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Miller's death, at the young age of 26, recontextualized his lyrics and breathed new life into them. Even an entire year later, his music has a social and emotional impact that continues to evolve with every listen.

For most, being trapped in a wooden coffin would cause a fit of unsteady breathing, heightened heart rate, and an urge to cry out for help. But for one musical artist, this feeling of constriction was nothing out of the ordinary.

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Model, Ryan Nelson, submerged.

Malcolm James McCormick, better known as Mac Miller, was more than a talented lyricist. The Pittsburgh-native rapper lived an inspiring, down-to-earth, yet troubled life that ended all too soon. In his mind, a battle between light and dark was constantly being fought and he struggled to find solace anywhere in the middle. Buried 6 feet under the ground, he used music, among other things, as a way to escape to the surface; he would do anything for a way out of his head. This dichotomy of his deepest, darkest thoughts and the light-hearted, playful rhymes that carry throughout his discography are what made Mac Miller’s music so distinct.

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Photography by Logan Howell

For the extent of his musical career, Miller fought to stay afloat in a pool of instability and anxiety; yet, his successes and influence in the musical scene are representative of his true dedication and passion for music. With the release of his fifth and final studio album, titled Swimming, Miller reached an expansive audience compiled of long-time fans, recent discoverers, and most importantly, a vast number of people who could relate to the extreme range of emotions written into the lyrics. As the number of people affected by depression, anxiety, and general insecurity continues to rise, the stories told in this album provide a sense of comfort to so many people looking for openness surrounding the subject. Locally, Oregon has been reported as having the highest prevalence of mental illness in the US, with more than 22 percent of the population diagnosed with a mental illness (Mental Health America, 2017). Figures like these are extremely alarming and should be a sign that the conversation surrounding mental health needs to change in order to allow people to speak openly about their experiences and get connected to the right resources. 

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Photography by Logan Howell

With the discovery of Miller’s death in September of last year, fellow musicians and fans alike mourned the loss of the prolific, inspiring artist by paying their respects to the uninhibited work Miller created throughout his career. A month after he passed, close friends and collaborators such as Vince Staples, Anderson Paak, and Earl Sweatshirt, among many others, performed a sold-out tribute concert in his honor. While Miller himself may be gone, to many, his legacy continues to live on through his lyrics. As GQ eloquently describes Miller’s timeless style and contagious charisma, “[His] music wasn’t so much a reflection of our lives so much as it was a model.” 

In hindsight, Miller’s death rearticulated the social and emotional impact his music truly possesses. The unrest that once inhabited the mind of a young musician can now be understood from a new perspective and will unquestionably continue to resonate with listeners for years to come.  

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