A rapper with a tortured soul, Mac Miller has had a career marked by greatness and decadence. After early success and the confirmation of his artistic individuality, his career ended on September 7 after several years of excess. The rapper, born Malcolm McCormick, was only 26.

For the beauty of music

During his last public performance, Mac Miller adopted the rules of the Tiny Desk Concert. A group of neo-soul musicians joined him behind the desks, books and other trinkets that make up this privileged space; Thundercat made his bass growl for the duration of a song. “Music is a beautiful thing!” the young rapper guffawed. But his antics weren’t misleading; Mac loved music, and he had a sharp ear. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, he worked as a producer under the alias Larry Fisherman, a maturity that can only be appreciated in the light of the path taken by the young artist.

Claiming the accompaniment of jazz music would almost be an anachronism in contemporary hip hop, let alone for someone of his generation. This was all the more remarkable as his pedigree didn’t destine him for such a breakthrough. Born into the wealthy white American class, his beginnings in music took place without any desire for greatness. When he released K.I.D.S in 2010, the attitude was one of fun and student parties. He was only 18 then. Without giving up his affability, he matured on the projects that followed, particularly Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013) and GO:OD AM (2015). This strengthened his identity, both musical and psychologically.

Musical consciousness and self-awareness

There is a connection between committed words and jazzy hip hop, a connection that was found in Native Tongues and Soulquarians. Paradoxically, this connection was not part of Mac Miller’s maturation, as his texts were almost never politically charged. Some will see it as white man’s privilege. He himself conceded that racial bias had worked in his favor.

Individuality and self-awareness were the foundation of his sensitivity. Operating in an enclosed space, his music never resembled that of Wiz Khalifa, despite their geographical and professional proximity. In a conversation with Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, one of his major influences, the young rapper advocated a return to self: “It’s OK to feel yourself.” But in a contradictory way, this focus also concentrated his feeling of imprisonment, a claustrophobia caused by his own thoughts. “I’m still trapped inside my head” (“The Star Room “), he admitted in 2013. Five years later, it was the same fight: “I just need a way out of my head” (“Come Back to Earth”). But even when reason was lacking, he continued to put his heart into the work.

An open hearted rapper

Despite his constant good humor, Mac Miller never hid his drug addiction or depressive tendencies. “My sanity go down when my cash go up,” he rapped in 2015 (“Ascension”). Struck by the success of his first album (Blue Side Park, 2011), which succeeded in placing him at the top of American sales, he learned to be wary of social networks: the co-mingling of the private and public spheres made him uncomfortable. But can the two really be separated?

His relationship with Ariana Grande brought him into the spotlight at the same time as it represented a break in his discography. The Divine Feminine (2016), a true ode to multi-faceted love, is a more of a soul/R&B album than hip hop. “I opened up your legs and go straight for your heart” (“Skin”) is the truest lyrical manifestation of his feelings at that time. You’re never more exposed than when you’re in love.

Mac Miller’s phlegm masked the intensity of his sentimental, illegal, and musical endeavors. He had access to a world that few young artists can dream of: Robert Glasper, Flying Lotus, Bilal, Pharrell, Dam-Funk, and Keyon Harrold. This list would be his best epitaph.


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