pRhymetime: An Ode To Mac Miller

15 September 2018 | 12:42 pm | Antony Attridge

“He was open, honest, vulnerable and completely unafraid.”

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It didn’t feel right to talk to anyone else this week, not in the shadow of last Friday’s horrible news...

I was on the bus when I got the message. An alert popped up on my phone, a friend sending me a link that contained the words “Mac Miller passes...” and I felt my heart skip a beat. It couldn’t be real, and yet when I looked at the news source, I instantly knew it was.

It’s surreal when you experience the loss of someone you’ve never met. The impact is unexpectedly forceful, without consent and incomparably regretful. Your emotional connection with a musician is somewhat unmeasurable until something like this happens... or maybe I just never tried to measure it? What I do know is that while I may have been a stranger to Mac Miller, he was certainly no stranger to me.

My first memory of Miller was on the Space Migration Series, performing his eerie rendition of Objects In The Mirror with The Internet – it was captivating.  My fingers scrambled over my laptop keyboard desperately searching for where I could find more. Looking at the YouTube search results, it dawned on me this wasn’t my first encounter with Miller - I had actually already been listening to the unidentified rapper on his mixtape KIDS.

I still can’t quite pinpoint what it was about the emcee. The self-deprecation, the slurred yet legible accent... I think at times I romanticised the notion of being able to articulate my heartache in his same charismatic demeanour. His was open, honest, vulnerable and completely unafraid.

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Hip hop is riddled with negative stigma, the conversation, for example, that the genre glorifies drug use (I’m getting this shit out of the way first and foremost).
We’re so quick to judge, critique and, in turn, devalue “controversial” address. The thing about that conversation is that it doesn’t accommodate the notion that drug abuse or dependency is real.

What’s controversial rapping about something that’s in your everyday life? Addiction is a reality for some individuals and its address is by no means misappropriation or glorification, it’s discussing a reality that we may not all understand. The world is populated with people that use all kinds of drugs (recreationally or otherwise) yet we so rarely discuss, why? Why do people feel the need to use?

There’s far more than “because it feels good”, and whilst I’m by no means condoning drug-use (far from it, in fact), our creative industry is losing artists at a dramatic rate. Sometimes I worry this ‘call out culture’ we’re now knee deep in mightn’t be all that positive. It’s nothing new, of course, losing artists. But surely our generation can be the one to have a closer look at why this is the case before we lose the next one...

I had missed my stop on the bus as Ladders echoed through my headphones, lost staring out the window contemplating how this was going to affect his younger fan base. There’s no telling how tragedy can affect us individually, especially creative types. It can seem hopeless... I profoundly hope you don’t feel that way.

Miller’s evolution as a musician was nothing short of unique and unrivalled. The journey from his first gutsy KIDS mixtape, to Watching Movies With The Sound Off (a personal favourite) to recent album Swimming (released only in August) demonstrates his exploration into self. His perception of the world was relatable yet complex, he could turn the party out as quickly as he could break your heart and all the while being self aware enough to want, to be more.

His musicality really was second to none. The content of his lyricism, the imagery, speech cadences, street slang/vocab, how complex his undertones of social depravity could be whilst still being so easily accessible of new (and younger) audiences... Miller really was the whole package.

I never understood how he was able to cross-fade between personas. One minute he’s knocking out unparalleled bars with some of the greatest names in hip hop, the next minute he’s covering acoustic and emotional tracks by Bright Eyes under alias Larry Fisherman. I guess you never really question where the artist was coming from when you listen to a new track, we mostly just listening to how it makes us feel.

His last masterpiece, Swimming, was an insightful invitation into his personal life. Throughout the record he addresses his constant battle with demons, with self-loathing, with drugs and depression. “Let’s go back to my crib, we can play some 45s/It’s safer there, I know there’s still a war outside...” he rapped in 2009. In hindsight, I never looked far enough into what that “war” could have been. He could eloquently detail anguish without self-pity, navigating life’s pressures and what, at times, he deemed failures. Perception is everything in this game; he was clearly his harshest critique. 

I caught myself personalising his passing... like I should have listened more to the devil in the detail... Dang! featuring Anderson .Paak has now made its way into my headphones. While it remains swaggeringly brilliant it feels a little unsettling. I was fortunate enough to review Millers’ performance at 170 Russell last year and it was fucking bonkers (something I didn’t know I could say in online editorial pieces). I’ll never forget seeing the whole place lose their shit screaming, “Fuck Donald Trump!” Oh, the sweet unity his music was able to provide. The rapper just didn’t give a fuck, and we couldn’t care more for him.

There was a pretty horrific backlash after his passing, involving trolls misdirecting their outrage and frustration to an ex-girlfriend of Millers. I don’t want to give this too much oxygen because it was completely inappropriate and disgusting, but I will point out the affect the loss has had on the greater arts community. It’s important to recognise there’s no blame to be laid here. This is no one’s fault, despite the horrible circumstances, and while it may feel frustrating if it’s affecting you in any way, I encourage you to speak to someone about it (and there’s a way to do that respectfully). 

As a 32 year old, I feel like Miller was a voice for everyone in hip hop; for the new wave, the old school, those with voice and those without. He was able to strip off his own inhibitions and portray a message that ‘it’s ok to not be ok’ and still be damn fucking cool saying it. The industry’s response has seen the kindest of words from Action Bronson, J Cole, Vince Staples, Anderson .Paak, Elton John, Childish Gambino and so many more, detailing that Miller was “the nicest of men.” He remains one of the most influential artists hip hop has seen; brilliantly creative, unique in everything he did, and in search of a better sense of self. 

Thank you for the music, Mac Miller, while the world is a little less bright it’s never sounded so good, and you played a big part in that.

...Yeah, nine times out of ten I get it wrong
That's why I wrote this song, told myself to hold on
I can feel my fingers slippin', in a motherfuckin' instant I'll be gone
Do you want it all if it's all mediocre
Staring at the wall and the wall's full of posters
Lookin' at my dreams, and who I wanna be
I guess you gotta see it to believe
Oh, I been a fool, but that's cool, that's what human beings do
Keep your eyes to the sky, never glued to your shoes
Guess there was a time when my mind was consumed
But the sun's coming out now, clouds start to move
Don't tell me nothing but the truth
I'm tired, I don't gotta spare a second
Win or lose, win or lose
I don't keep count, nobody checkin'

- Small Worlds, Mac Miller, 2018.