Malcolm McCormick, the rapper known to the world as Mac Miller, was born to entertain. Not long after XXL named him to their annual "Freshman Class" alongside heavy hitters like Kendrick Lamar, Miller assembled a body of work revered for its honesty and complexity - with lyrics drawn from his own, honest experiences from his upbringing in Pittsburgh, PA to his struggles with substance abuse that led to his passing in 2018.
Writer Craig Jenkins, who penned illuminating profiles on the rapper, remembered him a year after his death as "the smartest person in any room, not necessarily letting on to how he’s feeling. Down-to-earth, but guarded." Though the object of much interest in the mainstream after a nearly two-year relationship with pop singer Ariana Grande from 2016 to 2018, he never strayed from who he was as an artist - and fans loved him dearly for it.
In honor of his incredible life and career, here's five of his biggest songs to introduce you into Mac's world.
"Weekend" (feat. Miguel, 2015)
Miller's breakthrough major-label debut GO:OD AM is a killer way to discover his music: woozy verses over a swaying instrumental featuring dissonant piano, trumpets and a stumbling rhythm. Miller's struggles in the song - girl trouble, insomnia and aimlessness - evaporate with the carefree hook, featuring smooth vocals by R&B singer Miguel. The split between the verses and chorus was intentional: "The verses are downers and then the hook brings you back up," he told Genius.
"Self Care" (2018)
This spacey two-part track from 2018's Swimming was seemingly directly inspired by a lot of Mac's personal problems, but Miller told Jenkins that looks can be deceiving. "These themes will just connect because of, maybe, a state of mind I was in," he said, noting the similarities between the lyrics and a real DUI arrest that happened months before the album's release. "I made that song way before the s--t went down. But it's still, the s--t just connects. You just have to get out of your own way, and everything will just connect for itself."
"Dang!" (feat. Anderson Paak, 2016)
A poppy, funk-flavored track from The Divine Feminine, a song cycle about romance, "Dang!" bounces on hip-shaking horn lines and a deceptive vocal hook by singer/rapper Anderson Paak that was actually used differently than recorded. "Anderson wrote this for people that passed away in his life," Miller explained of the refrain. "I was like, 'Would you be okay if I made this a love song?'"
"Good News" (2020)
Mac's honesty resonated with his fan base, even when he wasn't around. "Good News," a track from 2020's posthumous Circles, was a whole mood, addressing the weight of personal struggles that anyone could identify with. "So tired of being so tired," Mac states, trading in his laconic flow for a singsong vocal. "Why I gotta build something beautiful just to set it on fire?" An unanswerable question, but a track millions identified with; it remains his biggest chart hit.
"My Favorite Part" (feat. Ariana Grande, 2016)
A good chunk of pop audiences discovered Mac through his girlfriend, hitmaker Ariana Grande, after he guested on her Top 10 hit "The Way" in 2013. The pair toast to the strength of love on the track, but Miller insisted that their life imitated art, not the other way around. “I wrote that love song before I saw her. We’re very good friends first and foremost,” Miller told People after its release. “We made that song and started becoming close again. It’s very dope and I like how that worked out.” While their love didn't last, Grande gave him an emotional dedication in the 2018 chart-topper "Thank U, Next."