The stage between adolescence and young adulthood is a trying time filled with uncertainty. You’re scrambling to figure yourself out, questioning whether you’re on par with your peers, worrying about the loads of bills and student loan debts you’ve accumulated throughout the years. You struggle with loving yourself and giving your energy to another person. You question every little single detail of life, stressing over your creations and how they’ll be received by the public and then you make any number of rash decisions to cope with it all. You also live life somewhere in between “the world is ending” and “I’m fine”.
For those going through those normal feelings involved with maturation, Mac Miller was for you. The first time, I heard Malcolm McCormick spit, I was a senior in high school. Like several of my peers, my only cares included playing football on Friday nights, figuring out which mixtapes to download on DatPiff and who’s party I was going to end up at. As I indulged in all of the trappings of teenage suburban life; the drinking, the smoking, the nights on which we didn’t care what happened or the ramifications of our actions, one of my friends Jake hit me up about a new artist by the name of Mac Miller. Now, Jake was this white boy who knew all the newest hip hop. Despite his knowledge and the fact that we share interests in most of the same artists, I was skeptical. For one, other than Asher Roth, the white rappers at that time were uninspiring. Either they made overly happy frat raps that failed to resonate or they were doing that rapid fire spitting, where the whole goal was to rhyme words with little to no substance. Another issue was we were the same age. I didn’t really listen to teenage rappers like that, especially ones who seemed to still be in school just like me. The content just wasn't’ what I used to.
Nevertheless, I gave in, downloading the High Life and checking out his project. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t expect to be blown away but I was. From the onset of the mixtape, I was enthralled by the little white dude who produced some of his own beats, jumped on instrumentals only hip hop purists would dare touch and unabashedly freestyled about everything from his jewish upbringing to exploring high school and the possibilities of life after grade school. I began watching every video I could, starting with Live Free -- the name of the song and music video are self explanatory -- and then moving to his vlogs, where he’d be indulging in everyday kid shit with his homeboys TreeJay and Jimmy.
Months later, K.I.D.S. aka Kickin Incredibly Dope Shit dropped. This mixtape forever changed me. I had never seen the movie Kids before. A cult-classic written by Harmony Korine, Kids followed the lives of carefree teenagers, exploring New York City and delving in substance abuse and sex during the height of the 90s AIDS epidemic. I dreamed of one day living in New York in search of debauchery, and that film brought everything to life, even though much grimmer than I imagined. Anyway I was hooked. The movie was perfect. And the music? Even more captivating. In the midst of interludes in which some of the film’s main characters monologues were featured, Mac put on a show. He torched instrumentals laden with samples from Nas’ “The World is Yours” and Lord Finesse’s “Hip 2 Da Game.” He put out a streetwear anthem with “Nikes on My Feet,” a song in which he’s cooler than a polar bear’s toenails. And he embodied what it meant to be a kid growing up in the blog-era of rap, putting out classics like “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza,” while being vulnerable on songs about his life, like the ode to his grandfather, “Poppy,” in which he raps, “Hello death, it seems that we meet again You keep taking friends that I'll never see again I guess they gotta leave, but if we pretend That they never left, well we gonna see them then.”
This mixtape became an integral part of my freshman year of college, a year in which I followed Mac’s advice, living free with my best friend Shane McCullough (who like Mac, later died of an overdose --my sophomore year Rest in Peace). The crazy thing about it is I felt like he knew that too. It got so eerie that one night when I was in my first and only college football camp, I saw him post on Twitter about how he’d be answering Skype calls from fans. Though I had already had a couple convos with his boys on social media, I never thought he’d pick up my call. Surprisingly enough, at 11 p.m., Mac answered the Skype. For the next five minutes we engaged in conversation as if we’d known each other for years, talking about music and other things. Before he hung up, I told him he had to come to my school, Lehigh University and perform.
A few months later, there he was, opening up for Wiz Khalifa at Lehigh’s Springfest. I’ll never forget that concert despite not necessarily being coherent. I’ll never forget him freestyling in-between songs, flexing his lyrical muscles and keeping the crowd’s attention through every verse until it was time for Wiz to come out.
After Lehigh Springfest, Mac kept continued releasing a shitload of dope music, evolving through each project and growing not only as a lyricist but as a person. His personal growth seemed parallel to mine and I’m sure many other fans’. Shit, at this point we’d grown up together. At this point, we’d made several mistakes, questioned our entire existence and had enough stories to share with the next generation.
Not only did his music/personality resonate, his battle with anxiety hit close to home. I too deal with crippling anxiety and know what it’s like to be captured in one of those funks. It isn’t easy to create, especially in a climate where everybody has an opinion and isn’t shy when it comes to spewing negativity from behind a keyboard. No matter where you are in life, every creator struggles with balance. On one hand, you’re making art to satisfy yourself, and on the other, you’re trying to gain the acceptance of the audience. These battles lead to a sense of uncertainty, which many of us try to deal with through self medication. I’ve also tried self-medicating as a way to fend off my demons, and although my version of self medication isn’t as hardcore, Miller’s untimely death helped me realize that drowning your sorrows in substance never ends well. As a people we have to do better. We have to lend an ear to our friends. Instead of enabling them, we have to tell the no, and help our loved ones seek the proper help in the fight against the monster within.
His passing still doesn’t seem right. Though it has only been a couple of days, there are few artist who connected with my generation the way he did, and at 26, he narrowly missed the dreaded 27-club he preached about not joining on Brand Name. The connection that he had with his fans goes deeper than the surface. Not only will his music live on, but heaven gained an angel who specialized in Kickin Incredibly Dope Shit. No matter how old we get, or what trials and tribulations, we face, we’ll still all be some mf’in kids. Rest In Peace Malcolm McCormick.