Music Features

Merry-Go-Round’s Tribute to Mac Miller

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Mac Miller died.

I thought he had been doing better. I hoped he had been doing better. He sounded like he was doing better.

Man, it sucks.

I know it’s corny, but I feel like I grew up with him, went to high school with him, and got through everyday shit with him. Let the corniness continue: like the best artists, Mac Miller was there for you for every emotion, good times and bad times… Eating munchies or going through relationship struggles… Celebrating with friends or lamenting a loss of some kind… You know when you hear someone dies and you don’t believe it? When I heard that he was gone, as I was finishing my meal in a small Thai restaurant, I really couldn’t believe it. It was unfathomable. I stood up, with chills running down every inch of me, hoping that if I didn’t believe it, it simply wouldn’t be true.

There, that’s it. He’s not dead. Everything’s peachy.

My parents have their “Where were you when Kennedy died?” moment, and now I’ll have my version. I don’t even like typing it out and admitting it, accepting that he’s dead. That he’ll never put out anything again. That we’ll never get to see him evolve any further. That that’s it for his artistic output. Just like that. Nothing will ever get released by him again and it’s just not fair.

I will admit: I didn’t even like Mac Miller prior to WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF. I thought he was some bratty kid who smoked pot and listened to Eminem once and decided he could be the next one. And ya know what? He got pretty fucking close. If you gave him more time, he probably would have surpassed him. I remember hearing “Watching Movies” for the first time, Sophomore year in High School, my friend on aux goes, “You gotta hear the new Mac Miller!” I begrudgingly accept, expecting to shrug it off. And then the swirling, carnival-themed beat comes in and that unforgettable and unignorable first line: “People worship these idols ’til they come in contact with Gods.” And of course after hearing it, entirely spellbound, I let out, “Fuck… this is Mac? He goes hard!” Out was the easy Mac with his cheesy raps and in was the drugged out Mac with his depressed raps. It’s unfortunate that he had to go through a drug problem to hone in on the more sophisticated facets of his talent, but I’ll be honest, it’s what I credit for turning me into a fan in the first place. At 16, I romanticized shit like that—it was good timing, and I’m grateful I got into him at all. But then I grew up and realized I don’t want him sad and suicidal, I want him happy and healthy! And it seems he wanted that too; it just sucks his demons had such a grip on him.

I’m watching old interviews with him right now.

One was from only a few months ago, with Zane Lowe, where Mac is particularly winsome and bright-eyed. Lowe even comments on this, that he looks brighter. It’s always weird with celebrity deaths, because you see them everywhere, all over the news, on TV, on your phone, laptop, any screen near you. And yet this person, who pervades your life in one way or another, is still so far beyond you, untouchable. And you watch old videos, or ones from a few months ago, and you think, “How is he dead? He’s right there! I see him on my [insert screen]!” I’m not sure what I’m getting at here. I just wish there wasn’t a reason to write this in the first place. It’s hard to wrap my head around. All I can think about is his song “REMember,” and this line over and over again: “It’s a dark science, when your friends start dying / Like how could he go, he was part lion.
Nick Funess, Merry-Go-Round Contributor

“S.D.S.” from WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF

It’s not his best song—that would be “Dang!” It’s not him at his most fun—that would be any of his earliest material, when the artform was still presenting itself (“Donald Trump” isn’t a bad display of this joy, ironically). And it’s not his most affecting statement either—that would now be “Small Worlds.” But “S.D.S.” and the entirety of his proper sophomore release, WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF, was the moment I began to take Mac Miller seriously, and I’m not alone in that. Mac turned the frat boy, Scumbag Steve persona he oozed on his arrival and flipped it, making his boyishness seem endearing behind beats and alongside guest features that were suddenly quote-unquote “legitimate.” The misguided white rapper narrative that seemed easy to buy into after the insane (and perhaps equally misguided) success of BLUE SLIDE PARK was immediately dismissed with cosigns from ScHoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, Clams Casino, and The Alchemist, among others; a rapper that seemed easy to dismiss, even dislike for what he stood for, was being endorsed by some of the most exciting talent at that time. How could you not at least pay attention?

“S.D.S.” comes early on that record, a woozy, rabbit hole free fall that has a siren, pounding pulse at its core. The Flying Lotus production elevates Mac’s inherent goofiness, providing counterbalance to funny punch-ups like “Asian women love me, I look like David Duchovny / In kindergarten, used to put some condoms in my cubby,” or random asides like “Wonder if Christ made a million off selling the cross.” Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Mac’s passing is that we never got the masterpiece record. From WATCHING MOVIES WITH THE SOUND OFF onward, he put out consistently interesting projects, ones that had moments of brilliance, even if they felt like building works in progress. His latest, SWIMMING, was as close as we ever got to something front-to-back perfect. But “S.D.S.” was the head-turning moment where I felt genuinely excited to be proven wrong by this white rapper from Pittsburgh, and that we’ll never see something by him with the same kind of surreal magic is absolutely devastating. R.I.P. Mac. [CJ Simonson]

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“Knock Knock” [Single]

I was a Junior in High School when one of my friends told me to check out a song by this up-and-coming artist from Pittsburgh. I told my friend I had already heard of Wiz Khalifa and had listened to him, but it turns out it was by another kid by the name of Mac Miller, and the song was “Knock Knock.” Now to be completely fair, “Knock Knock” isn’t that great of a song; if I were to do a ranking of his best songs, I’m not sure this would crack the top 10 (although, as I sit here listening to it for the first time in years, I still find it enjoyable). It did, however, radiate with so much positivity and energy that you couldn’t help but be uplifted and elevated to a better mood after listening to it. That song was exactly like how it felt to be alive at that age, and at that time. It was a very specific feeling, and I’m sure there are plenty of people who can’t relate. But for me and my friends, we were those crazy ass kids he sang about on the hook.

We had way too much energy and no idea what to do with it at that age. Everything felt so slow, so minuscule, and everyone had ambitions to be bigger than that. It was the kind of teenage angst that came with nothing really to rebel against. So from then on, Mac Miller helped soundtrack a lot of those school days, hoop sessions, and house parties. You could feel the room get a boost when “Knock Knock” would come on; it was a simple track that we could all vibe to. It’s strange to think about, because we had seen enough high school movies by that point to know we would become nostalgic for that era. It was a time we often refer to as the Datpiff era, and there’s a special place in my heart for all the people I ever listened to Mac Miller with back then. Some of them are still in my life. Some aren’t. But those nights and days were not to last. Everyone had to grow up, and life would shape up differently for all of us. You would lose people, meet new ones, experience new things, and, for lack of a better word, mature. The same thing would happen to Mac.

He grew up. Stuff about him changed, from the stuff he talked about to the way he sounded. Maturation doesn’t happen all at once, it takes work and a lot of personal growth. But there is still a magical feeling to the early portion to his career that I hold dear. I never knew I would be over here pining for early career Mac Miller, because I thought there would be so much more new Mac Miller on the way. There was so much more room for him to grow. He seemed like a companion of mine, and I know so many that feel the same way—I can’t imagine what my life without him would have been. I’m so thankful that there was a guy like Mac Miller in the world who kept pushing through adversity and growing while still being true to who he was. [Mohammed Ashton Kader]

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NEGRO SWAN by Blood Orange

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