“I remember the exact day I fell in love with Hip Hop. Little did I know how much Hip Hop would be a part of my life. Hip hop was as young, naïve, confused, sometimes innocent, and sometimes as mischievous as I was. And as I grew up, Hip Hop grew with me. And along the way, it took on all my baggage, my dreams. I felt Hip Hop and Hip Hop felt me. And I know that everyone who loves the music feels the same way I do”
— (Brown Sugar, 2002)
Much like Sidney recounts her history and memories of Hip Hop in Brown Sugar, there is a specificity about Mac Miller and the way in which his fans related to, understood him and felt understood by him. It is that awareness of exactly when and how his music showed up and made sense of a situation you felt would be otherwise unacknowledged had you attempted to articulate where your head was at in that moment. I remember the exact day Fight the Feeling spoke to me, when Sunlight comforted me after a drunk varsity binge and some bad decisions, when Red Dot Music was a familiar space and when Aquarium lifted me out of limbo. The stories and the songs are endless, and this is not a truth unique to me.
It is Saturday morning and the first thing I did when I woke up was check my phone only to be met by a series of texts that sent me into the kind of tears I haven’t cried for anyone in the longest time.
“Are u okay :(”, “Mac has passed…”, “He overdosed. He was found in his home”, “I thought of you immediately when I saw it. I’m so sorry my friend”, “Is it crazy that you’re the first person I thought of when I heard the news earlier on?”
It is, once more, this specificity that has this news taking a while to settle for many of us because it truly feels as though we have just lost one of our closest closest friends. I want to say that suddenly Swimming was a foreshadowing of what was to come on September 7th 2018 and yet I can’t seem to, because by definition, that would’ve allowed his audience to develop expectations about what was to come and that is so far from the case.
“In my own way, this feel like living; some alternate reality. And I was drowning but now I’m swimming – through stressful waters, to relief”
— (Mac Miller in Come Back to Earth).
We were so hopeful, for him and I suppose for ourselves. Swimming offered a peace that didn’t feel as rehearsed as being positive or waking up and choosing joy every morning. It offered an honesty about how heavy it would feel to keep treading these waters and how anxious one would feel about navigating through the unknown. Either way, he just got it once again.
His death has triggered us into the reality of how depression and addiction just does not discriminate. Mac was not afraid to struggle out loud. He gave up his truth in his songs, he frequently told us about what it felt like in his head and in those moments, the stigma around addiction was lifted. The heartbreaking part was that those conversations, those moments where he turned his battle into something that he shared with the youth were not enough to save him from himself. The larger discussion now should be around how we offer protection and encourage the necessary help.
It is particularly jarring because so many relate for different and similar reasons. The best way I could express this sentiment over the weekend was that sobriety, peace of mind and holding onto hope is the hardest and heaviest work because your demons do not stop conspiring while you are trying.
“Mac Miller had a disease. That disease took his life, but we can bring dignity to his life by reimagining how we talk about trauma, drugs, addiction and mental health”
— (Myles E. Johnson (@hausmuva) via Twitter).
For now, it just hurts. It still has not settled in nearly enough for it to make sense to so many of us and the way in which we have collectively been grieving online is a testament to that. Mac Miller was a truly special soul and I can say this with conviction because his spirit was felt, and it was personal in every case.
I recently noted Mac as a great example of consistent growth as an artist. His evolution and reinvention was really undeniable because each project was always so different from the last. When I think about the difference in content, sound and style from Faces to GO:OD AM to The Divine Feminine; it confirms the very rich catalog he has left behind. This same exercise can be conducted using absolutely any of his other records.
“Miller led listeners on an introspective odyssey, where he was as likely to sample a Bill Murray monologue from Meatballs as he was to tell chilly tales of self-destruction: “Suppose I’ll die alone from an overdose of some sort,” he raps on “San Francisco.”
— (Eric Renner Brown via Entertainment Weekly)
His projects are a representation of how he had gone through things with us and how he was now finding his resolve. Listening to Swimming in the wake of his death is the most painful process because the album that recently felt like a moment of triumph is slowly sinking in as one really long goodbye letter.
“The collaborative environment Miller fostered transcended collegiality — it was pure camaraderie. That’s how he assembled oddball teams like Snoop Dogg, Syd, Thundercat, and Dâm-Funk on Swimming’s“What’s the Use?” and why the results skewed more organic than other records with sprawling credits. It’s also why the grief around his death has been so deep, for so many. In a world that too often seems starved for decency and kindness, Miller offered both in spades”.
— (Eric Renner Brown via Entertainment Weekly)
I can agree that this is why testaments of his character are at the forefront of his legacy. Mac has been remembered by his industry peers as one of the nicest and genuinely kind people; and he has been remembered by fans as one of our safe places. He was the journal we claimed we tossed in high school, the nights we never bring up in conversations and the secrets we vowed to take to our graves. In a since deleted tweet on the day of his death he noted the following:
“The end of so it goes is so beautiful man. I told Jon Brion to play the ascension into heaven and he nailed it”
RIP Mac. I can and can’t believe how tragically and beautifully you chose to leave us. I love you and I will forever be thankful for the music. So it goes, so it goes, so it goes.