Mac Miller passed away on Friday at the age of 26, leaving behind a huge catalogue of confessional, poignant songs about mental health and substance abuse.
Miller broke onto the scene as a teenager, performing what many referred to as "frat rap." His early hits were full of harmless brags about his sneakers, selling marijuana and going to parties. However, it was not long before he transcended this image and gained a reputation as a true student of his craft, making plenty of mistakes in the process.
In subsequent records, Miller's lyrics took a dark turn. He referenced harder and more dangerous drugs, and replaced his partying antics with sardonic verses about staying inside, developing insomnia and becoming a workaholic. This was especially true at the beginning of this decade, when Miller was at his most vulnerable.
The rapper was found dead in his home in the San Fernando Valley on Friday. His official cause of death has yet to be confirmed, though law enforcement sources told TMZ that they suspected Miller had overdosed on drugs. The 26-year-old had several friends over the night before and into the morning — a common occurrence for him, by all accounts. Miller fostered friendships among his generation of hip hop artists and encouraged collaborations.
In some of his most recent interviews, Miller admitted that he regretted some of his youthful transparency.
"It’s annoying to be out and have someone come up to me and think they know," he told Vulture in August. "They’re like 'Yo, man, are you okay?' I’m like 'Yeah, I’m f—ing at the grocery store.' You know? It’s the job. This is what I signed up for."
Still, in the wake of Miller's passing, many are looking back at the breadcrumbs he left behind in his songs, wondering what can be learned from his musings on a lifetime of existential struggles. Here are some of Miller's most eloquent takes on drug use and mental health.
Miller' last album, Swimming, was released on Aug. 3. Many assumed that it related to his recent break-up with Ariana Grande, though the rapper told Vulture that he had already written most of those songs before the split. The lyrics do betray a general fixation on mental health and self-improvement — particularly the lead single, "Self Care." Miller turned the popular yet vague term on its head in the song.
"Tell them they can take that bulls— elsewhere / Self care, I'm treating me right, yeah / Hell yeah, we gonna be alright," he half-rapped, half-sang in the songs hook.
"Yeah, I been reading them signs," he went on in a later verse. "I been losin' my, I been losin' my, I been losin' my mind, yeah / Get the f— out the way, must be this high to play / It must be nice up above the lights / And what a lovely life that I made, yeah / I know that feelin' like it's in my family tree, yeah / That Mercedes drove me crazy, I was speedin' / Somebody save me from myself, yeah."
The "Mercedes" in question was presumably the one Miller crashed back in May, shortly after his break-up. He was arrested and charged with driving under the influence at the time.
Miller's mournful opening to his latest album leaves a lot of room for interpretation. A few optimistic lines shine through, but there is little doubt that the speaker in the lyrics is suffering.
"I just need a way out of my head," he crooned in the chorus. "I'll do anything for a way out / of my head."
"In my own way, this feel like living / Some alternate reality / And I was drowning, but now I'm swimming / Through stressful waters to relief / Oh, the things I'd do / To spend a little time in hell / And what I won't tell you / I'll probably never even tell myself / And don't you know that sunshine don't feel right / When you inside all day / I wish it was nice out, but it looked like rain / Grey skies and I'm drifting, not living forever / They told me it only gets better."
In 2015, Miller took a break from his overtly dreary tunes on G0:0DAM," an album full of anthemic, brag-fueled tracks. However, even the album's single "100 Grandkids," where he assures listeners he will live to have a small army of offspring, betrays a hint of sadness.
"I swear to God, I put the hero in heroin," he rapped. A few lines later, he added: "Getting faded, I been stoned all week / But what's a God without a little OD? Just a G."
Miller's 2014 mixtape, Faces, was likely the height of his depressive output. The album is filled with grim fantasies, suicidal ideations and narrations of drug use. His song "Angel Dust" features all of these, as well as a mocking, sing-song hook daring himself to go on.
"Don't be scared just come with me / It feels so good to feel this free / What are you afraid of? / Tell me what you're made of / What are you afraid of? / It's just a little angel dust."
One of Miller's most narratively driven songs, "Happy Birthday" describes a massive bash in the rapper's own home. However, while guests enjoy themselves at his expense, he hides out in his home recording studio, doing drugs and working.
"There's a birthday party happening upstairs / And it's all for me, who the f— cares? / They don't notice if I never go and show my face / They just looking for a reason they can celebrate."
"Lately, I've been having strange dreams / paranoid they hate me, everybody think I'm crazy.. I do see myself as iconic," he confesses in a later verse. "getting high my downfall, it's kinda ironic."
"Rain" has a fast yet melancholy sound to it, and Miller begins his verse with a few bragging rhymes typical to rap before suddenly dropping off into sadness.
"That's a flex though, cover up the issues that I kept close," he admits, "Sober I can't deal, I'm in the corner with my head low / Running from my shadow, never ending chase / Ease the pain and the battle that's within me / Sniff the same s— that got Whitney, the high heel depression / My temple feel the metal coming out the Smith & Wesson, bang / Say a prayer, leave my brains on the tile floor."
Miller's lyrics took a quantum leap on 2013's Watching Movies with the Sound Off, but it is also where he cemented his solipsistic style on "REMember," he pondered the death of a friend.
“It’s a dark science, when you’re friends start dying/Like how could he go, he was part lion / Life goes on, tears all dryed in / Couple years are gon’ by, bye then / Can you please tell me help me find my friend / I’ll give you anything you need multiplied by ten / I heard he moved to a place where the time don’t end / You don’t need money, all you got is time to spend / Life is short, don’t ever question the lengths / It’s cool to cry / Don’t ever question your strength / I recommend no limits, intricate thought, go ‘head just give it a shot / You’ll remember s— you’ve forgot.”
"Bill" comes from Delusional Thomas and also released in 2013. The whole record had a fractured, experimental tone, but there was no doubt that Miller was grappling with his own image and his self-worth.
“I’m just a little bit depressed that’s why the winter fit him best / I guess I’m biased to the cold, I mix the Ritalin and sess / Because I like the highs and lows and I also like the checks”
Of course, Faces ended with the ominous song "Grand Finale." the song walked the line between playful melodrama and earnest cry for help, apparently by design. Miller sang a hook that could have denoted the end of the record, or the end of something much bigger.
"Let us have a grand finale / The world will be just fine without me / And I don't got a smile on his face / Slow it down, we goin' out with a bang / Are you ready for the fireworks? / It was a silent night 'til the fireworks."
In the second verse, Miller opened with a high-minded consideration of God before dropping into a more personal reflection on his grandfather, who had passed.0comments
"Even God will one day be forgotten / And recently I've been feeling, I've been feeling like / It'd be really nice to get to sit with Mickey Weiss / Shoot the s— 'bout life, he'd be pissed I'm sniffing white / Never got to see me grow up, how long it take to live a life? / I'm a bit surprised that I'm even still alive / Mixing uppers and downers, practically suicide."
If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).