Luke Walsh ’19
On September 7, 2018, Pittsburgh native Mac Miller tragically passed away at the young age of 26 due to a suspected drug overdose. In the wake of his death, the outpour of love and respect for the late rapper proves that while Mac might no longer be with us, his personality and creativity will live on through his music for years to come. I never met Mac, so I cannot speak on the man’s personal struggles with addiction; however, understanding and analyzing the beautiful last album of his career, “Swimming”, might be the best way for fans to get insight into his struggles and say goodbye.
The album opens with “Come Back to Earth,” which depicts Mac in his house hoping to get out of his own head and leave his home, but there is something in the way that won’t let him leave. It is the perfect opener, articulating that Mac knows he must battle with the demons in his head to live a normal life, but does not want to accept this task as it is obviously painful. This sets the tone for the rest of the album as he struggles with addiction. Sonically, the world of “Swimming” combines the darker side of Mac Miller audiences heard on “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” or “Faces” and the dreamy Mac we saw on “The Divine Feminine” as the piano and synths in the background harken back to his previous albums despite the more serious setting. “Hurt Feelings” addresses the changes in his life, which he has always battled with, but this time accepts that he continues to lie to himself with the line,“I’m always saying I won’t change, but I ain’t the same / Everything is different, I can’t complain.” Here, the maturity of Mac Miller is truly remarkable, and it is evident that he has grown significantly in the past few years. “What’s the Use?” demonstrates Mac’s uncanny ability to create an undoubtedly catchy jazz rhythm from start to finish with clever lines like, “Okay, we’re colder than the breeze, but the breeze ain’t flowing like me,” or, “ I’m so above and beyond you take drugs to make it up/ Way up where we on, space shuttle, Elon.” Here, Mac proves that he has grown to become a clever lyricist as well as one of the most diverse and strongest producers in Hip- Hop.
“Perfecto” and “Self Care” both pertain to Mac’s desire to take care of himself and come to terms with his inner demons. The hook on “Perfecto” repeats: “On the surface I look so fine, but really I’m buggin’ baby, makin’ something out of nothing,” and demonstrates Mac’s ability to open up ever so slightly in a desperate, hidden plea for aid, which begs the question if anyone was truly listening to him. “Self Care” marks the first time that Mac insists that everything will be alright, but there are continuous doubts throughout the song that make the hook, “We gonna be alright,” lack confidence. This self-doubt continues on “Wings,” with the line, “I’d put some money on forever, but I don’t like to gamble on the weather,” which reflects both Mac’s desire to overcome his demons and the pain that comes with facing those demons on a daily basis. “Ladders” is another reference to drugs: “Somehow we gotta find a way/No matter how many miles it takes/I know it feels so good right now/But it all comes fallin’ down/When the night, meet the light/ Turn to day.” Here it is clear Mac understands that drugs are merely a quick escape from the pain – once the next day comes and the high is gone, he is back to square one. However, that struggle to overcome both addiction and battle his demons continues to haunt him.
This struggle with addiction is amplified on the next song, “Small Worlds,” where Mac finds himself, “Building up a wall ‘til it break.” His self-deprecation is also seen with the idea that he doesn’t want to keep whoever he is speaking to waiting for him to get better. In other words, they go on without him. “Conversations Pt. 1,” “Dunno” and “Jet Fuel” involve Mac coming to terms with himself and understanding that he must accept addiction as a part of him do in order to get over his depression. Miller does not need to constantly battle within himself in order to find inner peace. He makes a great call back to “Small Worlds” on “Jet Fuel” with the line, “And I ain’t calling it quits, you can build a wall with your bricks,” demonstrating that Mac no longer needs to hide his demons, his troubles or himself from the world anymore.
“2009” starts off with a luscious violin and piano, and is quite honestly one of the most beautiful introductions to a song I have ever heard. The chorus then proceeds with some of the most tear jerking lines of the year both in and out of context: “I don’t need to lie no more/ nowadays all I do is shine/take a breath and ease my mind.” These lines are delivered with such rawness that it feels as if we have just experienced a man finally realize his self-worth right in front of our eyes. “I ain’t askin’ ‘why?’ no more,” continues to assert that Mac has come to terms with his inner demons, and the closing line, “Yeah, I know what’s behind that door,” should be a powerful outlook at the end of the song, but now is merely chilling.
“So it Goes” is Mac’s comeback song where he insists he’s back from his battle within himself and ready to take on the world. He is ready to go outside and experience the world. We have grown with Mac throughout the album, and even though we saw a battered man in “Come Back To Earth,” the end of the album shows a mature, thriving man on his way to self-acceptance. However, viewing the song in the context of Miller’s death, “So it Goes” is a heartbreaking track that demonstrates the potential Mac had both as an artist and as a person. The artist seemed to be doing his best to work through his problems and truly love himself. But instead, life has taken away another young soul desperate to escape addition. His final words in music should be that of triumph, but rather, they are a chilling goodbye that leaves us with a haunting message on life after loss, “so it goes.”
Photo Courtesy of Ticket News