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REMember

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

I went into Pittsburgh today to poke around a bit after work. I’ll be in the area for a couple weeks, so I wanted to explore as much as I could. The only reference I really had for the city was from songs by Malcolm McCormick, Mac Miller. I went to Jerry’s Record Store, the shop his 2012 solo song is named after. I grabbed a sandwich at Frick Park Market, a small deli and convenience store in the Point Breeze neighborhood. And I went over to Blue Slide Park and took my dog for a walk around Frick Park. What stood out to me about Jerry’s Record Store were the contents inside. The rap section was very small, the majority of the albums were soul, classical, blues, and rock. This speaks to Malcolm’s own wide pallet from which he drew. In his beats and his lyrics, you can hear the influences of jazz from Sinatra to Tribe Conquest, and blues phrases from Lead Belly to The Doors. He frequently referenced Hemingway, Stanley Kubrick and other creators in his lyrics.


Malcolm was a multi-instrument musician, composing many of the layers in his music himself, piano, drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. He didn’t confine himself to writing about one topic, embodying one persona, producing one genre of music, or even utilizing one medium of art. He assumed different aliases when he deemed a character change necessary, he went by Larry Fisherman, Larry Lovestein, and Delusional Thomas, which fit specific aspects of his mind. His portfolio of music reflects a deep, thorough, and at times, scary search through the shadows of his own psyche, but also includes easy going songs about the simple pleasures, and the value of not taking life too seriously. Malcolm helped me through a lot in my life, I credit his music and words with helping to teach me to think, to open my mind and look past the world right in front of my face, digging into what our existence is really made of, and what it all means. These are a few of my favorite pieces of his work, with some songs and thoughts that have stood out to me over the years. I hope you enjoy.


K.I.D.S. is Mac Miller's fourth mixtape released by Rostrum Records on August 13, 2010.

K.I.D.S



“This shit right here, it feels like a million bucks” were the first words that many people heard from Malcolm Mccormick. K.I.D.S. is airy and spacey, taking its name from the movie of the same title, with quotes sprinkled throughout. He shouts out his friend and co-producer Big Jerm on the intro, who he stayed with for much of his career. Most of the songs are sunny and carefree, about good times, sitting outside, and enjoying being with your friends. The fifth song on the record 'Senior Skip Day' has been one of my favorites for a long time, it’s about waking up late with no plans and keeping it that way. That’s exactly what I wanted to hear when I was 13, with nothing on my mind, but enjoying my time, and that’s what he preached, “enjoy the best things in your life, cuz you aint gonna get to live it twice.”


On 'The Spins' Mac sampled 'Half Mast' by Empire of the Sun, which if you haven’t heard of, go watch the music video, its wild. Mac raps most of the song with fun easy going, sly rhymes about girls, but as the beat fades out one of the last things he says is “I just graduated High School.” It’s jarring to think how young he was with this kind of talent and success; he was a kid having fun and it reflects in his music. Next up is 'Traffic in the Sky'. “I ain’t got a damn thing on my mind, and baby all we got is time, let’s just watch the clouds go by.” The beat is floating and airy, and you can feel what he’s singing about, the beauty of doing nothing under the sun, enjoying the day. The last song I’ll talk about on K.I.D.S. is 'Poppy', “hello death, it seems that we meet again,” eighteen-year-old Mac discusses the memory of his grandfather and the hope that he’s doing well up above. The heartfelt, honest lyrics have helped me understand the legacy of my own grandfather. I’ve been returning to this song for some space to think for a long time. K.I.D.S. encompasses everything you feel at the age of 18, the good, the bad, and the in between.


Miller's sixth mixtape released on October 14, 2011. He started a "Road 2 a Million Fans" series, during which he released a new song for every 100,000 Twitter followers he accumulated.


I Love Life Thank You



Next in his catalog of music is the 2011 mixtape I Love Life Thank You, a project he threw together because he had music leftover and fans were asking for more. The album artwork is a grocery bag, which I think is awesome. This mixtape is more traditional boom bap style rap. The bass and snare are a little heavier and the rhymes are more punctuated. The second song 'People Under The Stairs' is a nod to the L.A. rap group, famous for producing beats in house DIY style. 'The Scoop on Heaven' is an easy rolling song where Mac asks simple questions about what waits for us after it’s all said and done. His imagination tells him it’s “just a place we can kick it, be happy at,” “nobody’s famous up in heaven, everybody’s the same.”


