.6. The then 27-year-old lyricist didn’t merely parade riches. He converted wealth into a weapon of psychological warfare against inauthentic pretenders.
Jay has always been known as one of the best to brag. The boroughs of New York City have been a breeding ground for exceptional boasters. History books will have to mention everyone from Kool G Rap to 50 Cent, The Notorious B.I.G. to Jadakiss, Cam’Ron and The Diplomats. And then there's Drake, an superstar artist respected for his ability to floss trophies and ridicule enemies with invulnerable poise. Rick Ross and MMG’s Meek Mill deserve to be cited, as well as Pimp C and 2 Chainz, and, of course, Snoop Dogg and countless West Coast poets. The list goes on.
The list does not include Mac Miller. The late Pittsburgh rapper was famed for abstract prose, profoundly personal reflection, and life-inspired anecdotes rather than larger-than-life flexing. Miller doesn’t have gloat-driven classics like “Imaginary Players,” “4 PM In Calabasas” or “It’s All About the Benjamins.” That’s not to say the talented wordsmith didn’t express pride in the rank he earned as a great and well-known artist, but he wasn’t as loud as his peers.
The humbleness of Mac Miller is what makes “Here We Go,” from his acclaimed, 2014 mixtape Faces, so special. Miller ends the first verse with a simple, yet iconic declaration; a hall-of-fame pat on the back:
“I did it all without a Drake feature!”
The second verse closes with a similar sentiment, but instead of Drake, Mac raps:
“I did it all without a Jay feature!”
With just eight words, Miller captures the fulfillment of growing from unknown and underground to renowned and record-breaking. His hands are to the heavens, his head flung backward, and a triumphant scream booms from his belly. As music journalist Craig Jenkins wrote in his Pitchfork review of Faces, “The joy is infectious.” It’s the most celebratory moment on the mixtape.
Mac’s self-made sentiment isn’t a snide remark to provoke hostility. “Here We Go” isn’t Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus and making a song about it. Mac isn’t berating co-signs from hip-hop heavyweights, but on the road to fortune and fame, he made it without an assist from an influential rap god.
“I’m a huge Drake fan,” he added. “It was less about the actual Drake features… At the end of the day, I by no means have done it by myself, I have great people around me at all times. It’s just dope to kind of be where I’m at and be the head of my whole thing… It’s not like a shot.” —Mac Miller Explains "I Did It All Without A Drake Feature" Line
Lyrically, boasts about success are ordinarily inspired by financial achievement. Becoming a have instead of a have-not is deserving of commemoration. The flaw in expressing bravado is the accessibility of money. Any and everyone can acquire wealth. Which means all the houses, cars, and jewels are exclusive, but not unattainable. What makes Mac Miller’s lyric so legendary is the accomplishment of the feat itself.
Only a handful of rappers from the blog era—including fellow Pittsburgh son, Wiz Khalifa—can say they built kingdoms without a sizeable donation from October’s Very Own or the House of Hov.
“Every fuckin’ year, he pulls a new artist up. Ain’t no other artist on his level do that shit,” 21 Savage said last June about Drake. He’s right. In the previous ten years, the Toronto phenomenon has placed the most upcoming artists underneath a blinding spotlight. The list of singers, rappers, and producers who Jay assisted in becoming icons is just as long. The entire industry would look different if you were to remove their co-signs. But Mac Miller would still be here.
In light of his untimely passing, it’s often hard to revisit Mac’s music. Death has given the candidness of his lyricism a sharper and more visceral edge. Thankfully, “Here We Go” isn’t a song that confronts his gambles with drugs or gazes into the deep abyss of eternity. Over some of the most triumphant horn riffs he’s ever rapped over, Mac takes a victory lap. Resting on your laurels on the second track of a 24-song mixtape is an odd creative decision, but that’s who Miller was—a man with so much heart to bleed, the boasting had to get out the way.
“Here We Go” is there for fans who wish to hear Mac Miller on the mountaintop. He has the confidence of a titan, the swagger of an American hero, and the joy of a lottery ticket winner. In that booth, Mac was the greatest—a man who did it without Drake, without Jay. A legend in the making who made it. May the history books never forget him.
By Yoh aka Imaginary Yoh aka Yoh31