I lost a friend last week. Everyone in the music community did, and it has shaken us to our core. There are events in our lives that we will always remember - exactly where we were, what we were doing, and what we felt - when the news broke. I was just mindlessly checking Twitter at halftime of a game of NBA 2K with my roommate, and I saw Mac's name trending. It had to be about his latest album, Swimming, which had already become one of my favorite albums of the last five years, in any genre. The beautiful instrumentation, the delivery, the polished maturity of an artist I had grown up with - this record was all of the growth and self-understanding we seek to find in ourselves, and it deserved all of the credit reserved for ground-breaking works of art. Mac was growing with us, battling life, embracing life, discovering life. He finally seemed to be finding that sweet spot, the light that he had worked so hard to find. And then he was gone. I sat staring at the stream of tweets pouring in, the game paused, all of us collectively in disbelief. This vibrant, honest, troubled human being we all assumed was just finding his way into the sun would never wake up to see it again.
I started making music around the same time Mac Miller was making a name for himself as a joyful, trouble-making kid who just happened to be able to rap his ass off. He reminded us all of ourselves, not worrying about being an adult or making the right decisions, living in and enjoying every moment. Mac encouraged us to still be kids, even as we went to college or got our first important job. And then something happened over the next few years that brought us even closer to him: he struggled, and he brought us all inside his struggles, truthfully and painfully so. Success brought him greater access to the vices that would eventually kill him, as is true with so many of the shooting stars we have watched light up the sky over the years. His music became much darker, more violent and aggressive, and ultimately saddening. We were watching and listening to a young man, a friend, fight for his life in front of us.
While he was bringing us on his journey, I was experiencing my own. I was diagnosed with depression, acute anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder at 19, about the same time I first heard Mac's music. I was experiencing crushing panic attacks on a near-regular basis and was allowing paralyzing thoughts to control my life. I am now 27, and while I have become much more successful - with the help of others - at controlling my mental state, dark thoughts are something I deal with every day. Unlike Mac, I have never turned to hard drugs to cope with the darkness, but admittedly have found myself turning to alcohol and other destructive habits to numb my constantly spinning mind.
Much of my music is centered around the messiness of mental health, navigating a murky river of disappointment and uncertainty, trying to find the positive sides of a life and an industry that so often makes me feel trapped and misunderstood. Even the title of my first collection of EPs, Rain, is a verbal representation of my moving to an unknown place, alone and unprepared, and doing all that I can to survive. Over the last five years especially, nearly every time I write new music, I drag myself down to a place of discomforting sadness. It has been in those depths that I have found some of the most honest, unflinching truths of my soul. Before just recently, writing in a positive state of mind was almost altogether foreign to me. For whatever reason, I have always felt that my words and music are destined be a refuge for anyone feeling alone, like no one else can understand their pain. None of it is forced, none of it false - I feel everything I write and record, for better or for worse. Long ago, I accepted the sacrifice I am making for the betterment of those people who choose to let my songs help them. I truly feel I am vessel, a message, a voice to help you through, all while I try to find my own way through.
When we lost Mac, it hit me in the chest. Over our careers, I began to realize how much alike we were. Though different artists, we were fighting many of the same demons, working through our lives just trying to find the light that always seems like its just out of our reach. I pray that Mac has finally found that light in another place, and that all of the pain he carried is no longer with him. I am a firm believer though, that energy never dies, and as artists, we now take that pain and shoulder it. Because in that pain we find ourselves, we find truth, and we strive to lighten the pressure of those around us.
We miss you Mac. I miss you. And for however long I am destined to be in this reality, I will carry your message with me, and do my best to live up to the legacy of a man and an artist who never stoped growing. You never stopped fighting for the light. And so I fight. For you, for myself, and for all of us.
"Don't ya know that sunshine don't feel right,
When ya inside all day,
I wish it was nice out,
But it look like rain,
Grey skies are drifting,
Not livin' forever,
They told me it only gets better"
Rest now, Malcolm.