The next song on the mixtape, 'Love Lost', is possibly my favorite Mac song. It’s got a mellow jazzy beat, a song about a girl that got away and who isn’t coming back. “Where’d you go? what’d you do? how the hell you make me fall in love with you? and now you leave, now you’re gone all I got is this damn song, so I can feel but I can’t touch, you said my love was a bit too much, broke my heart can’t find no crutch so why don’t you come on back home?” The song pairs a warm rising melody with heavy reflective lyrics about a girl that won’t get out of his head.


'Family First' is an open hearted song about Mac’s early struggles with fame and success, “dealing with everybody’s opinions, tryna do me,” “it’s hard when I can’t even find the time to call my mom, and she thinks I’m goin Hollywood, I guess she probably should.” The song features a verse from one of the godfathers of rap Talib Kweli, which if you don’t know him, you should. In his verse he takes Mac under his wings and gives him sage advice on how to navigate the world of music, “take care of the fam cuz that’s all we really have here.” The last song I’ll mention on 'ILLTY' is Boom Bap Rap, a song produced with Big Jerm on the drums and Mac on the keys and bass. The stripped down, boom bap style beat illustrates not only his musical abilities, but a tribute to hip hops roots.


Miller's seventh mixtape released on March 23, 2012.

Macadelic



Macadelic is my favorite projects from Mac, to me it marked a change in not only his music and writing, but his philosophy. The beats are ethereal and psychedelic, his writing his intrinsic, many of the hooks are simple questions. He released the project as a mixtape when he easily could have released it as an album. What that means is that he could have made money from the millions of downloads and listens but chose to release it for free instead. The record is free on the internet, and it went multi-platinum. The mixtape includes features from Kendrick, Lil Wayne, Joey Badass, Casey Veggies, and others, and movie quotes from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Requiem for a Dream, and an excerpt from a JFK speech.


Unfortunately, these quotes aren’t allowed on Spotify, but if you go to DatPiff.com you can find the original versions of the songs. I remember the day that it was released, I was 15, playing catch with my friend Dylan, and had downloaded the mixtape the night before. I pressed play and the first song, 'Love Me as I Have Loved You' came on, right away I knew this project was different, I had never heard anything like it before, the intro begins with someone softly whistling row row row your boat, and a woman speaking seductively in phrases of Latin and English. In that moment I knew that Malcolm had somehow evolved and turned his attention to darker, more intricate matters.


The fourth song on the record, 'Thoughts From a Balcony', looks introspectively from his mental vantage point, at the life and art he’s created so far, and where he’s headed. The brass bass line rings warmly as he reflects on the struggles he’s dealt with and the way critics, fans, and friends have reacted to his music. The hook is simple, but encompassing “all we got is memories, so what the fuck is time?” 'The Mourning After' floats across the story of a love that’s faded to casual intimacy. Holding onto the last threads of a tattered relationship, “something about the pain makes me want more… I hope one day it all makes sense.” Mac talks about the loneliness of being the only two people who know their romance isn’t working, “I propose a toast, someone usually does, to our fucked up love.”


'1 Threw 8' is an ethereal song, it pulls you in and drowns you with the sound of flowing water and the echoes of Mac’s thoughts. He starts the conversation with a statement, “sometimes I see the world for how fucked up it really is, I tell myself I’ll be the one to make a change in it, but I could die tonight not make it to the sunrise, but then I couldn’t heal the pain in it.” He ominously repeats the phrase “remember love if you don’t remember me” throughout the song, and asks the listener, “dear people of Earth after I die, what’s the weather like?” He says, more to himself, “I ain’t perfect, but I try, hey I wonder if I’ll maybe get a second life, this time I’ma get it right.” On the back half of the record Mac and Lil Wayne take a distant look at their lives on 'The Question'. The song is exactly as the name implies, a question, a prayer really, for guidance through trials, a torch to light the way, “sometimes I wonder who the fuck I am,” “I wonder what am I doin here,” “I hope I do what I was meant to do,” “and do we ever get to know the truth,” “I’m only twenty years old.”


The last song I’ll mention on this record is 'Clarity', an airy beat and subtle yet profound lyrics, this is one of Mac’s most peaceful songs. It was funny I once played this in the car with my dad and he was surprised it fell into the rap genre. The song seems to be a point of sad, yet hopeful realization for Malcolm, coming to terms with events out of his control, and memories that have haunted him. It feels like a pinnacle, a vantage point with a broad view, far above the murky depths of the beginning of the record. He seems to accept the path laid before him, “purgatory ain’t as bad as it seems to be,” prepared to walk with his art through the path ahead, “you take away the pain and I thank you for that.”


