Remembering Mac Miller: Craig Jenkins Interview

“He just loved [hip-hop] and wanted to uplift other people in it as much as he wanted to be great himself.”
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Few people have painted as clear a portrait of Mac Miller as writer Craig Jenkins. Having written about Malcolm’s work for the better part of his career, including the final profile of the late artist, Jenkins’ perspective of Mac was always filtered through the lens of Mac’s humanity. He never let media chatter and media narrative impact his view of Mac’s work or Malcolm as a man. Their friendship was one of surprises and extended kindness. 

Craig remembers Mac Miller as the smartest man in the room, the humblest, and the most kindhearted. We can all agree.

Our conversation about Malcolm and his work, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: When did you first hear about Mac’s music? What struck you about it?

Craig Jenkins: Day one, I had things that interested me, and I heard things that I didn’t get. Maybe, back in 2011, when I first started getting hip to it [I thought] “There’s something here, but it’s also kind of fretty.” I didn’t love it at first. There were joints I heard that I liked. The music incrementally got better and better; then I started taking a personal interest in writing about it. I felt like there was a guy who needed a different critical eye. That was 2012-ish.

That makes sense; the second creative renaissance of his career starts in 2012.

He was serious about the craft. You could tell, because every time you heard from him, he figured out something different. He got a little better at it. That’s kinda rare. Often, you’ll hear an artist come out, and five years after the beginning, it’ll be comparable or worse. Mac was someone who when you thought it was a complete picture, he’d figure out a new room or a new angle every time.

What struck you about him as a person?

Usually, you get in a room with a rapper, and they are dressed to the nines, prepared for photos 24/7, 365. When I met the kid, he was wearing sweatpants, a chain, and a shirt—10 Deep. I bought an outfit; I do that sometimes. Then we get in the room, and he’s relaxing in mid-afternoon wear. I misjudged that one. It was always that way with him.

Mac was down-to-earth, to the point of making people comfortable.

Down-to-earth, accessible. You would hit him up like, “Yo, there’s this thing going on,” and he would pop up at it. He was at the studio, and he was like, “Come by.” He was accessible, and he made time, even when he was working on an album. I figured there are a million other people ahead of me with more pressing things to offer the guy. Just the fact there was still enough time for me, a guy who’s not necessarily in the picture, was amazing.

Nick Dierl told me that once Mac decided you were on his team, he was ride or die.

Basically. Finding out how many people have that same relationship in that situation, I still marvel at there being enough hours in the day for it. I have people in Brooklyn I don’t see; this kid was busy all the time and still making time.

Talk to me about the relationship you formed with him outside of the page.

Back when he lived in the city, I was working out in Brooklyn, and he was working on music in a studio that wasn’t far from where I worked. I’m aware of this happening, and he’s aware of the fact I could probably be over there in 10, 20 minutes. So every two or three weeks, he’d be like, “Yo, come through.” Sometimes he’d be doing a lot, or stitching a verse together. There was that, and there was also time to hang out and talk. This is something that comes through in his social media presence.

As far as white rappers go, this is someone who understood his place and utility in the hierarchy of all that. A lot of people don’t. This is the era where Macklemore starts getting serious about privilege, so we had a lot of interesting conversations about how that works, and people who aren’t doing the thing right. One of my favorite stories is when he had his birthday at a spot downtown, and I brought a friend who got super drunk and was like, “Kendrick Lamar is trash.” [Mac] tolerates it and at a later date is like, “Your white homie needs to figure his shit out.”

Do you have one moment with Mac or his music that sticks out in your mind as a summation of him as a man?

It’s hard to say. I’ll tell you this, just from talking to him about writing and from watching him write… There’s always this urge to read intentional interpretations into his lyrics he wasn’t necessarily willing to commit to. He was okay with the fact people were gonna read into [his music] and force it into his life. I couldn’t figure out how he was okay with that. It was unnerving. I used to want him to be madder about it [laughs].

That reminds me of what Kehlani told me about him approaching everything with grace.

He put a face forward for people sometimes. There’s one time in the studio where this guy was giving this whole spiel, and I look over at the guy, because people are always trying to ask [Mac] for stuff. He doesn’t give the perception that he’s disinterested in the conversation. He hears it out; then he’s gotta get back to work. He heard the guy out—it was extra. The dude was getting drunk and too cozy to be the studio guy in that situation, and [Mac] didn’t say anything about it. He didn’t check the dude. He just fielded it and kept moving, which is not necessarily how that works out when it’s a rapper.

It sounds to me like he was a rapper, but he never viewed himself as being better than someone else.

Mac knew he was nice, but he also had tremendous respect for everybody, to a point where he had a plan to rehabilitate artists’ careers. He produced for Vince Staples and tried to get that guy up. There were other people he was interested in getting to work with in the city that didn’t work out. A student of the game. He just loved it and wanted to uplift other people in it as much as he wanted to be great himself.

Who was Mac Miller?

The smartest person in any room, not necessarily letting on to how he’s feeling. Down-to-earth, but guarded.

What was your favorite thing he ever said to you?

One time, I got sauced, and I drunk texted him because I was going through some stuff with friends in my life. “You’ve changed,” kinda stuff. I was like [to Mac], “I feel like you’d relate to this. They don’t understand me anymore.” And he was like, “Not everybody you want to take with you for life is gonna be built for it.” That radically changed the way I handle people. I took that to heart.

For where I am in my life, that’s spooky.

There’s a spooky timing to him. I can’t escape him, still. I’ve been interviewing a lot of people over the last year who knew him. It’s either a coincidence or some cosmic thing. I’ve felt like [there’s something in the air] every couple of weeks for the last year. It doesn’t feel like I’ve gotten far from him at all. Maybe in a painful way. I’m finding people who knew him, and it’s a comforting thing, and I don’t know how it’s happening.

That’s just his magic.

He brought people together. It’s fitting that would continue to happen, even when he’s not in the room.

How do you want Mac to be remembered?

I want him to be remembered as someone who was great at what he did and brought greatness out of other people. I absolutely cannot bear to hear any of the silly drug talk from people who don’t understand that stuff or people who don’t understand the guy. People have no idea what functioning looks like, or that there was a long time he was a morning guy. He wasn’t this depressive figure everyone wants to make him into. When you got into the room with him, it was light, happiness, joy, and jokes. If I could cast an image of the guy, it would be that. I can’t think of a moment when I saw him upset.

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