Photo by DJNowGraphics
The past month and a half, for me, has been a candid reminder of the fragility of human life.
I had just recently lost a friend to drug-related issues, so the death of Mac Miller was a profound blow to me. On September 7, 2018, hip-hop lost a very talented artist.
Mac was someone whose music I had become increasingly more drawn to since he released Macadelic in 2012. He had, in my eyes, expanded his artistic palette much further, honed in his lyrical ability, and created a unique little niche for himself within the genre.
I also understood his personal demons. He was never shy about discussing his struggles with depression, loneliness and addiction within his music. Albums like Watching Movies with the Sound Off and his most recent release, Swimming, are just a few of Mac’s projects where he is brutally honest about his struggles. On “I Am Who Am”, a song off WMWTSO, carries these sentiments:
“Forfeit in the war, he lays a sword down and walks away
Grabs a 40 from the corner store and begins to contemplate
Dealing with death like he work in the morgue, absorbing the souls
Forgotten, he lost his way
Starring down that barrel, thinking not today…”
After his death, I played his music for the entirety of the day. After listening to said albums above, along with others such as his 2014 release, Faces, I came across an album I hadn’t touched in several years: GO:OD AM. I remember playing that album heavily when it came out in 2015 because it was released during my last semester at environmental school. My college experience had changed me permanently. One of the main contributors to my depression is my muscular dystrophy, but the stresses of schoolwork, the potential future, and my chemical imbalance due to excessive drug use only amplified my depression and near-brush with suicide during that time in my life.
As I listened to GO:OD AM again, I began to have flashbacks. All of these past emotions resurfaced once again.
Eventually, I got to “Two Matches”.
I was outside my dorm building smoking a Newport near the bench behind the building. The bench overlooked a cemetery that was also located behind the building.
It was nighttime, and I was all alone, something that became common for me that semester. I would deliberately procrastinate on my assignments to go outside and smoke, whether it was weed or cigarettes. It was how I listened to albums.
I had forgotten how gorgeous that Sounwave beat sounded. I would walk outside with my headphones, pray no one was out on the bench, and walk over by my lonesome and listen to whatever I had found that day. GO:OD AM got that same treatment.
“Two Matches” in particular stood out to me not only for its production quality, but for the sentiment of risk and wonder regarding the future the song discussed:
“Hey, blow out your candles, make a wish
What’s a life if you never take a risk?
Ain’t a place too far, ain’t a dream too big
Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little bit of fun (let’s have some fun)
Ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little bit of fun…”
To a budding young nineteen year-old, lyrics like this made the song feel like an anthem.
Some nostalgia kicked in as I replayed songs like “Time Flies” and “Weekend”. I remember having “Time Flies” on repeat for WEEKS. Mac really rode that bouncy, beat beautifully: “You can’t expect the unexpected, these dreams are manifested, from my head into reality, they seems a bit excessive”.
Every track returned me to a another memory. The song “Clubhouse” brought me back to a particularly vivid one.
I’m crumbling weed onto a frisbee inside a cemetery mausoleum with a few friends (the cemetery was a common chill spot for myself and fellow students who lived at the dorm). I had my portable speaker next to me blaring GO:OD AM. I was always keen on showing off my music collection to my college buddies. I became known for it (I may have over-requested the aux a few times). “Clubhouse” was currently the song blaring out of my speaker: “If there’s a list to the top you could sign me up”. God, that hook was catchy. The scratching mixed with that little faint xylophone only amplified the vibe.
Almost every night, I was partying and smoking. However, this particular night would be cut short. After rolling up, a cop decided to pull up to our location. I spent the next thirty minutes ducking from his spotlight behind gravestones until I could make a break for the dorm room. Luckily we all got out without getting arrested.
The loneliness and boredom of being at school triggered my drug use, which ultimately led to me doing poorly in school, which would then lead to me being kicked out of school.
“Perfect Circle” began to play.
Those opening, haunting vocals smacked me with a wave of sadness.
This was a song I used to play a lot during my time at school. A song I always played when I was depressed and alone. I was depressed and alone a lot.
I started to remember the day I found out I was going to be kicked out of school. That night, I got an acquaintance to pick me up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the liquor store. I went to the graveyard by myself and chugged half of that bitch in less than an hour.
I didn’t give a fuck anymore.
The next thing I remember is waking up with dried vomit on my clothes. It was still pitch black outside and I was still drunk. To this day, I have no idea how I found my way back up to my dorm room that night. It’s honestly a miracle I made it back safe.
As I continued to listen to “Perfect Circle” with tears in my eyes, I began to see the parallels between my prior lifestyle and the one Mac was describing:
“I wash these pills down with liquor and fall
Leave it to me I do enough for us all
Got what you need if you like breaking the law
My mother raised me a God”
So much similarity between us, yet, I’m still here, and Mac Miller isn’t. Another wave of sadness hits me when I hear:
I’ve been a sinner, I’m just tryna stay
Warm through the winter, and I’ll be on my way
I’m just a drifter, in endless seas of whispers
I just need shelter, give me shelter from the wind.”
By the time “Perfect Circle” turns into “God Speed” I’m bawling, knowing the potential fate he wished to prevent had come to fruition:
“But white lines be numbing them dark times
Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up
Admit it’s a problem, I need a wake up
Before one morning I don’t wake up…”
I cried because Mac Miller never had the chance to heal himself, and now he’s gone.
I cried because my friend met the same fate as he did.
I cried because, in reality, it could’ve been me.
I pushed through the tears and eventually finished the album. What had started as a tribute to a fallen artist, turned into a powerful segment of self-reflection and thankfulness for life:
“Gotta thank God every morning that I woke up…”
One of the truly great things I loved about Mac Miller was his relatability to the people of my generation. A piece of Mac Miller existed in everyone. There are “Mac Millers” out there everywhere that struggle with the same issues he did whose fates have yet to be decided.
I guess I survived because I found a balance. That balance was my passion for music and writing.
My demons aren’t completely buried, and my vices still tug at me every so often. I’m not perfect, nor will I ever be. But I feel like I’m in a state of balance in my life currently that I’m comfortable with. To quote the late rapper himself: “But I think that the beauty is in being able to be in both places […] I really wouldn’t want just happiness. And I don’t want just sadness either. I don’t want to be depressed. I want to be able to have good days and bad days. I feel like that’s really important”.
R.I.P. Malcolm McCormick