Mac Miller’s decade—a hell of a thing. From 2009 to 2019, Mac grew up before our eyes, and we grew up with him. The artist born Malcolm McCormick made his mark on the 2010s with his “cheesy raps,” which transitioned into gripping battles with depression, into loving ballads, into a grand self-reckoning on 2018’s Swimming. From his mixtape days to his final studio album, Mac set out to steal our hearts. His music videos were endearing. His raps were airtight. His themes were ever-evolving. Sure, his singing voice needed work, but it was his, and we loved him for that.
There are so many eras of Mac Miller to love and dive into: His “frat rap” days, his warped days, his hard-nosed rap days, his lovelorn days, and his effacing days. Each album Malcolm released was growth unto itself. Love him or hate him, we can all agree Mac Miller did not spend the 2010s stagnating. He was a dynamic artist with a gorgeous heart, and his spirit colored each and every verse he dropped—of which there are plenty.
To capture Mac Miller’s decade in five songs is to perform an impossible task. That said, below you’ll find the five records I believe best encapsulate the vast expanse of Malcolm’s artistry. This list isn’t about favorites, bests, or most acclaimed songs. Instead, my goal was to showcase the full breadth of work Mac Miller released, its sonic reach, and its lyrical depth. Enjoy!
“Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza” (2010)
Well, Mac certainly did get in trouble for this one. A standout cut off his breakout mixtape, K.I.D.S., “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza,” captures the essence of early Mac Miller. There’s a baked-in reverence for hip-hop with the Lord Finesse sample, coupled with playful bars and a well-structured delivery. To me, this song is the start of something special. It’s a promise from Mac Miller to fans: He’s in this, for real. Moreover, “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza” is the soundtrack to hungover mornings, lazy Sundays, and nights in.
“Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza” is the sun creeping into your childhood bedroom and rousing you from that bender of the night before. You remember it: Sneaking out to hit the house party and sneaking back in with your parents none-the-wiser. “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza,” is as perfect as the food and drink pairing of its title. It’s 2010, and you’re just finding out about Mac Miller. Chances are, this is the song that brought you into Malcolm’s vast orbit.
“Objects in the Mirror” (2013)
Though Mac had sung before “Objects in the Mirror,” he had never really sung, if you catch my drift. Beyond Larry Lovestein, which was a cheeky side project, “Objects in the Mirror” is the first time Mac Miller laid his heart out in this way, vocally. In a 2013 interview, Mac talks about leaning into his broken singing voice. He talks about the importance of believing in the eccentricities of his vocal, in knowing his flaws are what build him up as an artist. While his singing voice may not be for everyone, we cannot deny the singing on “Objects in the Mirror” is touching. The tinny vocal carries an understated sweetness as he sings of love.
Too, “Objects in the Mirror” lays the groundwork—as did You—for what would eventually become 2016’s The Divine Feminine. In 2016, no one saw Mac Miller’s love-sick-singer album coming. But looking back through his catalog up to that point, the signs were everywhere. Mac loved love, and with “Objects in the Mirror,” he was gearing up, inadvertently, to deliver one of his most left-field albums to date. It’s 2013, and you’re falling in love with Malcolm’s singing voice, maybe for the first time, but certainly not for the last time.
“Grand Finale” (2014)
Though Mac’s second creative renaissance technically started in 2012 with Macadelic, it blossomed on 2014’s Faces. Before we got into the solid rap album that is 2015’s GO:OD AM, Mac treated us to a freewheeling look into his psyche. Per its title, “Grand Finale” captures the mania, work ethic, cocaine ether, and fear of death; that was the Faces ethos. The track begins with Malcolm musing on his mortality: “If by chance this is my grand finale…” This transforms into a full-fledged desire to evaporate from this earth on the hook: “Let us have a grand finale / The world will be just fine without me / The clown got a smile on his face / Slow it down, we goin’ out with a bang.”
Though sad, “Grand Finale” makes the wake-up call of GO:OD AM all the more potent. Where Mac once wrote of himself as the “The clown,” on GO:OD AM, he thoroughly tackles his drug use and revives his lust for life. We do not get the Malcolm of “Perfect Circle / God Speed” without the downtrodden moments of helplessness on “Grand Finale.” It’s 2014, and you’re spiraling out of control, but at least Mac Miller has your back.
“Dang!” featuring Anderson .Paak (2016)
Happiness. This song is pure happiness. When it released in 2016, I was in love and eager for Mac to be in love with me. I was ready for us to escape the dour of Faces, for us to take on life now that we’ve woken up on GO:OD AM. “Dang!” signaled a new, brighter era for Mac Miller. A funkier, groovier, looser era for the artist’s artist. Everything from the cad-like bars to the colorful music video, to Anderson .Paak’s superb feature, made this song a 2016 standout. The song also went Gold, which was nothing new to Mac at that point. Remember: Blue Slide Park debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts and 2011’s “Donald Trump” (which deserves an honorable mention on this list) went Platinum.
I remember hearing “Dang!” for the first time in a hotel room. I remember looping it and feeling like my favorite artist was always right on time, always there for me. So many of us, Macheads, have similar memories. “Dang!” is so special because it is a clear moment of emotional growth all of Mac’s fans can relate to. We’ve bested the depression. We’re here; we’re in love, life is good. It’s 2016, and you’re happy with your life, and it won’t be the last time.
“I don’t need to lie no more / Nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind / And she don’t cry no more / She tell me that I get her high ‘cause an angel’s s’posed to fly, and / I ain’t askin’ ‘Why?’ no more / Oh, no, I take it if it’s mine, I don’t stay inside the lines / It ain’t 2009 no more / Yeah, I know what’s behind that door”