Mac Miller: an artist defining a generation

Eric Boyd | Sports Editor | Sept. 4, 2019

Mac Miller performing | Courtesy of Creative Commons

He was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, but I did not care when Prince died. When he died, the Minnesota Twins turned all the lights in their stadium purple. Celebrities flocked to social media to share heartfelt tributes. My high school chemistry teacher cried. I saw the news on Twitter that morning, went to school, and did not think about it again. He made good music, but Prince was not still releasing chart topping projects in 2016, so why was he relevant?

As far as his fans were concerned, his role in their life might as well be over. He had played his part in their experience with music.

That all changed for me on September 7th, 2018 when Mac Miller died. I finally understood how someone you would never met could have such an impact on you. Suddenly, I was the one mourning for someone whose voice I had only heard through speakers and whose face I only saw on screen.

I was not the only one. Every friend, peer and random face in the crowd who listened to Mac stopped to reflect on his loss.

I grew up with Mac Miller; we all did. I played “Blue Slide Park” on my walk to school in sixth grade and made sure I did not turn it off until I was a few feet into the classroom so everyone would hear it and think I was cool.

“GO:OD AM” was the only album you could hear in my car during September of 2015. I was a superfan when he was alive, but it did not hit me until he died that Mac Miller was the greatest musician of our generation.

He began releasing music and rose to the public perception in high school. From there, the world got to watch him grow and mature through his music. He was the best in the industry at communicating his feelings and true self through his music. Everything he released was intentional and raw. Even fellow musicians were impressed and in awe of his ability.

The beauty of Mac Miller was that he was a constant work in progress. He did not come out of the womb a generational talent.

One of the greatest things about him was that fans early to the scene got to watch him grow and develop from a frat boy party rapper to a deep artist who created art. That maturation is rare and a prime example of why he deserves the crown of greatest musician of our generation.

His first big project, “K.I.D.S.” was filled with references to girls, drugs and partying. His lyrics were an accurate reflection of his life at the time, but they were also the attributes of a mainstream artist.

Thus, Mac Miller was branded as a mainstream, white boy, frat rapper in danger of becoming a flash in the pan. If “K.I.D.S.” is the origin of his career, then the set he performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk series is the bookend.

He sat on a stool and timidly surveyed the room. He spoke quietly and thoughtfully about what went into making his last album. The man on the stool with baggage in his past and rings around his eyes appeared to be a far contrast from the wide-eyed, naive kid who rapped, “Kool-Aid and frozen pizza, it’s a work of art ain’t talkin’ Mona Lisa.”

His development from boy to man and rapper to musician is what made him great. He defied all the labels placed on him in his early days. His second studio album, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” was a steep contrast from his first project. The upbeat, optimistic rapper the world thought it knew was replaced with someone more mellow, seemingly weighed down by life.

Although the albums were only two years apart, fans could tell Mac was not in the same happy place he used to be. Instead of hiding his demons from the world, he exercised them in the booth and shined a light on them.

When asked about the contrast between his first two albums in an interview with Noisey, Mac Miller said, “I didn’t want to be the Adam Sandler of rap anymore.”

In that same interview he said he did more growing during the nine months it took to record “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” than he had ever done before. Mac Miller made another leap in maturation in 2015 with the release of his third studio album “GO:OD AM.”

The album opens with a fluttering beat and a soft verse about Mac returning to his roots. He sounds as if he is snapped out of his funk and conquered his demons. An alarm clock blares at the end of the opening track and a woman says, “good morning baby.”

The album is a renaissance of sorts. It is the end of his depression and the rebirth of the rapper the world initially fell in love with. He is not the same man he was when he started rapping; he is a better, more mature version that benefited from going through hard times. His demons are far from gone, but he is at peace.

The growth he displayed over the course of his five studio albums is a reason why he was the greatest musician of our generation.

Migos could never show that kind of development. They are the same guys now that they were when they released “YRN” in 2013.

