Mac Miller’s life and career, while tragically short, were positive influences throughout the music industry and culture at large. He will be sorely missed.
Death is our most poignant reminder of human fragility. Our time here is short, and nothing reminds us more of this than losing it. When a great artist dies, the mourning process involves an appreciation of what they’ve done and how we’ll remember them. After his untimely death at 26 on September 7, Mac Miller’s death has been an opportunity for us all to take another look at his breadth of work and his impact on the people around him during his short life. It’s clear that he was a growing influence in the music industry, and his positive impact on the people around him make saying goodbye even harder.
Mac Miller was an icon to anyone who grew up in Pennsylvania from 2007 to present, impacting a decade of young fans. Pennsylvania has some sport and music stars, but his was one that an especially disaffected, suburban youth could latch onto. After a group of mixtapes, his first album, Blue Slide Park, was released in November 2011, being the first independently distributed album to debut at number 1 since 1995. Garnering mixed critical reviews, Blue Slide Park was criticized for its lack of depth, but heralded for how positive and carefree it was. Some critical publications wrote him off as a frat rapper, but his early impact was significant both locally and globally.
His next two full-length albums, Watching Movies with the Sound Off and GO:OD AM, were praised for improved lyrics and psychedelic influence, as well as the laundry list of great features from artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Miguel, Schoolboy Q, and Tyler, the Creator, to name a few. These were vitally important works, as they forced critical publications to take him seriously beyond his initial reputation. This era saw him grow from being classified as a frat rapper, to being highly regarded as a multi-instrumentalist with an impact on the music industry beyond the local scope of his first work.
His next album, The Divine Feminine, was a huge step forward artistically, switching gears by incorporating a neo-soul influence on tracks. He even started producing his own songs under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman. The Divine Feminine displayed a new mastery and maturity in his music; delicate pianos, string pieces, and jazz inspiration transformed this era. His single ‘Dang!’ was a showcase of this progression, with a funky bass line, a great Anderson .Paak feature, and brilliant horn sections.
A breakup with Ariana Grande due to his deteriorating sobriety, a car crash, then a self-imposed exile set the stage for Swimming, Mac Miller’s sixth and final studio album released this August. Like The Divine Feminine, a downtempo, stripped back RnB-influenced formula was used again to much success. This album is a result of a difficult two years, but more than ever Mac Miller sounded like he was moving forward, exemplified through lyrics like “I was drowning but now I’m swimming” on the opener ‘Come Back to Earth’. Again, calling on high-level talent like Thundercat, Dev Hynes, and Snoop Dogg, Swimming was one of Miller’s most impressive works, especially when comparing it to Blue Slide Park. His passion for improving artistry through instrumentation, production, and collaboration is one of the biggest reasons his life and art will be severely missed.
One of the biggest reasons Mac Miller’s death has resonated with music fans at large is that it’s our harshest reminder that no matter how old you are, you don’t have a lot of time here. Mac Miller was only 26 when he died, and he lived a big, joy-giving life, improving the lives of those around him. While fan toxicity clouded his remembrance, the outpouring of support from fans and the music community to his family and loved ones is just one way to see how large he impacted modern culture. Whether or not you believe in an afterlife, we can all agree Mac Miller deserves all the best in whatever lies beyond. May he rest in peace.