The evolution of Mac Miller

Mac Miller, who many now affectionately refer to by his Sunday name, Malcolm, was a Pittsburg-born rapper who passed way before his time. Nobody has a bad word to say about him, and his benefactions to hip-hop have been widely celebrated and revered, especially after his coroner-ruled accidental overdose. While my ‘The evolution of…’ series has so far covered Flume and Kanye, who are both still with us and producing music, I thought it would be only right to feature Mac. 

The early days

Back in 2007, at the tender age of 15, Mac’s rap career was noted to officially get underway. Just like some of the other artists breaking through at the time, including Wiz Khalifa, Mac too hailed from Pittsburgh. He was heavily into sports and had allegedly taught himself piano and guitar way before a double-digits birthday. For all intents and purposes, he was hungry for success and a genius in the making. 

In 2011, his debut album, ‘Blue Slide Park’ dropped, which is how my radar picked up Mac. I’d started increasingly listening to more of his songs from that album in unison — namely ‘Frick Park Market’ and ‘Up All Night’. The latter had manifested as this party-style track for me, that I used to listen to on my iPod (throwback) while travelling around Poland on a short trip away. It’s the sort of good-times-promoting tune that I’ll always remember Mac for, but one that also would’ve never hinted at the limited future he went on to have. 

While ‘Blue Slide Park’ reached the Billboard 200 hastily after its release, that wasn’t going to stop Mac chipping away even more. This was his time to shine — and he did. 2012 was the year of mixtapes and EPs, and he founded the record label REMember Music in honour of a friend he’d lost, which signed various Pittsburgh locals to its roster. 

Famous friends

Throughout Mac’s blossoming career, he met and collaborated with various hip-hop heroes. Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Pharrell Williams and Tyler, the Creator were among these. Also around this time, in 2013, the Pittsburgh mayor handed Mac the key to the city, which is was a hugely exciting non-musical accolade. 

If some of you hadn’t heard of Mac Miller before his relationship with Ariana Grande began, that’s probably because of how much of an impact she’s made in the pop spheres and chart-topping realms — credit to her. Between releasing ‘GO:OD AM’ in 2016, ‘The Divine Feminine’ later the same year and ‘Swimming’ in 2018, the pair had basically been joined at the hip — or so the media reported it.

Best beats

Catchy hooks, clever rhymes and quips and strong drums stitch together Mac’s back catalogue, typically. That’s what made him a safe bet as a modern-day rapper. You often get echoed vocals, token saxophones and other jazz instruments and disc-scratch sound effects. Two tracks that typify this blueprint feature on ‘GO:OD AM’ — skip to ‘Weekend’ with Miguel, which fades seamlessly into ‘Clubhouse’. Bliss.

Another favourite of mine is ‘Ladders’. The almost clicking beat and semi-whispered lyrics descend into a funky chorus, with steel sounds, electronic drums and some saucy sax melodies, too. Another party-ready banger that Mac should be praised for, if it was up to me.

Finding peace in a posthumous release

In tribute, Mac’s family posthumously released ‘Circles’ earlier this year. It’s one of a few good things that has happened in 2020 — I mean, you can count the positives thus far on one hand, can’t you? 

From this record, take ‘Right’, the slow, gentle number with a seemingly happy mix of major and minor chords and keys, all the while, a subtle drum beat underpins it all. The lyrics are melancholy, which makes this album all the sadder to digest, even though it’s so enchanting. It’s actually throughout this whole 14-tracker (I’d recommend the deluxe version for the full effect) that you notice and appreciate how many of Mac’s rhymes were there to spit truth, rather than merely drone on about girls in bikinis and making the big bucks — which many younger rappers only tend to bother with. Easygoing, wholesome vibes make ‘Woods’ a dreamy, almost hip-pop piece, while ‘Good News’, with its muted notes, is now tipped as his most popular, revered songs ever. 

Although this brief reflection on Mac’s contributions scarcely touches the surface of the greatness he achieved, he was an unfathomably talented human with problems and demons, just like the rest of us. He never struck me as somebody unaccustomed to trials and tribulations; he was just a genuine, salt-of-the-earth soul that I really wish was still around to bring us more music. 

Fuzzy shot spliced together from the ‘Good News’ video and
‘Circles’ album artwork

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