Though it’s the home of the Steelers and the birthplace of Primanti Brother’s, the people are the best part of Pittsburgh. Malcolm McCormick, most popularly known as Mac Miller, was the quintessential Pittsburgh kid. He loved his hometown and declared his dedication to the Pittsburgh Pirates by tattooing their logo on the top of his right hand.
When he was still known around the city as Easy Mac, teenage Miller played at local high school proms for kids that listened to his homemade mixtapes like “But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy” as they cruised down Fifth Avenue. Those same kids grew into adulthood with the Pittsburgh icon, watching Mac Miller propel to international superstardom.
When Miller lost his battle to drug addiction in September 2018, more than 2,000 people attended a vigil held in his honor at Pittsburgh’s Blue Slide Park, Miller’s childhood playground that inspired his first studio album by the same name. His death has inspired his family, friends and fans from across the globe to appreciate how a normal kid from Pittsburgh changed lives through his revolutionary contributions to the music industry.
In 2011, Miller released “Blue Slide Park,” his first studio album. Following its release, “Blue Slide Park” became the first independently distributed album to top the Billboard 200 since 1995. He was only 18, but Mac had something to say — and the world wanted to hear it. His initial work on his fourth and most accredited mixtape, “K.I.D.S.,” was bursting with a high-energy, free-spirited eccentricity that painted the picture of an idyllic teenage existence. Songs on “K.I.D.S.” like “Senior Skip Day,” “Don’t Mind If I Do” and “The Spins” exude the exhilaratingly assured energy that captures the reckless thrill of adolescence.
This youthful energy continued in “Blue Slide Park,” but glimpses of introspection began to emerge in his lyrics. Tracks like “Missed Calls” and “One Last Thing” echoed the growing pains of young adulthood, depicting romantic plights and homesickness. As the years went on, these glimpses became themes. Much of Miller’s lyricism alluded to his struggles with substance abuse and the mounting pressure of his widespread fame. By 2015, with the release of his “GO:OD AM” album, lyrics on tracks like “Perfect Circle / Godspeed” featured Miller’s retrospectively haunting foreshadowing of his own death from substance use.
Only 35 days before his tragic death, Miller released his fifth studio album, “Swimming.” Miller’s quiet solemnity on tracks like “Come Back to Earth” illustrated his attempt to keep his head above water, reeling from a highly-publicized breakup and writhing in the grasp of addiction.
“Swimming” was some of Miller’s most popular work, posthumously awarding him with his first platinum album in Feb. 2021. Not only was “Swimming” an artistic treasure, but it was a deeply relatable and honest expression of hardship that touched the hearts of fans across the globe. Within the scope of his subsequent death, Miller’s desperate attempts to calm the storms in his psyche are hauntingly profound. He was frantic to recover the peace that once colored his life, the hope that had dwindled as his demons had grown. He was fighting, tirelessly, to return to himself.
In Jan. 2020, Mac Miller’s family announced his first posthumous album release, “Circles.” Miller had been working on “Swimming” and “Circles” as a collaborative whole, planning to release the latter soon after the former. The two albums loop seamlessly to signify the repetition of life and its endless possibility. Miller believed that he could swim against the current to arrive at a new beginning. He did not want to erase his past, but rather acknowledge it as a crucial part of shaping his future.
Mac Miller was one of the most talented artists of all time. His musical genius could never be overlooked, but it was his compassionate, authentic and selfless character that immortalized his legacy. He actively diminished the stigma surrounding addiction and empathized with the millions of people around the world who struggle with mental illness. He humanized the celebrity landscape with his sincere kindness and candid expression. But above all, he reminded us that love is the answer.
No matter where life took him, he could always be found with a smile.