Mac Miller was a 26 year old recording artist. He had just released his fifth album, “Swimming,” and was set to start touring in about a month.
On September 7th he was found unresponsive in his home in Studio City, California.
Miller was a singer, rapper, musician, as well as a producer. In addition to his own five albums, “Blue Slide Park,” “Watching Movies With The Sound Off,” “GO:ODAM,” “The Divine Feminine,” and “Swimming,” he entirely produced Vince Staples 2013 mixtape “Stolen Youth,” along with credits on work by SZA, Ab-Soul, Lil B, and more. He was a creative force, constantly pushing his boundaries. What began as an easy going “frat-rap” oriented style of song evolved, with “Swimming,” into an examination of the longings of the self.
It was no secret that Miller had past issues with substance abuse and has admitted addiction to drugs in the past, expressed in his lyrics and even interviews. The information had been public–yet no one expected his overdose. Was it because he was at the peak of success? Was it because, as mentioned in his song “Self Care,” he was “treatin’ [himself] right?”
In modern, popular hip hop music, where drugs are romanticized without a second thought, the more unexpected phenomenon should be how we continually allow ourselves to be shocked by stories of artists overdosing. That is not to say that all hip-hop music is littered with obscenities and drug fueled lyrics; however, the public indifference and nonchalance towards the way drug habits and addictions are portrayed in popular hip hop is a cause for concern. Take Future’s hit from a year ago, “Mask Off,” where the entire hook consists of just listing names of pills. Considering lyrics like Lil Pump’s “Drug Addicts,” “Whole gang full of drug addicts…I ain’t gon’ lie, I got a habit…Take a lot of drugs, don’t think twice, I do this every day and all night,” how can we not say this is a real problem? Some would say that Lil Pump has built his image on his over-glamorized portrayal of drugs, appealing to the mainstream youth with these catchy, romanticized lyrics.
That is not to say that the key is to censor drugs out of all music. Some rappers take songs about drugs to a personal level and make them testaments to their struggles and battles. Take Brockhampton’s Ameer Vann–he had a grittiness, a realness to his lyrics. He rapped about drugs in a different manner than the rest of today’s pop artists; he was honest about his past as an addict and dealer, and he used that backstory as material for his art.
“I got some demons in me, and they been feeding’ on me, when I sold prescriptions, and my pill addiction…” he raps on “2PAC.”
It seems as though pop culture has bred rather hypocritical listeners. When an artist who struggles with addiction passes away from an overdose, the world laments the tragic death of an artist, a visionary–and rightly so. But no one takes the time to consider that when an person lives that kind of drug-oriented lifestyle, profits from it, and is hailed as an artist, the abuse of drugs can only be expected. This manner of thinking is not solving the problem at hand, which is the normalization of drug abuse specifically targeted at youth. Hip-hop has to choose a side: it can’t, in good conscience, continue to sell out from condoning drug abuse and still mourn the passing of someone like Mac Miller, who struggled with the same issue that is being celebrated.
We need to either accept that if we glamorize the prevalent use of drugs in modern music, there will be lives lost, or move against it and establish no tolerance for the glamorization of drugs in music.