You is an EP released by Miller on the REMember Music on November 21, 2012 under the alias "Larry Lovestein"

You



You represents a departure from the normal progression of a rap artist. The short record feels like watching a soft jazz performance, dominated by piano, horns, standup bass, and a subtle snare. Malcolm sings under the guise of Larry Lovestein, more akin to Sinatra than Rakhim. The record is only five tracks, songs about infatuation, lust, love, suspicions, and the woman he’s singing to. This mixtape shows the true diversity of Malcolm’s gift, this is a man composing songs well beyond his years. You realize how many different platforms Malcolm could place his art, how few constraints his music and mind had. He sounds just as natural playing jazz chords on the piano and singing softly as he does rapping to heavy 90s beats. This project prefaces the way that his music developed, as he grew into his own gifts.


The second studio album by Miller. It was released on June 18, 2013 by Rostrum Records.


Watching Movies With The Sound Off



This album found Malcolm in the trenches of his own psyche, fighting against the demons of both his life and ours. He discusses the errors in his past, the ugliness of the world, and his perseverance against the darkness. The project is philosophical but also whimsical, with deep introspective tracks and wonky upbeat songs I can best describe as party songs for the trippy kids. The introduction to the album, 'The Star Room' eels ponderous, like looking out a cold lonely window thinking far outside of your own head. Mac seems to be in the process of swallowing and learning from the past few years, while using that wisdom to prepare for future battles. He discusses his demons, his temptations, and the retrospective view of his actions, “don’t know what I’m running from, but I’m running still,” “a hundred mill wouldn’t make me sign a fuckin deal, money kills that’s the truth it’s called the root of evil, but I want that Rolls Royce that the homie lennon drove”, “lookin out as far as eyes can see,” “I wonder if I lost my way.” If you’ve never heard it, I highly recommend listening to the original version of this song produced by Earl Sweatshirt, it’s more stripped down, and in my opinion, hits harder, it’s on YouTube.


'I Am Who I Am (Killin Time)', is the seventh song on the album and Mac seems to be contemplating his own purpose in art and life, what his duty is to the world, and whether or not he accepts it. In the music video, Mac sits cross legged on a pedestal, surrounded by lights, it gives the illusion that he is in the cosmos, extending his contemplation past his own experience to the whole universe. This is echoed by the hook “Yahweh put the world in my hands I’m givin it back.” Mac asks himself if he wants the responsibility that god has bestowed upon him. He debates whether the battle against his shadows is worth it, what the repercussions may be, and whether he has the strength to fight, “forfeit in the war he lays a sword down and walks away, grabs a 40 from the corner store and begins to contemplate, dealin with death like he works in a morgue, absorbing souls forgotten he lost his way, staring down that barrel thinking not today.”


'Objects in the Mirror' is at about the halfway point of the album. Mac looks back at the path he’s traveled, and perhaps more importantly, considers that the mirror we use often distorts our experience. He explains that the past should remain there “I kind of find it strange how the times have changed, but I wish we could go and be free, once baby, you and me, we could change the world forever and never come back again, let’s leave it all in the rearview, you don’t have to cry.” He reflects on an uncomfortable, unfortunate history, and how it has affected others, “I kinda wish you caught me on a different day, when it was easier to be happy,” but at the same time, his progression through these trials, and the lessons learned.


On 'Red Dot Music', with a feature from Action Bronson, Mac dabbles on a lot of ideas, from wealth to overindulgence, but what has always stood out to me is the ending. He closes with a verse by Loaded Lux, with no beat, in which he had Lux diss him. The verse is humbling, closely following the themes of the album, and taking another retrospective look at Mac’s career. He references Malcom’s earliest work under a different name, “I liked you better when you was Easy Mac with the cheesy raps, who the fuck is Mac Miller?”


The last song I’ll talk about on this album is 'REMember'. This song has held weight for me for a long time but has gotten heavier in my life recently. It is an ode to a friend of his who passed away, “it’s a dark science when your friends start dying,” “can you please help me find my friend… I heard he moved to the place where the time don’t end.” The song is cathartic and melancholy, it comes to grips with itself, even as it mourns the loss of someone gone far too early. “Life is short don’t ever question the length, it’s cool to cry don’t ever question your strength.”


Faces is the 11th and final mixtape by Miller, and was released for free on Mother's Day., May 11, 2014.


