With the recent passing of Malcolm McCormick, better known to the world by his stage name Mac Miller, I wanted to say something almost as soon as I heard the news that the Pittsburg emcee’s death of a suspected drug overdose on Friday September 7th, 2018. It goes without saying that a loss in the music industry and the Hip-Hop community is always tragic no matter what the circumstances. Like many people, I myself was caught off guard that somebody with such a large profile and as young as Mac Miller could die so suddenly at the age of twenty-six. While Mac Miller is far from the first Hip-Hop artist, let alone celebrity to lose their life at a pre-mature age due to drug overdosing; his death in particular to Hip-Hop, due in part to his level of success and reputation has seemed to have cut with a deeper resonance in the culture than others in the recent past. As the abuse of prescription drugs and other highly addictive, dangerous opiate narcotics continues largely unchallenged in a meaningful, tangible way; these deaths among young artists within the genre has only increased with a frightening frequency over the years and demands acknowledgement.
I can’t front, I can’t honestly say that I was a avid die-hard Mac Miller fan. At best I was a casual listener who honestly enjoyed his work more from the stand-point as a producer behind the boards than as an emcee in front of the mic. From the first moment I heard his music though, it was obvious that Mac had a particularly good ear for production. Whether it was re-utilizing classic beats like the Lord Finesse produced classic ‘Hip 2 Da Game’ for ‘Kool Aide & Frozen Pizza’ or original productions like ‘Nikes On My Feet’ it was clear Mac an appreciation for that classic golden-era style Hip-Hop. I’ll admit, this was a rarity for many young artists in his age range and with that said, I have to give him props and respect where it is rightfully due. I have to respect Mac Miller for not only having a huge amount of respect for the origins of Hip-Hop, but for its pioneers and icons as well. From his work with cultural legends such as DJ Premier, 9th Wonder, Talib Kweli and more; and even giving a platform to then up and coming artists in the infancies of their careers such as Rapsody and Joey Bada$$; Mac Miller was a true Hip-Hop head and did truly love and respect the culture. Celebrating the best that the art form had to offer both old and new. Likewise, I have to give him respect for being a very vocal advocate for social justice movements during his career. A rarity unfortunately for many white mainstream rappers who often times choose to remain quiet on such issues in fear of angering or alienating their white, suburban listeners which make up a large part of their fan bases. While Mac Miller’s music was never exactly overtly political or ‘conscious’, he certainly didn’t shy away from voicing his support for progressive social justice movements while in the public spotlight. Regularly utilizing his platforms on social media, in interviews and during shows to vocalize and broadcast his support out to his base and beyond. Whether it was voicing his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement or calling out the likes of Donald Trump. Mac would later admit to regretting naming his 2011 hit song song bearing Trump’s name following the 2016 election and even went as far to call Trump a “egomaniacal, attention-thirsty, psychopathic, power-hungry, delusional waste of skin and bones” who would “do, say, or allow anything if it means you’ll just get one more minute in the limelight” and a “racist fuck-wad of a human” on the Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.
In short, Mac Miller never hesitated to speak out on racism, injustices and other important social issues where many of his musical peers actively chose to remain neutral or complicity silent. Music and personal politics aside, in the end it’s simply heartbreaking to see that yet another eccentric and talented young artist with so much untapped potential has gone far before their time and had their life prematurely extinguished at the hands of a preventable drug overdose. Mac Miller’s passing is particularly sad because I remember reading several times a few years ago back in 2014 and 2015 that he was struggling with codeine addiction and spoke candidly about entering rehab, getting sober, and getting his career back on track. After a while it seemed like he had eventually kicked the habit, begun to turn his life around and once again was able to focus on creating more music. Unfortunately, after being arrested for a DUI earlier this year back in May for driving while under the influence and totaling his vehicle it seemed that sadly once again he was struggling with substance abuse. However, barely a month removed from dropping his brand-new album Swimming at the beginning of August and preparing to embark on a twenty-six city, nationwide promotional tour almost no one could have expected it would ultimately culminate up to his untimely passing.
This however sadly, is often times the nature of drug addiction. A silent, but nonetheless destructive and deadly specter that in many instances those who suffer are able to conceal just well enough to function and go about their daily routines while masking or hiding their addictions. This facade, no matter how well-crafted or managed eventually always comes to an end when relapse or another more permanent tragedy inevitably strikes. Addiction is a brutal, unflinching animal that does not discriminate along racial, gender or social class lines; literally anybody regardless of their background can be affected. And, unfortunately most suffer alone in silence often in conjunction with other ailments like emotional trauma, depression or even mental illness. To be blunt, addiction is a bitch. Addiction is scary, it’s frustrating, it’s tiring and for many it makes just getting through the day or performing even routine daily task seem like towering mountainous obstacles. It ruins lives, destroys relationships and opportunities; and even when people do manage to get clean, sobriety rarely comes easy. It takes work, dedication, discipline and humility as well as the resolve to keep going even when those who are in recovery make mistakes and have relapses. Mac Miller made no effort to hide the fact that he had struggled with mental health and substance abuse, and bravely discussed his troubles in his music, which only makes his passing that much more tragic and profound to listeners who could relate to these shared struggles and personal demons.
