Mac Miller’s Musical Detour Through Hell

Mac journeyed through hell, but he was always on his way to heaven.
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Mac Miller, the angel that he is, spent a fair amount of time in hell. From select lyrics, we get the sense Mac might have even preferred to be in hell. He might have felt more comfortable surrounded by sinners than saints, surrounded by ire than goodness. It wouldn’t be too much of a leap, considering his discography is one rife with trials and admittances. Just look at the stewing that is Faces, or the winding and ephemeral Watching Movies with the Sound Off as evidence that Mac knew hell well enough to be a welcome resident. 

Mac’s relationship to the fictitious hell he drew across his music is not that of a voyeur, but that of a journeyman working his way towards appreciating his place in heaven:

We in between heaven and hell / Fuck a 9-to-5, I'd rather end up dead or in jail” —Mac Miller, “Brand Name”

Let’s begin by looking at Mac Miller’s journey from hell to heaven on GO:OD AM’s “Brand Name,” where he finds himself caught between the two. Comparing heaven and hell to the slog of everyday life and rockstar life, we learn Mac struggles with perceived good and evil. That is, he has a difficult time working his way back to heaven after being in the hell of his vices and addictions. As we know, our torment can grow to become our sense of comfort; it is, after all, the familiar thing.

Here, we also get a portrait of Mac Miller’s hell—a 9-to-5—but the peace and stability that a gig provides makes it heavenly. As we hear over his discography, but most presently on GO:OD AM and Watching Movies, Mac was terrified of fame. So much so, he laments making money from his music for it takes him further down the hole of the famous persona, as stated on “I Am Who Am.” What this means for hell is that it looks rather standard: death and destruction abound. 

Why would Mac rather be in hell? Because he’s gotten used to hell and perhaps he does not see himself as deserving of a trip to heaven.

Your beauty can even make hell have a winter” —Mac Miller (as Delusional Thomas), “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty”

Everything we understand as good—abundance, opulence, fame, romance—exists in Mac Miller’s hell. He’s made a home for himself there, after all. We hear this in the way Mac details pain across his discography. His Delusional Thomas persona may well be a hellion, and the way he spits his horrorcore raps, we get the sense darkness has outfitted Mac Miller’s life for all-time. His appearance only makes sense on The Divine Feminine, where even at his most chipper, hell plays a prime role in Mac’s life. As the story goes, we might as well bring our comforts with us when we make our grand descent, seemingly to the place where we are now most comfortable.

On TDF, Mac Miller wants to break away from the hell he so understands. Here, love is the answer. Where hell is hot and deadly, love is the thing to cool down and demystify the place. Love is the thing that makes Mac Miller feel as though he can navigate through hell with confidence—perhaps even leaving upon the realization sorrow does not suit him. Mainly, we land on the word “even,” and the exacerbation of the phrase. Mac sounds shocked that there is a way to combat his hell, but the development is far from unwelcome. He may be comfortable amidst his vices, and in the realm of the oppressed, but with love on his side, Mac finally gets the sense that there is more to this life than the hell he finds himself traversing. Does he deserve to work his way out?

Doctor, doctor, will you help me? / Get me healthy / Keep it low, this where hell be” —Mac Miller, “Weekend”

Similarly, questions of deservedness appear quietly on “Weekend,” where he pairs notions of help and health with images of hell. This three-piece rhyme gives us the liberty to assume everything here is taking place in hell. As in, Mac Miller feels at his most healthy and in control, his most saved, when he is in hell. Of course, this runs contra to how we understand hell as a motif, so we return to our operative question and realize Mac does not believe he deserves to be in heaven.

A majority of Mac’s lyrics detailing hell as a location are quick passes that do little in the way of worldbuilding. This decision is not accidental. Hell is not some grand place for Mac, but rather an average location not dissimilar from a trip to the bodega. There is no ceremony to his mentions of hell, and from that, we know Mac has resigned. Not only is he comfortable, but Mac is convinced he belongs in hell. Whether relegated by self-doubt or divine intervention, hell is his place, and that reads as blase for the simple fact that he is good at being there.

Yeah, oh, the things I'd do / To spend a little time in hell / And what I won't tell you / I'll prolly never even tell myself” —Mac Miller, “Come Back to Earth”

Mac Miller’s work is continuously in motion. There is no reality in which Mac stays in hell, despite the comforts and familiarity the scene provides. For as casual as his name drops of the place read, if we pay particular attention, we find Mac is still clawing to heaven. This is why the tense of “Come Back to Earth” is crucial. Mac admits to the things he would do, as in, his trips to hell are in his past life. The despondence of the bar makes it appear as if Mac is ashamed of his time in hell but also suggests we were right to assume a willingness to spend time there.

Returning to “Brand Name,” the “things” of “Come Back to Earth” are likely Mac’s vices. Even the title suggests that before the track, Mac Miller was high out of his mind, deep in his hell. The “Come Back” implies we are returning to the material world, and in the material world, the simple things are Mac Miller’s heaven. Mac journeyed through hell, but he was always on his way to heaven.

Where Swimming is his most resolved album, Mac has concluded his time in hell by the onset of the album. As for arriving in heaven, he does make it there. Especially, if we consider how the closing sonics of “So It Goes” storm Mac to be the “white light” we canonize as the entrance to heaven. The thing about his time in hell, then, is that Mac proves we do not have to worry about him. He took his time to get himself to a better place, but as we listen to his discography, doubt melts away. Somehow, we know he is going to make it, and he does, and he did.

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