Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer
Pittsburgh-born rapper Mac Miller, whose new album Swimming was released in August, died Friday Sept. 7 from an apparent overdose. Awaiting more details, fans and fellow artists are left wondering why.
During his lifetime, Miller released five albums from 2011 to 2018, and many critics and fans alike noted the diversity in his style from project to project.
Miller was a rare breed in the rap genre because he produced most of his beats, but still managed to find new influences by going back to the past, with artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast and Lauryn Hill among his biggest inspirations.
Through his throwback style, he managed to make the Billboard Hot 100 on five occasions with “The Way,” “Loud,” “Smile Back,” “Frick Park Market” and “Party on Fifth Ave.”
The city of Pittsburgh is no stranger to the rap genre, or the death of notable rappers like Jimmy Wopo in recent months.
While many can see on their Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds the heartbreak for the average fan, for up-and-coming rappers in the city of Pittsburgh, the heartbreak is of another dimension.
Patrick Shields, known as Rapper Pat, was one person who looked up to Mac Miller as a role model. He was thrilled to have been able to meet the Alderdice alumnus once in his life even if it was only for a quick photo.
“It’ll affect every musician in the genre and plus many other genres,” Shields said. “People will start listening to lyrics and analyzing them. They won’t just hear lyrics, they will listen to them. It’s going to make people realize hard drugs are dangerous and if you need any mental [help] reach out to your friends and family. Get high with knowledge, not heroin or anything like that. Life is fragile.”
Troy Johnson, a rapper in the group Abstract Theory, also believes the loss is more than just to Pittsburgh, but to the rap genre as a whole.
“Mac Miller is a symbol of change. Always evolving sonically, Mac Miller gave direction to the Pittsburgh rap scene and personally as someone who began listening to Mac in high school I’ve been able to grow with him,” Johnson said.
Another Pittsburgh rapper, Harrison LeVicky, aka R.A.P. Tektonics, who has a style that is inspired by the throwback hip-hop attitude portrayed by Mac Miller during his rise to fame, thinks the rapper’s passing will have similar implications for the city of Pittsburgh.
“I think it means a lot for the city of Pittsburgh. This was a major loss for everyone. I think it means that everyone will get strength off it, meaning that if you work on music, you’ll go harder. If you’re trying to get off drugs you’ll try so much [more] to get off them,” Levicky said. “It opens your eyes. This could happen to anybody, anywhere. Life is fragile, and I think Pittsburgh has learned that.”
JP Pitt, a member of the local hip-hop duo BBGuns, believes this to be a giant blow to artists hoping to make it in the music industry.
“I think it affects all of our morale, but he was providing a lot of opportunities, and connected with various people across the [music] scene more than we realize,” Pitt said.
While drug addiction awareness seems to be the major takeaway from the death of Mac Miller, what the rappers can agree on is that their love for Mac will never fade.
“I followed Mac Miller from day one. As an aspiring artist myself in the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, this was a shock to me. Personally, it’s a sad day for hip-hop and I hope to one day take what I’ve learned from his story and write my own story for people to share and relate to,” LeVicky said.
“He was my idol, I looked up to him. I had dreams of sharing the stage and making songs in the studio with him. I haven’t listened to anybody but him since he passed. I felt like he was part of my family even though he had no idea who I was,” Shields said.
While some would argue illicit drug use and rap music go hand in hand, conversations will be had in the coming months, and possibly years, about how to approach the topic. Already, with Demi Lovato, a discussion on addiction has been started in the mainstream.
As Shields observed, some may look at Miller’s rhymes differently now that this tragedy has happened. This closer look is something that happened to Nirvana and Linkin Park after the deaths of frontmen Kurt Cobain and Chester Bennington, respectively. The music takes on a different meaning, but perhaps foreshadowing may have already been there.
However, if there is one thing anyone should take away from this sudden and tragic passing, it is: life is fragile. No matter how young you are or how tough you believe yourself to be, sometimes help is needed.