MacGuyver got married in October 2010. He was the first of my college roommates to get married and it was great to get together with all the guys. Hours before I drove back to Atlantic City, Johnny Graves posted up next to me on a couch.
“Have you heard of Mac Miller,” he asked.
“He’s a kid from Pittsburgh and he’s blowing up,” he said.
He handed me “K.I.D.S.,” the fourth mixtape from Miller, who was just 18 years old at the time. I thought “Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit (Intro)” and “Outside” were good but it took me probably another month to really dive into the album.
But then, I was hooked.
It reminded me of the first time I heard the Beastie Boys, who were rapping about being on the east coast and trying to have fun. It reminded me of how I felt when I was 18 years old, and since I had recently graduated from college, I still felt a connection to these youthful songs.
I don’t know what it was that really made me like the music and lyrics created by someone who is seven years younger than me. He was literally a kid who had just graduated from high school who was talking about repping Pittsburgh while I was all about Philadelphia. But before long I was giving everyone a thumbs-up.
Mac Miller was born Malcolm James McCormick Jan. 19, 1992 to the parents of a photographer, Karen, and an architect, Mark. He graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Wiz Khalifa is a fellow alumnus.
After “K.I.D.S.” was released in August 2010, he went on tour to support the mixtape.
In 2011, he released the “Best Day Ever” mixtape and I was all over it. Within the month he released the “On and On” EP. He also came to the House of Blues in Atlantic City. If you look at the video for “Get Up,” you can clearly see the Atlantic City beach. I remember showing the video to all my friends that he taped a music video in my hometown. I want to think that he liked it here because he would return in 2013.
Also in 2011, “Knock Knock” was the featured winning song of the Philadelphia Flyers in an episode of “24-7: The Road to the Winter Classic.”
It seemed like Mac Miller was everywhere and it was getting hard to keep up. After “On and On,” I created a Mac Miller playlist to collect all of his releases and kept adding to it frequently.
Next came “I Love Life, Thank You,” his sixth mixtape, released in October 2011. I fell in love with the album. I felt like it was keeping with his positive message and fun, and seemingly freewheeling flow that could go from brash to bashful in the span of a bar.
As he kept releasing songs and mixtapes his lyrics sounded more and more impressive. His laid-back style could quickly snap to an aggressive flow and croon over the chorus – and the more I heard the more I loved. Songs like “Willie Dynamite,” “Cold Feet,” “The Miller Family Reunion,” “All That” and “All This” all continued to grow on me the more I listened to the mixtape.
The following month he would release “Blue Slide Park,” his debut album on Rostrum Records. The 16 tracks didn’t feature any other lyricist besides Miller. The album blended the youthful Pittsburgh playground spirit from “K.I.D.S.” with some of those singer-songwriter influences like Elliott Smith creep into the production.
In addition to the title track, “Party on Fifth Ave,” “Frick Park Market,” “Smile Back” and “Up All Night were getting tons of plays from college kids and garnering Miller more national attention. I was drawn to the organ-led tracks “PA Nights,” “Man in the Hat,” and my favorite song on the album “Missed Calls.”
I really enjoyed Miller’s experimentation with psychedelic sounds on “Macadelic,” his seventh mixtape released March 23, 2012. Not only that but his lyrics seemed to become more confessional. My favorite songs from that album are “Clarity,” “Fight The Feeling” and “The Question.”
As much as I knew about Miller on the surface, there was a lot I have learned since he died. One of those things was the prolific rate at which he recorded music.
In the summer of 2012, he recorded a project with Pharrell Williams “Pink Slime,” and released two singles “Onaroll” and “Glow” before shelving the album. In 2013, he announced a collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff ” 92 Til Infinity.” These are just some of the unfinished projects he spoke about publicly.
Nov. 21, 2012, he released a jazz vocal EP “You” exclusively on iTunes under the name Larry Lovestein and The Velvet Revival. Between “Macadelic” and “You” we can see where the next mixtapes would pick up with Larry Fisherman mixtapes.
The world got more of Mac Miller when “Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family” reality show debuted on MTV2 in early 2013 and would be renewed for a second season the following year. The episodes featured the hijinks of Miller and his friends in Los Angeles, California including when his Fisker Karma broke down and his 21st birthday party.
The first Larry Fisherman mixtape, an instrumental album entitled “Run-On Sentences Vol. 1” was released March 4, 2013. The second volume would be released before the end of 2015.
