Mac Miller, Most Dope

Photo by Christian Weber for TIME

“No matter where life takes me, find me with a smile,” Mac Miller once said. He kept to his word, smiling through some of his darkest battles. His sense of humor never faded, nor did his enduring kindness. “I’m hoping not to join the 27 Club,” read the lyrics from his song “Brand Name.” Tragically, he was only 26 when he died from an accidental overdose in 2018 – one year short.

Mac was a lyrical genius, and the sheer amount of music he released in such a short span of time is unfathomable. Six studio albums, two live albums, 13 mixtapes, 41 singles (13 in which he’s featured), and 62 music videos. And that’s just what he officially released. 

Mac Miller’s “K.I.D.S.” album cover

His first album, “K.I.D.S.,” released in 2010, is so light and carefree, with songs like “The Spins.” The album is a major contrast from much of his later work. “Best Day Ever,” his second studio album, encapsulates his fast-paced life as an emerging star. It lacks the depth that much of his other work has, but that’s how Mac wanted it to be. He was on the rise to fame, and his lifestyle certainly lived up to that. He indulged in drugs, sex and partying; what more could an up-and-coming nineteen-year-old rapper want?

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Though Mac appears to be happily living the life of luxury in his early studio work, his 2013 experimental mixtape “Delusional Thomas” says otherwise. Throughout the tape, he personifies a maniacal alter-ego – “Delusional Thomas” – who lives in a grim, borderline sadistic, reality. His shockingly sinister lyrics analyze some of his deepest, darkest thoughts; a side of Mac Miller that many people had never seen before. To give you an idea, the first line of the first track, “Larry,” is, “I’m sicker than a biohazard psychopathic murderer.” The tape navigates his addictive and suicidal tendencies, and it’s only officially available on SoundCloud because it was presumed too morbid to appeal to mainstream audiences.

As Mac’s career progressed, his songs dove deeper into his mind, exploring his thoughts about mortality, loss, mental illness, addiction and love. His introspective studio album, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” contains some of his most honest and personal reflections, and one of his most popular albums, “Swimming,” is a complex collection of his feelings of isolation and mental illness. 

Mac Miller’s “Swimming” album cover

“Swimming” was released in 2018 almost exactly a month before his death, and he expresses his secluded state and deterioration of confidence. He describes feeling trapped in his own mind, desperate for an escape, and he shows his awareness of the temporality of his own existence. While his other albums explore his confrontation with self-doubt, isolation and death, “Swimming” also goes into depth about his ultimate embrace of these things.

In 2020, Mac’s sixth and final studio album, “Circles,” was released posthumously. The album is a harrowing call for mental repose, coming from someone who had been stuck in the unrelenting world of Hollywood fame for years. Its tracks underscore his exhaustion and mental burnout, and they’re soaked with many of his painful regrets. While it’s heartbreaking to hear about his struggles after he’s already gone, his track “Everybody” offers some consolation, as he sings, “Feel like I’ve seen a million sunsets, if you’re with me I’ll never go away.” 

Mac’s music really has a very different meaning now that he’s gone. His work is so prolific, and he somehow managed to put the most unexplainable emotions into words. He showed that it’s okay to not be okay, and that vulnerability isn’t weakness. He was truly one of a kind, and he will be missed forever. Rest in peace to a legend.

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