I started listening to Mac Miller when I was in fifth grade; my oldest cousin put me on to his music, and at the time, Mac Miller embodied everything cool you could be in 2010. This was during the era of K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, where his style was mainly frat-style-backpack rap. He had the collabs with Wiz Khalifa, the snapbacks and all of his lyrics were light and easy to understand — perfect for a middle school kid from a suburb. Mac Miller was the first artist I listened to independently of my parents, and the artist who introduced me — and so many other kids like me — to a whole new wave of artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, the Creator, Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples and Thundercat. While his early work was critically reviled, Miller established a hardcore fanbase that pushed his debut album Blue Slide Park to become the first independent album to go number one since 1995.
The thing that truly makes Mac Miller’s artistic growth special is that he was growing up at the same time as us, and because he was constantly in the spotlight and releasing music, we saw it happen firsthand. 2013’s Watching Movies With The Sound Off was really the first project where it was evident that he was growing up. Right from the opening track, it was evident that this was a different Mac Miller. Suddenly he wasn’t talking about drugs like they were the life of the party, and for the first time, we saw how poorly he was handling addiction and fame. His run from the release of Macadelic in 2012 to the release of GOOD: AM in 2015 is the best example of his struggles with addiction, and is one of the best series of releases this decade in my opinion.
Mac Miller’s mixtapes were always the place where his experimentation flourished, even if they were often hard to find because they were produced under different aliases. Through these mixtapes, Miller showcased his abilities as a producer, whether through his Run on Sentences mixtapes that pushed his sound further into jazz or by launching Vince Staples’ career through the production of his Stolen Youth LP. My personal favorite is Delusional Thomas, where he develops the high pitched voice that later plays a prominent role on Watching Movies.
2014’s Faces was arguably his best, most honest work. It’s evident throughout this project that he was out of control, something he freely admits during the project’s one-hour-and-25-minute run time. Faces was a great project when it was released, but it’s incredibly haunting to listen to following his overdose. It’s shocking that he was barely 22 years old when this project was released, yet he was openly talking about how he was expecting to die from an overdose at any moment. Also, with the release of every oversaturated 20+ song album in 2019, Faces’ cohesiveness throughout its 24 songs becomes even more impressive.
The Divine Feminine and Swimming showcased a more sober, refined sound. These were the first projects that focused on his abilities as a singer rather than just as a rapper. And while The Divine Feminine maybe wasn’t his best project, it was the perfect step in the right direction for the creation of Swimming. Swimming is a lush, colorful project that earned him a Grammy nomination, but, yet, you can’t shake the feeling listening to it that he wasn’t done growing as an artist. It’s painful to imagine where he would be today, especially because it seemed like he was in a stable mental place right before his overdose, and his few posthumous releases indicate that we’ll probably never know where he could’ve gone.
I started listening to Mac Miller when I was 10 years old. I’m now 20, writing an article memorializing an artist I literally grew up with. I don’t think anyone could have ever predicted the way his sound would change. I always wanted to write about his evolution, but I hoped it would be in the context of him winning a Grammy or gaining widespread critical appeal, not remembering his life and legacy. Either way, Mac Miller was still one of the most important artists in my life and I feel lucky to have experienced his music as it was coming out.
Mac Miller passed away suddenly of an overdose one year ago from Saturday.
Daniel Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as the assistant arts and entertainment editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.