Everything they make is the same recycled lyrics over the same recycled beats.

The same goes for most mainstream rappers. Lil Pump is fun to play at a party, but he will put out the same music in five years that he does now.

Mac Miller’s ability to evolve his music and experiment with new sounds is why he was able to stay relevant for so long. He refused to let himself fade from the upper echelon of rappers. Mac Miller was unprecedented.

During a period where his peers put out the same music every year trying to generate a few hits, he sat back and made genuinely good music that mirrored his growth and development as a person.

The reason Mac Miller was able to captivate the music community with his evolution is because he was always honest with his music.

Fans were not just in- vested in him as an artist, they were invested in him as a person. That elevated him to a level of greatness achieved by few.

The albums he put out were true reflections of who he was as a person. In 2011 when he released “Blue Slide Park,” he was a naive kid tantalized by what the world of fame would bring.

From there, his honesty with music during his development created a deeper bond with fans because they felt as though they really knew him.

Few counterparts in the industry are brave enough to share the deepest parts of themselves with the world the way Mac was.

In the opening song of his last album, Swimming, Mac has a monologue about his past and dealing with his depression. He says, “I was drowning, but now I’m swimming.”

He conquered the demons that used to suffocate him not by killing them but by making peace with them. Pulling back the curtain and telling the world about his demons was a consistent theme in Mac’s music.

Another reason why Mac Miller was so great was because of his impact on fellow musicians. His albums always featured a slew of talented artists, but he always demanded they bring the same heart and passion to the music he did.

That standard along with his refusal to cater to the masses is why you will never find a Drake or Migos feature. Instead, he shaped musicians like J. Cole, Ariana Grande and Chance the Rapper. Without Mac, the entire rap scene would be different because many of the artists in it would not be who they are without him.

Post Malone tweeted in a heartfelt tribute to Mac, “You inspired me throughout high school, and I wouldn’t be where I was today without you.” J. Cole opened his first show after Mac passed with a teary-eyed rant on the danger of drugs before dedicating the show to Mac.

Chance the Rapper tweeted, “beyond help- ing me launch my career he was one of the sweet- est guys I ever knew. Great man. I loved him for real. I’m completely broken. God bless him.”

Musicians all over shared their sorrow over so- cial media simply because they were fans of Mac.

Halsey said in an Instagram caption, “Thank you for being the soundtrack to my high school years. For giving me songs I knew every single word to and screamed at the top of my lungs in my first car the year I got my license.”

Seemingly every rapper had some connection to Mac, whether they worked with him or were simply fans. Mac Miller’s influence transcended genre. He touched everyone from John Mayer to Jay Z, shaping the music landscape and cementing himself as the greatest musician of our generation.

A kid from Pittsburgh went from passing out mixtapes in the hallways and rap battling kids in the school parking lot in the hopes of getting on World Star to earning the title of greatest rapper of our generation.

His seat at the table of legends was earned through a rare ability to develop his music and experiment with new sounds.

The boy rapping about girls and parties in 2009 grew to become a man rapping about drug abuse and demons in his final days, showcasing a nearly unprecedented evolution.

His brutal honesty and ability to cater to his diehard fan base formed a close bond between artist and listener which brought him critical and popular praise.

Finally, his influence over the music landscape through artists like Chance the Rapper, Post Malone and Ariana Grande, who he helped develop, solidify his legacy as the greatest musician of our generation.

This is a paper. It does not make noise, but I imagine if it did, the outro would go something like the opening beat to “Best Day Ever.”

A quiet ringing like that of a cell phone or alarm clock would be heard in the background. It would slowly repeat every few seconds, growing louder and louder. A soft hum would play underneath as the beat came into the foreground.

A fifteen second crescendo of mixtape masterpiece would give way to a raspy, upbeat Mac Miller singing, “No matter where life takes me, find me with a smile / Pursuit to be happy, only laughing like a child / I never thought life would be this sweet / It got me cheesin’ from cheek to cheek.”