Faces



The concepts which Mac dipped his toes into in Macadelic, and seemed to wade through in 'Watching Movies', he dove headfirst into in Faces. He fully submerged himself in ethereal wanderings through shadowy regions of the subconscious. Malcolm flirted with insomnia and insanity to explore the far edges of his mind for this project, and in my opinion that is true commitment to one’s art. Mac is accompanied by Big Jerm once again on this project and incorporates numerous film quotes. In 'Happy Birthday' he tells the story of his birthday party, at which he’s not in attendance, because he’s in his home studio. “There’s a birthday party happening upstairs, and it’s all for me… they won’t notice if I never show my face… I’ll just stay down here inside the studio.” This line can come off sad, but at the same time here is a man who is truly committed to his craft. Why go to your birthday party when your favorite place to be is in your pool house, doing your job?


The song that stands out to me the strongest on this record is 'Colors and Shapes'. He begins the song with a quote from Tim Leary, “in order to use your head, you have to go out of your mind, you have to go out of all the aesthetic, symbolic ways in which you think,” and he seems to do just that. Malcolm goes to a whole different world in this song and brings us along for the ride. He tells a story about a journey “beneath the ocean,” where he “met with a captain who sank to the floor on his ship, all of his passengers escaped to safety, but he was not done with his trip.” The melody is haunting, and it shimmers, it’s as close to sounding like the bottom of the sea floor as I can imagine. Mac discusses struggles with getting his message across to his listeners, as cryptic and complicated as it is, “these puzzles are so hard to make into pictures of something that they’ll understand, they could open their eyes but be blind to the beauty.” The most shocking thing about this song, in my opinion, is the imagery, the story he tells is so vivid it deserves all the authenticity he gives it. He closes the song with another quote from Tim Leary “think for yourself, don’t accept something because an authority tells you to, think for yourself and you’ll find that a lot of those so-called authorities, are bullshit.”


The last song I’ll mention from this mixtape is 'New Faces V2'. It’s a complete track, with a mellow shaky beat comprised of a piano and organ riff and a kick drum, and features from Earl Sweatshirt and Da$h. Mac talks about the ugly side of his appetites and their effect on his life “all my life I’ve been afraid of powder, all my life I’ve been afraid of power where did all that go?” He talks about the influx of false friends that comes with influence, “look at all these new faces, I see, I see, I see, they comin on the plane, but they leavin in suitcases.” This project is heavy, Malcolm dove deep into his own problems to bring them to the surface and articulate them. However, that kind of honesty helps to dull the edge of our issues as listeners, and it sheds light on our shadows, revealing them in a new and beautiful light, not quite as scary as before.


The fourth studio album released by Miller. It was released on September 16, 2016 by REMember Music and Warner Records.

The Divine Feminine



The Divine Feminine builds off a lot of the ideas Malcolm expressed in You and his other works. The album is made up of love songs, largely aimed at looking into the female divinity, it puts women on a pedestal more completely and honestly than most have the courage to express. The record is jazzy with swelling melodies, like You it feels like Mac is lounge singing, rather than rapping. The album opens with 'Congratulations', a subtle song with a tentative piano riff and lyrics that are closer to spoken word than raps. The song is affectionate and innocent, the writing is Bob Dylan esque, sweet rhymes about a girl who isn’t around anymore. “See a love like mine is too good to be true, you remind me of the color blue.”


The fifth song on the album 'Cinderella', with an intro and hook from Ty Dolla Sign feels like new infatuation, the time with someone when everything is too new to go wrong. The song discusses the frustration with being young, not taken seriously, “man I swear the parents don’t understand, you ain’t gotta be old to be a man.” The last verse of the song slows down with an echoey piano riff and a jazz guitar, “I got angels, no more Satan, looks like God’s on my side this time. I have been meaning to tell you, you look better every day… if it’s forever or never it’s all the same. Under the weather, feel much better when that weather isn’t rain.”


The final song on the album is 'God is Fair, Sexy Nasty'. The track completes Mac’s exploration into the female identity of god, and the existence of that deity in all women. The lyrics are poetic, putting his whole heart on the table for a girl he believes will protect him from the darkness of his mind and the world, “hold on tight when demons come, it’ll be alright, no need to run, stay with me tonight, we’ll see the sun, and when we wake up early we’ll still be drunk. Never felt this free before, I need you more than keys need doors, I need you sleeping next to me. The blankets sheets, I’ll take them all and keep you warm.” The most interesting thing about this song is the features, Kendrick Lamar... and... Malcolm’s grandmother. The song and album close with a story from Mac’s grandmother, about how she met his grandfather, set to a light piano riff. This album is honest in a way very few artists accomplish. Mac wore his heart on his sleeve and offered a look at what love meant to him.