With each of these projects, we got to see a different side of Miller. The sweet, boyish kid who just wanted to have fun, the introspective songwriter and the complex musician and producer.
We got to learn a little bit more about the man behind Mac Miller – who he hung out with, what his influences were and what his creative process was during “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” which was released June 18, 2013 on Rostrum Records.
Featuring a naked Miller on the cover in a photo that was taken by his mother, the album would reveal more of the sound that he presented on “Macadelic” as he also served as the chief producer on the album.
I was into the sound from the first single – “S.D.S.” which was produced by Flying Lotus. I really enjoyed “Avian,” “I’m Not Real” featuring Earl Sweatshirt, “Bird Call” which was produced by Clams Casino, “Matches” featuring Ab-Soul, “Red Dot Music” featuring Action Bronson and “REMember.”
The high-pitched, distorted voice that we heard on previous mixtapes got a name when the self-titled Delusional Thomas mixtape was released Nov. 1, 2013. On past albums, that voice sounded like the devil’s advocate that was opening the door to the dark path for Miller.
Although the album was recorded all in the same style, that of the lead character Delusional Thoma, who was directing the nightmarish scenes, Miller was performing lyrical aerials over our heads. My favorite tracks are “Bill” featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Bill, “Dr. Thomas” and “Grandpa Used to Carry a Flask” featuring Mac Miller.
To finish out 2013, Miller released “Live from Space” Dec. 17, 2013. The live album featuring The Internet as his backing band was recorded during “The Space Migration Tour” from that summer as well as five unreleased songs from “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” sessions.
While Miller was prolific in the studio, he also spent a lot of his early career on tour. From 2011-2013, he went on tour five times, released two albums and six mixtapes. At one point before the end of 2013, he had four different musical projects in the works.
He revealed in multiple interviews that while on tour, he developed an addiction to codeine cough syrup that he quit before the first season of “Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family.” He also drunk dialed Rick Rubin while on tour in Europe and often credited living with the legendary producer to helping him get clean.
In May 2014, Miller released his 12th and last mixtape, which was probably his darkest and most complex. I started to wonder my favorite rapper had a problem with drugs since the themes on the album relied heavily on addition, paranoia and death.
But still, I loved “Faces.” In fact, it may be my favorite album that he released. It was the little things – like the sample of Charles Bukowski in “Wedding,” Hunter S. Thompson at the beginning of “Funeral” and Bill Murray’s epic rant from “Meatballs” at the beginning of “It Just Doesn’t Matter” in addition to Murray playing Thompson in “Where The Buffalo Roam” and the lines he uses on “Grand Finale.”
These are three are some of my favorite things in the world and hearing them in songs by someone whose music I was a fan of was just more validation as to the kinship I felt with the artist.
On the opening track, “Inside, Outside,” he says he should have died already. On “Friends” featuring Schoolboy Q he slowly raps “Snowflakes keep falling on my expired debit cards, don’t know why I’m still awake, I gotta be up at 10 tomorrow.”
On “Happy Birthday” he talks about a party thrown for him just so people can party in his house while he works in the studio.
“There’s a birthday party happening upstairs (Where?)
And it’s all for me, who the fuck cares? (Fuck it)
They don’t notice if I never go and show my face (Face)
They just looking for a reason they can celebrate (That’s okay)”
-Mac Miller “Happy Birthday”
The amount of cocaine that Miller raps about in “Faces” was enough for me and every listener across the world to get high. And if people are thinking that “Swimming” foretold the death of the young rapper, listen to “Happy Birthday,” “Wedding” and “Funeral” in order. Then listen to “Grand Finale,” you really do get the feeling that he’s writing his last lines when he sings “Let us have a grand finale, the world will be just fine without me.”
“Doing drugs is just a war with boredom but they sure to get me” he sings on “Funeral. Later in the verse, “I’m more than what I think of myself, I really have to be, sit at home and drink by myself, my thoughts harassing me.”
Faces sounded like the most real and challenging project that Miller released. It’s depressing and refreshingly honest. He is exorcising all his inner demons and letting them dance on the keys. There is also an underlying sense of hope that runs throughout the mixtape. It’s as if Miller is saying by the end that if makes it through the album, he will be ready for anything.
Miller sounds more awake, soberer and refreshed on his third album “GO:OD AM” released Sept. 18, 2015 on Warner Bros. Records and his own REMember Music label. The label he founded and named after his friend Reuben Eli Mitrani who died in 2011. The album would take the youthful positivity that he expressed on “K.I.D.S.” and mix it with the mature, jazz-forward sound that he presented on “Faces.”
