A star died before his brilliance could be fully realized — Mac Miller died as a result of laced drugs in 2018, and the Pittsburgh native’s music still manages to remind me of a loss beyond his grave. His posthumous album, “Circles,” released Jan. 17, was his best-selling of all-time with the hit single “Good News” placing 17th on Billboard’s Top 100. It was Miller’s highest charting song as the lead artist.
To see such fame and success after his death feels like salt on a wound, exacerbating a scar not yet free of its scab. He grew up in Point Breeze, within walking distance from downtown Pittsburgh, less than 100 miles away from Allegheny’s campus. He was a local celebrity and someone who kept to his roots through the community.
Helping to produce fellow Pittsburgh artists through his label REMember Music, Miller was both songwriter and teacher. On Sept. 20, 2013, Miller was handed a key to the City of Pittsburgh by then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, and the day was dubbed “Mac Miller Day” to commemorate his accomplishments.
While Miller as a performer served as a great inspiration to many aspiring artists, the man himself had a problematic past. Suffering from a long-held drug addiction, he had bouts of sobriety interspersed in his history of recreation. A Bojack-esque figure, many of his songs focused on the importance of mental health and how confusing an emotional psyche can be.
Arguably, some of his greatest works have been an investigation into the reasons for his own narcotic consumption. Songs like “Self Care,” “Stay” and “Good News” would never have been made without the melancholic energy Miller channeled from his own experience. It is hard to either praise or blame the man for his consumption when it resulted in complex musical and lyrical subject matter centered on the very issue.
Miller’s music carried a psychedelic element in its composition that made it impressionable, with lyrics to back up a brilliant mind battling a controversy of what he saw and what he understood in the real world. Some of Miller’s mixtapes were released under a pseudonym, to allow him to experiment in other genres of music besides rap. “Run-On Sentences Vol. 1” was his first album to feature his own original instrumental soundtracks, released under his production alias Larry Fisherman in 2013.
Wielding a mind of both lyrical and instrumental talent, his perspective should be mourned for the loss of his distinctive eye that could point out pain you didn’t even know you felt. Miller remains untouched as a genius songwriter and producer, who also laid a foundation for public recognition of mental health through his work.
It is a lasting pain to see that emo rap — a music genre that blends hip hop and rap — has had so many casualties attributed to its name. Miller, XXXTentacion, Lil Peep and Juice Wrld are members of a growing list of artists who have lost their lives in the last few years. While emo rap as a genre continues to grow and develop, its pool of talent seemingly cannibalizes its own content creators in a cycle of eulogies without end. Sadness compounds on sadness, and when so many artists bare their regret and despair in their music, to see them killed leaves an inarticulate sadness. It’s unfair, and the tragic developing tradition in emo rap is also unfair. The genre is losing its best in the throes of its own expression. As an industry, it deserves more than what it gives to its creators.
There is not enough time nor space to do justice to everything the man has done and the legacy he left when he died. With the posthumous release of “Circles,” the music and lyrics Miller made have an ability to live beyond the life of the man himself. The album is a worthy tribute to the sound of his character — rhythmic, blue, soft-rock rap that makes you wonder about the depth of his melancholic-party personality.
Miller died at 26, in the middle of his greatest success both as a producer and writer. His album “Swimming” had been recently released to glowing reviews on Aug. 3, 2018, and Miller planned on touring North America in October 2019. The 26 shows were cancelled following the news of his death, and all the ticket holders could do was cry and mourn. Additionally, Miller had planned a third album to compliment “Swimming” (2018) and “Circles” (2020), forming a trilogy. Unfortunately, the album can never be made, but we’re left with Miller’s legacy with “Circles.”