TMZ is reporting that Malcolm James McCormick, known to the wider rap word as Mac Miller, has died. TMZ is reporting the death as a suspected overdose; Miller had previously written extensively in his music about his struggles with substance abuse.
Self-taught, Miller released his first mixtape when he was just fifteen, rapping under the name EZ Mac. Battling it out in Pittsburgh MC competitions and courting the attention of rap record labels, Miller carved out a name for himself on a wider scale for the first time in 2010, with the consistently sold-out Incredibly Dope Tour. Audiences responded to Miller’s throwback style and love for the sounds of golden-age hip-hop, propelling his follow-up EPs into the public consciousness, and his 2011 debut album, Blue Slide Park, to the top of the Billboard charts—a rarity for a rapper working in the independent label sphere.
By the next year, Miller’s rising trajectory was firmly established, building huge anticipation around his music videos, launching big-deal iTunes exclusives, and even suffering through the now-seemingly-inevitable lawsuit over an allegedly uncleared sample on his mixtape track “Kool-Aid and Frozen Pizza.” Miller ultimately released five full studio albums across his now-truncated career, all to (mostly) positive reviews, even as he made the move from indie label Rostrum Records to a deal with Warner Bros. Just last month, he released Swimming, a confident set of tracks that found him placidly rapping his way through a variety of his public personas.
But while his artistic life was thriving, Miller was reportedly struggling with the expected pressures of the “rising star” narrative. In 2013, he talked openly about using codeine to overcome the stresses of touring, and, earlier this year, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence. Just yesterday, Vulture ran an anxiety-flecked profile of him, as he reflected on the struggles to maintain control of his public persona, especially after a career of rapping about many of his darkest, most personal problems:
I used to rap super openly about really dark shit. Because that’s what I was experiencing at the time. That’s fine, that’s good, that’s life. It should be all the emotions.
(He was also apparently a big fan of comedian Garry Shandling, quoting the recent HBO special about his life: “He was always writing the words, ‘Just be Garry.’ ‘Just be Garry.’ And that shit struck a chord with me because that’s the goal, to get better and to try to make this shit the most of a reflection of who I am.”)
The bitter irony here is that Miller’s career gave every indication of being able to go the distance—the planned-for “long game”, as the Vulture piece painfully notes. He had weathered the early growing pains and occasional pan (Pitchfork famously gave Blue Slide Park a rarely seen 1.0 review), and seemed to have found a workable balance between innovation and finding a stable, workable sound for his art.
Miller was 26.