Swimming is the fifth studio album by Miller and last album to be released during his lifetime. It was released on August 3, 2018, by REMember Music and Warner Records.

Swimming



Whatever demons Malcolm began to battle on Macadelic, he seemed to come to terms with on Swimming. The album consists of symphonic melodies, swelling orchestral pieces, and contemplative piano and guitar riffs. Mac is a co-producer on the album, under the name Larry Fisherman. The project features musicians such as Thundercat and John Meyer, strengthening the fabric of the music. Swimming is more than a rap album, it is a composition, and beautifully done. The opening song, 'Come Back to Earth', is mellow and introspective, and grows brighter as it progresses. It feels like coming up for air after struggling to tread water for a very long time, “I was drowning but now I’m swimming.” He seems to lounge in a newfound appreciation for being alive, “and you know sunshine don’t feel right, when you inside all day. I wish it was nice out, but it looks like rain. Gray skies and I’m drifting, not living forever, they told me it only gets better.”


The fifth song on the album, 'Self Care', seems to be a moment of change for Malcolm, a promise to not abuse himself anymore, to dig himself out of his hole and put his life first. The music video features a Kill Bill inspired coffin scene, and a beautiful and abrupt cinematic change, coinciding with the change in tone in the song. He rises from his grave with the statement “I didn’t know what I was missing, now I see a little different, I was thinking too much, got stuck in oblivion.” He seems to make peace with his own mortality, “I’ve got all the time in the world, for now I’m just chillin, plus I know it’s a beautiful feeling in oblivion.” The song after 'Self Care' is 'Wings', and it carries a similar theme. It feels like Malcolm is taking a breath, comprehending what it will mean to go on living, what it will mean to make his peace. “I got a bone to pick like roses, I ain’t feelin broken no more,” “moving so fast that the clock look slow, water my seeds till the flower just grow, yeah, love so much that my heart get broke, I don’t really know how this normal shit go, so I guess I’ll just play it by ear.”


The second to last song on the album is '2009', and my favorite. It begins with a string section swelling triumphantly, then fading away and leaving room for a simple, but elegant piano piece. Malcolm looks back at a time in his life when he was hustling, by any means necessary, and not always in the right way, to make an impact. He comes to terms with his own shadows, and the hardships he’s encountered, “sometimes I wish I took a simpler route, instead of having demons that’s as big as my house,” but “I ain’t asking why no more.” “You gotta jump in, to swim,” and Mac seems to finally be coming up for air. He promises, to himself, “I don’t need to lie no more, nowadays all I do is shine, take a breath and ease my mind,” “now everyday I wake up and breathe, I don’t have it all, but that’s alright with me.” “Yeah they ask me what I’m smiling for, it’s cuz I’ve never felt this high before.” Mac closes the album with the song, 'So it goes', like a skip out the door, accepting the past and vowing to never look back.


REMember Love if you don’t REMember me


Every artist goes through a progression, few creative people remain the same year to year. However, not many people have created a portfolio like Malcolm. Mac didn’t just develop over time, he grew up, at the start of his career he was a wide-eyed kid rapping about clowning around and skipping school, and he gave myself and so many other songs to help us appreciate that freedom. Then he began to look at the world and dig deeper, becoming more profound and eloquent, honing his artistry every project. Malcolm improved, growing as a person and a creative every single work he produced, and that is very rare. He stepped into his shoes as an introspective poet, a philosopher, and someone searching ceaselessly for the answers the world wouldn’t offer up on its own. He battled his own demons and in doing so, helped many of us to battle our own. He crossed genres, never constraining himself to one persona, sound, or idea. He covered the entire range of emotions, from lust to love to loss, from happiness to hate, and everything in between. He asked questions that very few people have the courage to ask.


What’s truly crazy is that I mentioned eight projects, not even half of his portfolio. There are over a dozen more available, and supposedly many other unreleased works. He was only 26. His commitment to his art is stunning, he lived and breathed music, exploring every possible sound he could, and always looking to push the boundaries of his work. He put his entire being into his music and you can hear it. He was himself, as truthfully and openly as he could be. The best art is honest art, and Malcolm’s is as good as it gets. Rest easy Mac, the slide is still blue.


Malcolm’s is as good as it gets. Rest easy Mac, the slide is still blue.

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