For Mac Miller, life was nothing easy
The rapper, who struggled with addiction, died at age 26 on Friday
When I get old I’m a be real cool
Sittin’ on the porch with a fresh pair of shoes
Whole bunch of stories for the neighborhood kids
Tell ’em to believe, they be makin’ it big
And I know
That life is nothing easy (nothing easy)
One day, I’m a change the world
And they’ll finally believe me
When Best Day Ever dropped in 2011, I wasn’t sure what was happening with what I thought at the time was my stupid life. I was about to turn 30, working as a news editor and a radio anchor, wondering if any of the things I thought I had tried so long to achieve would ever happen. I’d been a Mac Miller fan since his previous mixtape, K.I.D.S. (Kicking Incredibly Dope S—). He was a full 10 years younger than me, but his s— made sense to me.
I’d come to Mac Miller through his album K.I.D.S.
KIDS, the real movie, is the film that when people ask me what movie most resembles my high school life, I point to. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Even if that wasn’t him, he got that ethos. His crew was his life. They shot his videos. They produced his tracks. They were his extras. His family was a constant topic of his raps. It was everything I understood about what made being a teenager fun.
Sure you f—ed up. Sure you got too faded. Sure your parents got mad. And sure your teachers told you this wasn’t gonna work. But who cares, this is what it was.
Well, as a 30-year-old, I’d never heard anyone spit it like that. He wasn’t hood. He wasn’t a thug. He went to the same high school as Wiz Khalifa but wasn’t his hype man.
He appreciated the party his life had become but at the same time, with the help of ID Labs studios in his hometown of Pittsburgh, became an actual musician. Homey played many instruments and rocked wild tattoos and smiled all the time.
What else could you ask for from a kid from Squirrel Hill, the same neighborhood popularized by, oh, Mister f’in Rogers.
As his fame skyrocketed, drugs took a hold. He tried to hang on to old Malcolm, but it wasn’t possible. He was just too famous. They called it frat rap, but it’s not like he ever attended college. He just kept working and kept using, and eventually it broke him down.
That’s where he and I parted musically. I couldn’t listen to his long solo deep cuts about the depths of abuse and loneliness. It was too painful. He was clearly going through it.
I read a story about him once in which it was revealed that he had an intern whose sole job was to scrape cocaine off his $100 bills. What the f—.
There was a reload when he admitted to the world he had a problem and started coming out in public again. But people wanted Mac, not Malcolm. I imagine his mom was heartbroken then and crestfallen now.
An MTV reality show later, Miller had been chewed up and spit out by L.A. so hard that he enlisted the help of Rick Rubin, the legendary producer whose Malibu ranch doubled as a rehab resort for those willing to commit. Quite a few people have done that, and it’s effectively celebrity rock bottom.
Mac Miller tribute at Blue Slide Park in Pittsburgh pic.twitter.com/wSl2jWr6Bm
— Beau Berman (@BeauWTAE) September 7, 2018
mac miller in brand name…. he didn’t even make it to the 27’s club… i’ve been a fan since K.I.D.S. and he made my high school experience what it was…..my heart is broken. pic.twitter.com/t2lRxtAztW
— hanna (@___ohanna) September 7, 2018
Praying for Mac’s family and that he rest easy 🙏🏽👼🏽 #pgh #412
— Wiz Khalifa (@wizkhalifa) September 7, 2018
It’s important to point out that Mac Miller’s whiteness was a very interesting part of his personality. Because the kid could really rap. He was exactly what you’d expect. A kid that studied the game, had talent and wasn’t afraid to show it. It wasn’t about him being the standout in a black cipher, per se, or him with wild shocking punch lines à la Eminem. Dude was from Pittsburgh. He wasn’t just getting random props based on his hometown.
If you saw him hit a mic on a radio show or YouTube video, homey was actively spitting. Nobody ever said he had the best bars on earth, but it’s not like he was some rando that was gonna embarrass anyone. There’s an argument that in a world in which white rappers had a hill to climb while simultaneously enjoying the privilege of being considered good for just getting through verses, he was better than basically everyone else who wasn’t specifically blessed by the mainstream.
He kept verses on deck.
Every kid in high school with some flow made some garbage remix of a tight song that they thought was tight for their little set. Mac’s were actually decent to solid. You don’t kick like this unless you actually have flows.
