Mac Miller Asks “The Question,” I Answer

“What am I doing here?”
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Dear Mac,

I thought today we could talk to each other. You spend so much of your music talking to us, and we spend so much time as fans talking through you, but rarely do we sit down and have a discourse. Not for any one reason, of course. Your music lends itself to discussion and conversation. You’re just so comforting; it’s easy as ever to sit back and take your word for things. Your lessons are boundless, and every album retread is another opportunity to learn something about ourselves. But I’m reasonably chatty, so let’s talk.

I want to go back to 2012 for a moment, back to Macadelic and more carefree times. As I’ve written before, this was the start of your second creative renaissance. You had finished up Blue Slide Park, and your heart was in a new creative mode. The label wasn’t sure if Macadelic would read if people would get it so soon after the debut. It was a departure. There were nerves. But you were sure. And you were right. And Macadelic was a beautiful statement piece, and it remains a staple Mac Miller project.

On Macadelic, you’re mature, and part of that comes from your willingness to ask questions and patiently wait for answers. You grew into a skilled scavenger on that project, ducking into the crawl spaces of anxious thoughts and pulling out whatever you could find as glimmers of hope and truth. It was amazing to witness. It was truly Macadelic. But on one track you sound disarmed and concerned. On “The Question,” you sound vexed and shaken, and the hook (“What am I doing here”) rings throughout my days whenever I am overburdened by life. 

So, in the spirit of Year of Mac, I figured we could go over some lines, and I could answer your questions for you. You always made fans feel like you were on their team, why not return the favor?

Sometimes I wonder who the fuck I am / So I've been lookin' in the mirror and it still don't make no sense / I'm askin' what am I supposed to do? / I've done so much in my short lifetime, but I haven't done shit” —Mac Miller, “The Question”

Shit, Mac, me too. I don’t think we’re ever meant to know who we are if it makes you feel any better. What I learn from your music, from your discography especially, is that growth is an asymptotical thing: there is no end. We are just always approaching a goal, and though we never quite reach it to our liking, there is always the chance to improve, and that means we have agency over our lives. That’s something you’ve been teaching us since K.I.D.S.: we have the power to make ourselves into whatever we wish to be.

I wonder why I sip this devil juice,” you ask a few bars on. There’s no easy way to say this, but I am in no position to answer that question. I know why I drink while I listen to your music. Do you remember Faces and the whole episode of 2015? I do. It was the darkest time of my life, quite literally because I refused to see the sun or turn on a light, and I would drink until I was hurting myself. I would drink to make myself sick, to feel something, and when I didn’t die by “Grand Finale,” I would walk away from Faces another day stronger. Not my proudest moment, but to go back to your question: I think you may have been craving something else. I know I was. That’s another lesson I glean from your work: how to look at myself when I don’t want to.

The ethos of “The Question” is to make the useful out of the difficult. We hear your struggle on the track, but we aren’t so depressed. You portray the struggle as a facet of life and nothing more, which is another lesson of your discography. For every overwhelmed album, there is a sunny counterpart. You were always working at balance on the largest of scales. You saw your pain for what it was, and you turned it into masterworks in healing through love and sobriety. You took responsibility for yourself across your discography. From “The Question” on, you became responsible with your happiness, and even when you stumbled, you were able to look at yourself and become a new man. It’s all there in the music, album to album, song to song.

Now, for the hook. The real “Question” of the song. “What am I doing here?” Fuck, I wish I knew. I wish I could answer this for myself, not even taking you into account. But, for the record, I do have an answer for you. It seems pretty obvious, but you’re here to touch lives. Not just to make music, but to impact the lives of everyone who listens and everyone you’ve worked with. Even people who didn’t tune in, you moved them. Every week I get new emails about how touched people are by your work, and how much each bar meant to fans the world over. I wonder if you truly knew your impact while you were alive. I hope you did.

That’s what you’re doing here, anyway. You’re rapping and singing your way to official Man of the People status. As for me? I’m just trying my best because I think that’s all we can do as people. The goal for each new day should be to do one small thing to make it better than the last. There’s a lot of hope strewn across your discography in that vein. For as existential and wounded as you sound while you grow up, you’re never taken down by your demons in the work. We always make it to the next chapter. There is a GO:OD AM for every Faces.

Your discography is one of hope and answered questions. You do the hard work of confronting all of your fears and becoming a man we’re all very proud of. Your discography is a triumph of creativity and knowing the self. It is a lesson in pursuing what hurts you until you are bigger than your pain; until you can gather emotional distance and best your pain. You took risks, you shook uncertainty, and it worked, Mac. It always worked. You knew, aware or not, precisely what you were doing here. And you did it so well. Thank you.

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