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The unfair, unfinished narrative of Mac Miller and his redemption

Trey Alston

 // Sep 11, 2018

Christaan Felber // Instagram

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.


On September 7, Mac Miller was found dead due to an apparent drug overdose. His heart gave out after the ultimate trip, supposedly before he was on the way to film a new music video. Karen Civil reportedly found his body; pictures leaked to the public show her in extreme dismay, an amalgamation of tears and running mascara. He was discovered shortly before noon in his house, peaceful in death.

The narrative of Mac Miller is one of redemption unfinished. Initially a carefree adolescent mesmerized by living life in abundance, the claustrophobia that comes with success eroded the outskirts of his sanity. His music grew darker with each project. Macadelic was the initial entry into his rapidly closing in world. On "America," he spilled about the perfect world being a lonely one, and about the evils of the same world on "Fight The Feeling." As his descent into despair dug further with each release, glimmers of hope escaped from the wails.

Swimming was that turn. It was the positive song playing at the end of the credits. He and Ariana Grande had broken up in May and he likely watched her flaunt America's new boytoy Pete Davidson, as we all did. That same month, he smashed into a utility pole and wrecked his G Wagon while drunk and walked away; tabloids picked it up and unfairly pinned it to Grande soon after. Miller had clearly gone through the thickest of it and the album was to be that response. When it released, everything made sense. The self-destructive tendencies came with a promise of change. He walked even closer to death than he had on any previous projects, but listeners were lulled into a false sense of security. Miller's narrative had reached its climax. Now, the resolution was to come. How would he heal his wounds and abysmal mental state?

His death came as a shock because it feels as if his story is unfinished. The redemption arc was to come next, one where we would see him bounce back from his trauma five times better than what he used to be. All the ingredients were there; he was planning on going on a new tour and his jazz identity Larry Lovestein was positioning itself for a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-like takeover. But the next level was pulled from under us thanks with a stunning, shocking conclusion that sent everyone into a collective series of gasps when announced.

Hip-hop is a genre ruled by story; artists spin narratives about luxe living and humble beginnings to entrance listeners into becoming fans. While they're spinning those narratives, the artists themselves are creating another one, one that the media raps to the public (in the same way that the artists themselves do when pushing their work). More than often these narratives get completed by way of aging out. Artists grow older than their fan bases and either lose eminence or become legendary in the process. Sometimes, these stories end with swift death from violence. And the last case, drug use, has become more prevalent in 2018, being another cause of death that closes the final chapter.

XXXTentacion's death felt like a punch in the gut to new-age rap fans who watched X go from a SoundCloud sensation to a music industry star in what felt like overnight success. But profiles of the artist, which went into great detail about his troubled past including alleged domestic abuse and additional violent history, made it clear that he lived with his demons. To some, even, his death felt inevitable. He'd made it clear that he was looking to change the nature surrounding his name. It just came too late; destiny caught up to him in Deerfield Beach, FL. His story, although quickly, wrapped up on sensible note.

Mac Miller's story, told through his albums, felt as if the next chapter was right around the corner. He wasn't a new artist who made a career in controversy; he was just a kid from Pittsburgh who chronicled the highs and lows of his journey through increasingly introspective music. He brought us with him through the thick of depression and uncertainty. For his story to close so abruptly, we feel robbed of the closure that we felt necessary. There's supposed to be a resolution to accompany this dark path.

In a way, Swimming is the best resolution that we could possibly get. When the album released in August, "2009" was one of its most endearing cuts; now, it stands as one of its most telling. The song feels haunting with its dead-on depiction of happiness after fame, translating as a message to the world after the freedom of life's last breath. Miller sounds as if he's singing through tears as he says "It ain't 2009 no more / Yeah, I know what's behind that door." He frequently brings flying high and feeling more alive than ever up on the track, and goosebumps rise up the spine with each mention. We may not have gotten the ideal happy ending that we wanted, but Swimming can be read as an epilogue to a swift ending that caught everyone by the throats.

I remember first listening to Miller's "Pittsburgh Kidz Get The Biz," and being pleasantly surprised. He could flow. Really flow. This was the age of Waka Flocka and boilerplate trap rap that had just become the "it" subgenre. I really became a fan after Macadelic because of how introspective and intelligent it was without sounding too preachy. The best part about it was that Miller was just being himself. As I followed his career, I never once found him to be corny. I did see how troubled he was, as did everyone, because of his music's descent into darkness. I initially chalked it up to industry shenanigans and because the move toward spilling one's demons in rap had become commonplace but, as each project grew weirder, I became concerned.

Then, once the tabloids became involved, Miller's livelihood became something of a running joke. There were memes and jokes thrown around Twitter in startling fashion, clowning about everything from his DUI to, most recently, him not being physically up-to-par with Pete Davidson. As he became cannon fodder for laughs, the seriousness of his internal balance seemed to wane publically. I never cracked a joke, but I found myself eliciting a laugh if I found something funny. I assumed that this was a part of the comeback that I was romanticizing. Miller would swing back ten times as big. Swimming was the start, and it was mesmerizing. Now, I could kick back and watch magic happen.

I was driving past a church when a Slack notification came through from an editor saying "Mac miller just died." I slammed on my breaks and gasped because it felt wrong, unearned. As I started driving again after a symphony of furious car horns, I drove with one hand on the wheel, and the other on social media seeking validation in this ludicrous claim. Soon enough, the smiling pictures of Miller began to emerge. It wasn't enough to bring me to tears, but my breaths became shallow and staggered. The conclusion I was seeking would elude me.

Now as the days grow away from the discovery of his body and it settles into the Earth to never gaze upon another sunrise, it's starting to feel real to me. I'll never understand why he couldn't finish spinning his narrative to the world, but maybe that's the point. There's no purpose in life. No blueprint to follow, no means of understanding why anything even matters. We're here day in and day out to increase our intrinsic value so that we can live just a little better than yesterday. Stories distract us from how much existence actually sucks so we become invested in them. But we make those stories from other people who are on the same journeys as we are. People die. There's no way to find sense in something that we're biologically constructed do; it just happens.

Mac Miller's story will always be one that captivates me to no end. This was a guy only a year older than I. Yet the difference in the demons that we faced was enormous. I looked forward to seeing him resolve them and bring the narrative that was being spun through him to a storybook ending that I could cheer about. With his sudden death, the conversation about our stars, the dangers of drug use, and checking on the mental standing of your friends, will continue and grow into something bigger. I guess that, although not the ideal ending that any of us hoped for, it is as important an ending as any other.


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