While as of this publication official toxicology results from the autopsy have yet to be released, it’s highly speculated that Mac Miller likely did die as the result of a drug overdose. Quite possibly from Codeine (which Miller admitted to being addicted to back in 2013), an addictive, opioid prescription painkiller that is a main ingredient in the recreational drug ‘lean’; which is made from combining prescription cough syrup loaded with the immensely powerful painkiller with soda. Mac Miller, unfortunately is the latest in a long line of so many other brilliant and talented artists to have been taken far too soon at the hands of these highly addictive, extremely potent, lethal opioids and narcotic drugs. Some big names in the industry such as DJ Mustard have publicly come out announcing the end of their use of dangerous drugs such as lean; and even artists such as J. Cole have dedicated entire albums à la KOD (an initialism for Kids on Drugs, King Overdosed and Kill Our Demons) as vehicles to denounce drug use, opiates and prescription drugs in particular. However, with the exception of these handful of artists, relatively very few big names in Hip-Hop have used their platform in the genre to strongly speak out against the rampant abuse of prescription drugs and dangerous, powerful opioids which are continually glorified and romanticized by many young, popular artists.
The reality is, the burden of combatting and pushing back against these destructive trends of glorifying dangerous drugs falls on all of us, not a handful of select artists or icons, nor on the graves of martyred artist who’s untimely deaths serve as a warning. Us young folk, especially in the Hip-Hop community have to start using our platforms to actively speak out and push back against the promotion and abuse of opioids and other dangerous narcotic drugs of highly addictive and lethal nature which is at an all-time high in the music and culture. Being a drug addict isn’t cool. It’s not edgy, and it certainly isn’t Hip-Hop. These days, powerful prescription drugs like Xanax, Percocet, Adderall, Promethazine, Codeine and others seem to be a part of the instant rapper starter kit. Being a glorified drug fiend isn’t fly, back in the 90’s at the height of the crack era it wasn’t cool to be a bass-head. At some point, we have start making the glorification of these dangerous drugs unfashionable or at the very least in bad taste to market at youthful audiences which historically have always been the driving innovators of Hip-Hop since the genre’s inception. Whether its’s artists confronting their musical peers, holding them accountable or participants and listeners within the genre alike condemning drug abuse; we have to somehow re-take control of the narrative so our youth don’t even start picking up these dangerous habits to begin with and suffer the same fate of Mac Miller and others before him.
To close, I’d like to take a moment to speak to those who may be currently going through their own struggles with addiction. People turn to drugs and other substances for a variety of reasons and just like anything else addiction and its severity varies from person to person. If you are going through addiction, regardless of how or why please say something, talk about it! Admitting you have a problem doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you a junkie and it doesn’t make you any less of a human being. It takes courage, conviction and humility to admit that one has a substance dependency problem. You are not alone and you will not be judged! You are needed here and there are people here to help you. And to all those who are in recovery or on the middle of battling their own addictions, working to reign in their own vices whether it be drugs, drinking, smoking, over eating, gambling, sex or anything else that serves as a detriment to you and the well-being of yourself and those around you, keep up the good work. Keep pushing, keep fighting and always work to live as the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. In a society and culture that celebrates decadence, where all of these things are so permissible yet treatment is stigmatized it’s not easy to stay on a regimen and remain disciplined. If it was then everyone would do it. So, to those who do are in the midst of their battles, to those that fight and struggle to get sober or perhaps in the middle of struggling to maintain their sobriety right now, do not give up. You might be an inspiration to more people than you probably realize!
It’s easy to look at Mac Miller’s death as an isolated incident or simply perhaps as a individual personal moral failure on his own behalf. However, to do so is to ignore a larger trend of influential artists, whether it be legends like DJ Screw and Pimp C or more recent contemporary artist such as Lil’ Peep and Fredo Santana dying at the hands of dangerous opiate narcotics and prescription drug abuse; all while continually being celebrated with the culture. The crisis we face is not only one we face in Hip-Hop, but is part of larger nationwide epidemic which now claims more lives than almost all other illegal, illicit drugs combined. We have to begin facing these problems within our communities in empathetic, compassionate and proactive ways; for if we do not more young people are destined to meet an early tragic demise like Mac Miller and so many other. We’ve lost too many great people to continue on as we are currently. It doesn’t have to be this way; we can and must do better.
*If you or someone you know suffers from drug or alcohol addiction please call 800-420-9064 to speak with a addiction treatment counselor.