The first single, “100 Grandkids,” sounded almost like the sequel to “Knock Knock.” “Brand Name,” “Two Matches” featuring Ab-Soul and “Cut the Check” featuring Chief Keef were my favorite tracks on the album. It sounded like Mac was getting back on the right track with his headspace throughout the album.
“To everyone who sell me drugs
Don’t mix it with that bullshit
I’m hopin’ not to join the 27 club
Just want the coke dealer house with the velvet rug
Fuck the world, there’s no one else but us.”
– Mac Miller “Brand Name”
In February 2016, Miller quietly released “!Go Fish! Volume 1” featuring Conway produced by Larry Fisherman on Soundcloud. It would be the beginning of a series of three singles – “!Go Fish! Volume 2” featuring Your Old Droog and “!Go Fish! Volume 3” featuring Michael Christmas.
Miller would release the soulful “The Divine Feminine” as his fourth studio album Sept. 16, 2016, which many would interpret as a love letter to his girlfriend at the time, Ariana Grande, who was featured on the track “My Favorite Part.”
Later, Miller would say that many of the songs on this album were written years before and he packaged them together for this album. Standout tracks are “Congratulations” featuring Bilal, “Dang!” featuring Anderson .Paak, “Stay” and “God is Fair, Sexy Nasty” featuring Kendrick Lamar and Robert Glasper.
I was excited for “Swimming,” Miller’s fifth and final studio album released Aug. 3, 2018. Featuring the incredible bassist Thundercat, the album did a fine job of blending jazz, electronic, hip-hop and funk music for Miller’s singing and rap flow.
In terms of lyrics and music, “Swimming” was Miller’s most deep project. But unlike some of his past albums, it sounded incredibly well-produced. As the content dealt with his breakup with Grande, it could have easily been rushed. Instead, Miller sounds patient as he raps on the 13 tracks.
While still being incredibly forthright about his mindset and feelings throughout the album, he is putting his musical knowledge to use. He isn’t being showy, but all those hours spent in the studio really paid off with the production on the album. There’s a certain warm texture that exists on “Swimming” that just isn’t present when listening back to his previous releases.
The first single, “Small Worlds,” features John Mayer on guitar and takes listeners on a jazzy journey that bridges his mindset between “The Divine Feminine” and “Swimming.” The other singles, “Self Care” and “What’s the Use?” featuring Thundercat and Snoop Dogg are obvious standout tracks. I also really enjoyed “2009,” “Hurt Feelings,” “Wings,” “Ladders” and “So It Goes.”
Unfortunately, Miller wouldn’t get a chance to read my review of “Swimming,” or go on tour to support it, or be on The High Note podcast when he came back to the area as he would die Sept. 7.
People can point to the seemingly self-prophetic music video to “Self Care” and even to his final Instagram story, which I watched soon after he posted it before I found out he died, and say that he was predicting what would happen.
Miller’s first lines from “Grand Finale” from “Faces” are “And if by chance this is my grand finale, bury me in Allegheny County.” That’s it. He thought his lifestyle was going to catch up to him back then. But, he kept working through it until it did finally get the best of him.
Before he would turn 27 years old, Miller would release five studio albums, 12 mixtapes, two EPs, 31 singles, one promotional single and 41 music videos according to Wikipedia, and that doesn’t include all of his production work including the Vince Staples 2013 mixtape “Stolen Youth.”
When Miller was 15 years old, he decided to make music his full-time job. When he moved to Los Angeles, he put a studio in his poolhouse. He was constantly alluding to projects and would quietly drop random singles. He was a man who was dedicated to his craft.
I predict we will hear a lot of music in the future – especially since his brother Miller McCormick is an illustrator and the two worked closely together on each album cover. When I first learned that, I wondered if there was any significance to the hook to “Friends” by Miller and Schoolboy Q where they repeat “Miller Mac.”
There are at least five albums and one EP that Miller talked about and never released. He rapped that he spent so much time in the studio that he wouldn’t even change his clothes or shower and would sleep on a bean bag chair.
I hope we hear it all. I hope the world realizes how gifted Mac Miller was. I know he looked up to Elliott Smith, even covering “Angeles” and even briefly sampling him on one track. Malcolm McCormick is this generation’s great gifted songwriter that we lost too soon.
Hopefully, his music will be heard by the next great songwriter who will inspire another generation of youth.
Thumbs up and stay off the drugs.