Two years after his death, Mac Miller continues to serve as a musical inspiration and icon to many. Only 26 years old when he died, Miller left behind an impressive decade-long catalog filled with messages of love and healing, which oddly enough made his passing all the more painful. Despite the demons he battled, Miller’s legacy was and will remain one of hope. As we mourn the loss of a marvelous talent gone too soon, let’s also take a moment to cherish what he stood for.
Here are five songs from Miller that deliver a sense of gritty realism paired with an optimistic takes on a distant future.
‘Nikes On My Feet’
Back in 2010, Miller was still establishing himself as an artist, with many still assigning the label ‘frat rap’ to his music. What, one might wonder, would be the best way for a budding 18-year-old rapper to prove he has what it takes to stand against the best in the industry. For Miller, it turned out what he needed to do was weave a lyrically compelling tale over a sample of Nas’ ‘The World Is Yours’. The smooth production paired with Miller’s impressive lyrical abilities proved he was a bona fide hip-hop artist and helped get him on everyone’s radar.
Where ‘Nikes On My Feet’ established Miller as a skilled lyricist and producer, tracks like ‘Rain’ demonstrated his ability to create an equally compelling track when collaborating with another gifted artist. Miller enlisted Staples’s help on ‘Rain’ and as the latter engages in the back-and-forth by discussing his no-nonsense attitude, Miller responds by getting honest about his struggles with drug addiction and depression, even delving into his thoughts about suicide. Musically the song builds on the jazz/hip-hop fusion heard across the 2010 mixtape ‘Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit (K.I.D.S.), sampling ‘Govinda’ by the JOB Orquestra, a 1970’s one-off disco studio group led by producer Jorge Barreiro (whose initials, J.O.B., formed the group’s name).
Overall, ‘Nikes On My Feet’ and really, the entirety of the ‘KIDS’ album introduced the world to Miller’s brand of smooth, moderately upbeat alternative rap and hip-hop that was both authentic and hopeful.
Miller’s second studio album, 2013’s ‘Watching Movies With The Sound Off’, was a masterpiece in so many ways. It saw the rapper open up his sound to more experimentation while also getting more raw and personal with his lyrics. Thematically, he never shied away from tackling his struggles and pains head-on, but there was a maturity to his lyrics on this record that spoke volumes of his gifts as an artist. ‘REMember’ was a song Miller wrote in honor of his late friend Reuben Eli Mitrani. Speaking directly to REM, Miller gently revisits their friendship and the time they spent together over a slow and equally-gently track. The song gets progressively darker, with Miller pleading with a higher power at one point for the chance to see his friend again, before it picks up again as Miller raps about how short life is and encourages his listeners to never hold back and instead, find themselves.
Both musically and lyrically, Miller elevated his status with this record. It also, rather eerily, sees Miller rapping about being turned into an icon on the day of his death.
Off Miller’s 2014 mixtape ‘Faces’, this song paired the singer’s rap skills with a jazz-inspired backing track, a sound that continued throughout the album. The track was produced by one Larry Fisherman – Miller’s writing pseudonym – the song proved to be an extremely catchy yet chill track that perfectly demonstrated Miller’s lyrical prowess, something the song’s lyrics address head-on. The song also has Miller refer to himself as a ‘rap devil’ a title he claimed long before it became a buzz word, with Machine Gun Kelly eventually claiming the title in his 2018 track ‘Rap Devil (Eminem Diss)’.
Arguably one of his most known tracks, ‘Self Care’ was featured on Miller’s fifth studio album ‘Swimming’, released in 2018. Described by Pitchfork’s Sheldon Pearce as a “self-guided tour through [Miller’s] personal rehabilitation,” the song peaked at number 33 on the US Billboard Hot 100 following the rapper’s death in September 2018, becoming his highest-charting song as a lead artist at that time. The music video for ‘Self Care’ drew inspiration from the film ‘Kill Bill: Volume 2’ and depicts Miller being buried alive before making a grand escape.
Lyrically, musically, and visually this song saw Miller reflecting on the demons that haunted him, which ranged from his heartbreak and public perceptions to his DUI charge. Describing how he learned to handle the judgments hurled at him, Miller rapped about the lows he sunk to while battling addiction as well as the opportunities that passed him by while he struggled, before declaring he was making changes and determined to make it out of this hell.
Miller was still working on his final album, ‘Circles’, when he passed. The album was eventually released posthumously in January 2020 to widespread critical acclaim and further deepened the pain of losing an artist as gifted as Miller. The rapper has previously shared that ‘Circles’ was being developed as a companion album to ‘Swimming’, with both being crafted to represent two completely different styles that, in complementing one another, would form a perfect circle. Conceptually, he framed it as “swimming in circles.” The two albums were also revealed to have been part of a trilogy, with the third and final album being a “pure hip-hop record,” according to Jon Brion who worked with Miller on the releases.
‘Good News’, written and composed by Miller and Brion’, was the lead single of ‘Circles’ Upon its release, it peaked at number 17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and became Miller’s highest-charting single as a lead artist. The song’s peaceful, morose sound was perfectly matched by the music video’s abstract, animated imagery. It somehow perfectly summed up Miller’s artistry that blended elements of a painful reality with a hopeful message.
Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!