Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland, Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vincent van Gogh, Charles Bukowski — these are just some of the legendary people who, from their misery, breathed cosmic marvel and wisdom into their art. And now, not quite a year and a half after famed rapper Mac Miller died of an accidental drug overdose, his 12-track album, Circles, haunts the heart with its tragic beauty.
The album, released Jan. 17, is the posthumous accompaniment to Malcolm James McCormick’s 2019 album Swimming. Analysis and speculation of each song on Circles already floods the internet, so I won’t dissect the album’s themes of isolation and self-realization. I’ll also avoid analyzing his sobering yet vigorous evolution of style and instrumentals. I’ll stay clear of rambling about the warm crooning of his voice, the familiar charm and electricity of his flow and the controversy surrounding any posthumous publication.
Rather, I want to focus on who Mac Miller was — someone who greatly impacted my life, and so many other teens, with his seemingly touchable vulnerability and raw emotion. To quote Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, a famous tragedy of a similarly ambitious man struggling with mental illness, “attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.”
Mac’s honesty uproots superficiality of fame and fortune, and gives listeners permission to acknowledge and wrestle with their own demons. Mac’s pain is tenderly communicated without asking for pity; nonetheless, I still found myself wanting to hold his hand — or rather for his hand to hold mine.
But to wish for a painless life for Mac would be to negate the beauty and the hope he derived from his experiences.
The album is in many ways a spiritual profile, a declaration of an ever-evolving self, a tonic of self-discovery, an empowered but exhausted ownership of his sufferings. It’s a humanizing lamentation of a humble kid from Pittsburgh who just needed a way out.
He spits, dances and croons into the deep nooks and crannies of his mind. The melodies move and groove through the soul, embedding themselves into the very chambers of the heart reserved for our most raw love and our scariest demons. People are able to find solace and strength through the artist’s experiences, as they do with most legends.
Mac’s artistic evolution encompasses the fullness of his experiences. He can make you appreciate the nostalgia of our youth, he can possess bodies to lose themselves to dance, he can be the songbird of love and sensuality. And with Swimming and Circles, you can share whatever loneliness you have with him, knowing you aren’t actually alone after all.
From the time Mac entered the hip-hop scene in 2007 until the day he died, we learned, celebrated, loved, suffered and grew with Mac. And with albums like Swimming and Circles, and whatever albums might surface in years to come, we know the life of his music, his legacy, will never die.