Seven years ago, a scrawny half-Jewish kid-rapper from Pittsburgh had the best-selling record in America. He earned it by gurning and grinning his way through verses that made sense to the underage drinkers who packed out his shows on college campuses, then laying those rhymes over palatable, poppy beats. Born Malcolm McCormick, he was exuberant, hedonistic, hard-working, confident, lyrically messy, and totally unprepared for the future.
But most of us won’t remember Mac Miller, who died yesterday at the age of 26, for Blue Slide Park, his 2011 debut album—even if it was the first independently released LP to rise to the top of the charts since Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food in 1995. Most radio stations won’t play his buoyant-but-sloppy early mixtapes, the ones that gained him a cult crowd in the first place—and the withering critical response to his early output will barely be a footnote to his legacy.
Instead, we’ll remember him as a dextrous rapper, a powerfully candid lyricist, a meticulous and original producer, an obsessive musician, and an unlikely master of the album format at a time when everyone thought the album was a thing of the past. Where so many artists responded to criticism by lashing out, turning in, or continuing to hack away at the same stale style, Mac Miller learned, grew, and evolved. He became one of hip-hop’s most magnetic presences, an unlikely star who, alongside his friends in Odd Future and The Internet, would prod at the mainstream from the gooey edges. Even Jay-Z gave him a pass. When Miller said he wanted to move people with his music, he meant it. As he grew up (and he grew up fast), he succeeded.
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