“Mac’s legacy will always be his music.”
For the people who knew Mac Miller, it’s tough imagining a world without him.
There’s rarely a person who utters his name without also talking about his smile, his passion, his personality, his sense of humor. Most of all, it seems that Mac Miller made the people around him feel loved in one way or another.
“We first met through a mutual friend in our late middle school years. I remember him so vividly because he came over with a guitar in-hand and performed the whole night for all his companions,” recalls Hadley Armstrong, a childhood friend of Miller’s who spoke to the Pittsburgh Current in the wake of the hip-hop stars sudden death Sept. 7 at his california home. “Malcolm lit up every room he walked into. I immediately was drawn towards his warm personality, astonishing charisma, and his uncontrollable passion for sharing music.
“He carried his guitar with him everywhere he went, played the piano and drums at every opportunity, and would make up rhymes and jingles for everyone he met. He loved music and it oozed out of him as if he couldn’t contain it. I don’t think it was a shock to anyone that the whole world discovered and adored his talent.”
Miller, born Malcolm James McCormick on Jan. 19, 1992, made music a part of his life almost from the beginning. The artist, who scored big with records like Blue Slide Park, K.I.D.S., Watching Movies With the Sound Off, The Divine Feminine and last month’s Swimming, seemed destined to it at an early age.
James Armstead Brown remembers Miller as the 16-year-old rapper who came to compete at one of is “Hip Hop Calisthenics” shows. The format of the show saw the performers spin a wheel and then perform a specific freestyle task.
“Mac’s technical ability and star power quickly became obvious to all of us who watched him execute these difficult challenges as a teenager,” Brown says. “At that early age he had a knack for timing and could construct thematic punchlines on the spot. He represented everything we set out to accomplish with Rhyme Calisthenics; making hip-hop fun and creative while showcasing the true complexity of the craft.”
DJ Bonics, a former Pittsburgh radio DJ, best known for working as Wiz Khalifa’s DJ, has fond memories of Mac Miller hanging around and in late 2009 or early 2010. He was the first person to play Miller on the radio.
“It was right after Live Free came out. He had my attention and I asked him to come to the radio station and we chopped it up. I told him that I would play his song on the radio the following Friday,” Bonics recalls. “I gave him the specific time that it would play, midnight. It was a pre-recorded show so something funny happened with the automation and Mac’s song started playing at the same time a Rihanna song was playing.
“It made that first time memorable to say the least. But to me those things are just a sign of great things to come.”
Later in 2010, Mac asked DJ Bonics to provide scratches for the K.I.D.S. mixtape. He did and Miller later came to the station, 96.1 Kiss FM, and dropped the mix on Ustream from the station.
“We will never forget that day. That tape changed his life.”
Pittsburgh native and hip-hop artist Kellee Maize says she remembers booking a very young Mac Miller for a small, private event. She remembers he “had such great stage presence even then. Many years later I hadn’t seen him in a long time and went back stage at his sold-out show at Stage AE. It was like nothing changed. He was still such a sweet, kind and humble person despite the fame. He was truly a genius and an inspiration. It’s so incredibly sad that he is gone and won’t make more music, but his legacy and music will live on forever.”
Photographer Laura Petrilla met Miller around 2015 in State College when Miller was touring with fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa. She rode with the duo to the show and was allowed to hang back stage and chronicle the moment.
“He was such a gentle soul and so enjoyable to share space with,” Petrilla says. “He seriously wore a smile on his face the whole time. I loved that his mom and brother were there supporting him, among others. He came from great roots and it showed; he truly had such a wonderful spirit.
This is a heavy loss for sure. I think the personal impact he had on people is defining this moment as so tragic.”
Although no cause of death has yet to be released, many are speculating that Miller died of a drug overdose. Miller was not without his demons, friend’s concede, but while media outlets continue to parrot the same lines over and over, Mac Miller was more than just an entry on Wikipedia. He was a man that few would argue was a gifted musician and larger-than-life personality who would do whatever he could to help other struggling artists realize their dreams the way that he did.
Emmai Alaquiva, producer and founder of the youth education program Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. and a recent appointee to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, met Mac Miller through the stars work with kids in the program. He calls Miller one of the “most dynamic souls that ever occupied this planet.”
“His keen ability to wrap around your personality regardless of what mode you were in was unmatched,” Alaquiva says. “When you met Malcolm, you know what you were getting; a fun loving soul that was a superhero. That’s what he was to me and to many around the world.
“He was a superhero. That’s what he was to me and to many around the world.”
Ryan Haynes, who performs professionally as DJ Afterthought, spoke to the Current just a few hours after Miller’s death on Sept. 7. While he was emotional, he was also very clear in how he believes Miller’s life and legacy should be remembered.
“He was the underdog who made his dream happen and then helped many more of us realize ours,” Haynes says. “He was a positive light. He never let his smile down, even in dark times. I want people to listen to his music, listen to what he said and remember him that way. He was loved.”
Adds DJ Bonics: “Mac’s legacy will always be his music. He never sold out. Never cared to be cool he just wanted to do music how he wanted to. Thousands of “KIDS” grew up with Mac. They saw someone just like themselves make his mark in music. And that in turn influenced a generation. His legacy will be his music. And he left us with so much that he will always live forever.”