Mac Miller: A cautionary tale

Items left as a memorial to Mac Miller at a vigil held in his hometown of Pittsburgh shortly after his death. Photo by Caleb Lee.

“It’s a dark science, when your friends start dying/Like how could he go, he was part lion” – Mac Miller on REMember (from 2013’s “Watching Movies with the Sound Off”)

By Caleb Lee and Kevin Cahill staff writers

Earlier this month, the music community and college students around the country were shocked by the devastating and untimely fatal overdose of American rapper, singer and record producer Mac Miller.

Mac Miller performing in 2011. (Photo used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license.)

Although not as big as some other names in the rap industry, Mac Miller’s growth and development as an artist/lyricist gave him credentials that were respected by many in the music industry. His death on Sept. 7 serves as a reminder that no one is immune to the disease of addiction and the importance of taking care and checking up on one another. 

Mac’s death came a month after the release of his latest album, Swimming. Mac gave fans a record that touches upon his recent struggles with mental illness and the heartbreak, but remains optimistic. The Guardian described it as Mac “relinquishing the ideal of perfection and learning how to live with yourself as you are.”

I was drowning, but now I’m swimming,” Mac raps over a smooth and vibey beat on Swimming’s Come Back to Earth.

This is why his passing is especially devastating. With help from highly respected musicians, including names like John Mayer, Thundercat and J. Cole, this album was widely recognized as one of Mac’s greatest pieces of art.

As one Fisher student, senior marketing major Jason Wasilnak, put it, he thought Swimming was “Mac taking his game to the next level artistically.”

Many of Mac’s past albums have had similar depressive moods, with lyrics about excessive drug use and emotional struggles. Mac gave us a new sound with each record he produced, showcasing candid honesty in his lyricism and commitment to the art of his music. An eerie example of this comes from the lyrics of Perfect Circle/ God Speed, on his 2015’s album GOOD:AM, where he foreshadows his death by overdose.

Everybody saying I need rehab
‘Cause I’m speedin’ with a blindfold on and won’t be long until they watching me crash
And they don’t wanna see that
They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother
Tell her they could have done more to help me
And she’d be crying saying that she’d do anything to have me back
All the nights I’m losing sleep, it was all a dream
There was a time that I believed that
But white lines be numbing them dark times
Them pills that I’m poppin, I need to man up
Admit it’s a problem, I need a wake up
Before one morning I don’t wake up
(Lyrics from God Speed, on 2015’s album GO:OD AM:)

Although Mac frequently lamented about his demons in his music, his carefree and goofy personality contrast the darker sides of life he explores in his albums and mix-tapes like Macadelic, Faces, and Watching Movies with the Sound Off. In a recent interview done by Apple Music’s Beats 1 podcast, Mac appears to be in a stable mental and physical state telling host Zane Lowe he “feels in a great space.”  Unfortunately, fans sadly learned that the battle inside his head and with substance abuse never really ended.

Fisher student Teddy Pristash said “Mac always seemed to have a smile on his face from what I saw in videos and at his concerts.  He was always interacting with fans and cracking jokes. It is still tough for me to come to reality that he has actually passed away, because as a fan, I felt such a deep connection to him and his music.”

Like many, Mac used drugs as a way to cope with his depression and anxiety. He was beloved in part because of how open he was about his problems. People around the world heard his music, saw his struggle, and related to it. That’s why now that he is gone, he has seen more appreciation and love from the music community than ever before. His streams rose 970 percent (Billboard) and earlier this month had seven albums featured on Apple Music’s top 31 charts.  

Following his death, when walking around campus or hanging with friends, there’s a good chance Mac was in heavy rotation while people reminisced on the music he gave us over the years.  This goes to show the quality of his craft and the number of lives he is still touching.

Mac was more than a celebrity to many; for fans, his loss felt similar to that of a close friend. From frat rap, and carefree odes to the good times, to the meaning of love and inner clouds of darkness, Mac took us on a musical journey that got more refined and deep as time went on. He refused to let his career be defined by his early success that portrayed him as a “frat rap” artist and pigeonholed him as a one dimensional musician. His growth and maturity musically coincided with the growth and maturity that comes with age, and the saddest part is, he was only getting better.

His unexpected passing shows that even individuals who are known to “brighten the room” and have vibrant personalities, may actually be dealing with serious struggles mentally or in other areas you cannot see.  Many college students struggle from mental illnesses like anxiety, depression and addiction and oftentimes, it is difficult to see. In fact, according to the National Association on Mental Illness approximately one in five  adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5 percent—experiences mental illness in a given year. Even short term depression and anxiety from things like class work to finding people to sit with in the Ward/Haffey Dining Hall, are enough to cause students stress.   

There is always help when suffering from mental illness or addiction and it is important to remember that if you are struggling, you are not alone. Fisher has resources available for students who are having problems big or small. You can go to the Health and Wellness Center to talk to a counselor if you feel the need to, or go to just learn more about mental health. There are also clubs on campus, like NAMI at SJFC, that offer support for those who suffer from mental illness, addiction, or just want a safe place to talk to understanding ears.

Whether you are the biggest Mac Miller fan or you’ve never heard a song, his struggles and music were relatable to many college students.  We should use his untimely passing as a lesson and reminder that mental health problems and addiction can greatly affect anyone. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that offer help to people suffering from these hardships on the Fisher campus.  

If you or someone you know is facing mental and/or substance use disorders, please call AMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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