“It’s always sad to listen to someone’s music after they die,” my friend tells me on our walk home. “Like…you want to keep enjoying it but they’re still… gone.”
I thought about the last time I listened to Philly rapper Mac Miller in my room, taking a minute to dive into his jazzy flow in “Stay” when his name didn’t trigger any particular meaning to me — when he was just another musician I followed on Spotify, an artist I read about in interviews, an ex of a big-time celebrity.
But my friend was right. The minute I read the headline from my phone, the words “Mac Miller” and “Overdose” glaring back at me from behind the screen, I knew something about his music was forever changed for me.
The young musician who I’d grown up listening to, who had been a part of my musical evolution throughout the years, was suddenly dead. Just another singer turned tragedy. At first I felt cheated.
How was I supposed to listen to “Self Care” without remembering how much of it he needed? How was I supposed to read his words without thinking that they were just falsehoods he only wished he was capable of believing?
In a 2016 documentary called Stop Making Excuses, Mac said,
“I’d rather be the corny white rapper than the drugged-out mess that can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is just not cool. There’s no legendary romance. You don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.”
He knew how he looked to the outside world. To the scrutinizing commentators on Twitter, waiting for him to react to the sudden engagement of his ex, Ariana Grande. To the impatient fans pressuring him to crank out more and more music despite his mental state. To the tabloid photographers determined to make him into a delinquent, a criminal, a fuck-up. He knew what they were expecting. He saw the people waiting for him to crack. And yet, he fought hard not to give in.
I guess that’s the saddest part isn’t it? How he knew what his end should look like. This Thursday, a day before his death, Mac told Vulture magazine,
“There’s pressure. A lot of times in my life I’ve put this pressure to hold myself to the standard of whatever I thought I was supposed to be, or how I was supposed to be perceived.”
Sometimes it makes me think about what his life would’ve been without it. I wonder about the music he would’ve made and the people he would’ve met and the risks he might’ve taken. I wonder if, without that pressure, he would’ve been able to stick around for a little while longer.
But when I listen to his music, I realize that I don’t hear a 26-year-old under that type of pressure. I don’t hear someone drowning, struggling to catch his breath in a never ending cycle of questioning and scrutiny. I just hear him. And I still hear him, even now that he’s gone.
Maybe even a little clearer than before.