He basically was a living, breathing version of what everyone in this life had taught everyone else. Like a white kid that could dunk on you without thinking about it twice. And he was a genuine music head with a pseudonym for his other projects. He wasn’t afraid to branch out from the hip-hop game, but it didn’t feel like the same grift of, say, a Post Malone; he ain’t just have a couple “urban” hits and start showing up at Jingle Ball with some country alt trap nonsense. He could make a beat right in front of your face, and often did.
As his music changed, the budgets got bigger and it became harder to stay off a major label. He really tried to stick to the roots. He named an album Blue Slide Park after his childhood playground and shot a couple more actively creative hilarious videos with his friends, making it clear that it was time to leave Pennsylvania. I’m sure that the actual Frick Park Market is cool, but you can only do this bit once.
In “Party on Fifth Ave,” they went full Beasties costumes to rep the nabe. I mean, best fake Halloween of all time.
But even before that, when he finally put out a visual for the title track of my favorite project of his, it was a throwback to what he came from. Same set, same setup and, of course, the actual receipts for his love for music. Who has home videos like this of themselves kicking “Rapper’s Delight” as a toddler? No one, that’s who.
After the true glo up, everything was different. It was a clear struggle that played out in the media and internet, and the battle was understandable. What do you do when everything you thought you wanted to achieve actually works?
Mac laid his troubles bare, almost to a troubling degree. In a 2016 Fader documentary called Stopped Making Excuses, we see it right in front of us, as clear as day.
Miller talks extremely frankly about his relationship with drugs. It’s brutally honest and straightforward and, considering what we know now, hard to watch.
Sitting in his New York apartment, he breaks it down.
“That’s the thing about L.A. Just sitting there by myself all the time. It becomes toxic. It started by me just sitting inside all day. Then you get bored. Then you’re like, well I could just be high and I could have a whole adventure in this room. I’m always like, if someone’s like, ‘You wanna try this?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And then it just kinda f—- you up when you have a bunch of money. Because, like, you try a drug, you like it, then you can buy a lot of it, you know? I went through about everything. ”
The film then cuts to a video, from a source not entirely clear, of the musician sitting in a bathtub fully clothed, which in itself is short of alarming for a quirkster but definitely informative to his state of mind. Wearing sunglasses indoors, he says matter-of-factly:
“Let me clear up a couple things here. There’s been a lot of talk about me being on drugs. Look at me. Do I look like I’m on drugs to you? Not on drugs. Drugs are on me. All right? That was a f—ing quote.”
Is it a cry for help, an honest assessment or just a bugged-out reality that he felt the need to document? His drug use is something he acknowledges that pushed him to make more music, perhaps to either run away or speak directly to his demons.
One scene in particular, though, is harrowing. Sitting in the studio with French Montana, the rapper appears to indulge in a massive dose of lean, to the point that it surprises Montana. The exchange is alarming.
How do you go on when battling addiction and it feels like you’ve hit the ceiling and you’ve become a person you don’t recognize? And you’re barely able to rent a car? Not many people know that. Not many rappers have any idea. And if they do, and make it, good for them, honestly. For Mac, being the coolest kid in high school turned him into a megastar that no one ever really imagines they’ll be. Next thing you know, it’s full-blown movie set videos with the hottest musicians in the game that are basically just art projects with your name on them. Action Bronson basically stopped rapping. Eminem retreated to the hills of Detroit. What’s his name from Seattle went full sellout, and lord knows what happened to Asher Roth.
I ran into G-Eazy the other day on a red carpet, and his public love life was clearly affecting him. There’s no handbook for that mess. Mac did drugs. And that s— sucked. When he wrapped his car around a pole recently, it was a serious setback. Why is he driving cars at all? Why is he leaving scenes? How scared must he have been? It was a long way from smoking weed with Snoop on the internet.
Twenty-six years old. Didn’t even make it to the so-called famed 27 club, but, quite possibly was actively one of the most talented of his time, that macabre club membership aside. Everyone who knew him called him a good person, with a kind soul.
No goodbyes, no hellos
You don’t want this life I live
You’d rather have the wife and kid
Shootin’ dice with Jesus Christ, put 20 on the midnight
To everyone to sell me drugs
Don’t mix it with that bulls— I hopin’ not to join the twenty seven club
In that, he succeeded. Just like pretty much everything else he tried too. As he would say, “Aint that some s—.”