Mac Miller – “2009”

I can’t listen to this without feeling a tightness in my chest.

The death of Mac Miller two weeks ago was a real shock. The world lost a decent human being who was trying to find his way, and hip-hop lost a figure who was steadily rising with his vulnerability and earnestness. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Miller came onto the scene around the start of the decade hungry to make it as a rapper, and while he was initially written off by listeners for his derivative styles and amateurish tracks, he worked hard to gain respect, genuinely befriending other artists, guesting on tracks here and there, and refining his music. Starting with his 2012 mixtape Macadelic and his 2013 debut record Watching Movies with the Sound Off Miller really begun to define himself, opting for more introspective songs which dived into his anxieties, failed relationships, addictions, and more. His sound and outlook matured, and Miller really began to tap into something meaningful. He was progressing, and it’s fascinating to see how he grew over the course of his discography. His 2016 effort The Divine Feminine was terrific, a candid, fun, and sexy celebration of women and relationships. It was the record that made me take notice, and from there I wanted to see where Miller would go next.

Last month Miller put out Swimming, a smooth and poignant exploration of his life in 2018, especially in the wake of breaking up with his long-time girlfriend, Ariana Grande. The record is reflective, emotional, and just a tad bit uplifting, as Mac mentions from the first track that he’s now learned to swim, when before it felt like he was drowning. Swimming is the sound of Miller picking up the pieces and moving forward, championing self-care, acceptance, and taking things one step at a time. Things are far from perfect, but he feels more more assured than ever, and he’s learning to weather the storm. Hearing him finding and increasing his inner peace makes it all the more sad that he never got to continue progressing, both in his life and in his music. Mac Miller was building up to something really great.

“2009” is a tough track to listen to. Over a doleful, solemn beat, Miller reflects on his past, talking about his struggles with addiction and despair, and how he still grapples with the storm inside. He mentions that it ain’t 2009, he ain’t a kid anymore, and there’s so much more life to live and so much to lose. There’s a quiet sadness to this song which feels all the more striking in the wake of his passing, and it’s one of the album’s rawest and most affecting moments.

Rest easy, Mac.