Mac Miller was a person worth knowing, even to those who never met him

When I heard Mac Miller had passed away, the first thing I did was go to his artist page on my phone and hit shuffle. As I emotionally cycled through his entire catalog in random order, I was reminded of the dramatic artistic reinvention he underwent from project to project.

Mac was a rare artist: there seemingly wasn’t a single insincere moment in his entire discography.

Any artist who manages to carve out a career as long as Mac’s in hip hop is going to need to evolve to some degree to stay relevant. But no rapper of this generation, or perhaps any generation, evolved as rapidly and continuously as Mac Miller.

His lyrical style was something like a boxer throwing endless jabs. He would wear you down with a constant string of simple, on-the-nose sentences and punchlines that became highly impressive and poignant when put together.

He rarely used double entendres, metaphors or complex rhyme schemes. He didn’t need them to be lyrical.

Instead, he was able to do something few human beings can do: translate complex, internal emotions and feelings into actual words. Even if you couldn’t relate to his struggles, you could feel them.

“I’m more than what I think of myself, I really have to be/Sit at home and drink by myself, my thoughts harassing me/Actually as a matter of fact, she ain’t gettin’ back to me/A shame that my tragedy, my masterpiece,” Miller raps on the song Funeral off his mixtape “Faces.”

Even if you juxtapose some song titles throughout Miller’s career without context, they tell a sad story.

In 2010, he was 18 years old and made a song called “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza.” In 2014, 22-year old Mac had a song called “Angel Dust.” And earlier this year, at 26, he had a song called “Self-Care.”

Armed with an innate likability, Miller’s 2011 debut album Blue Slide Park became the first independent debut album to reach №1 on the Billboard charts in 16 years. Just 19 years old at the time, Miller had picked up immense popularity among high school students for his simplistic, party-centric music. Most people would have rode that wave of popularity and continued to cater to that audience, but instead, as his teenage fanbase grew up, so did Miller’s music.

He followed up Blue Slide Park with the psychedelic mixtape Macadelic, which marked a significant departure from his previous music to those who were watching closely.

Miller’s transformation was completed on his sophomore album Watching Movies with the Sound Off.

Watching Movies featured contributions from left-field hip hop names such as Earl Sweatshirt, Action Bronson, Flying Lotus and Clams Casino and occupied a spot in hip hop’s underground somewhere between the critically acclaimed cloud-rap of A$AP Rocky and the angsty, aggressive weirdness of Odd Future.

The album caught critics and fans off guard and changed the course of Mac’s career. After famously giving his debut album an insulting 1 out of 10 score, Pitchfork gave Watching Movies a 7 and called it “a quantum leap in artistry.”

Additionally, Miller began making beats under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman and ventured off into a series of weird, experimental side projects.

He released the self-titled album Delusional Thomas, an alter ego that featured Miller’s voice sped up and highly pitched, as well as the mostly sung album You under the name Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival.

To many of his biggest fans, his masterpiece may always be his 2014 mixtape Faces.

One of the absolute darkest hip hop projects of this decade, Faces played like a 24-song, 85-minute suicide note. It won Miller the best reviews of his career at the time, and is one of hip hop’s most moving expressions of drug addiction and depression.

It was a bleak listen at the time, but in hindsight it’s even more chilling. It opens with the words, “I should have died already,” and ended on a song called Grand Finale (“Let us have a grand finale/the world will be just fine without me.”) Miller contemplates his own death, via suicide or drug overdose on nearly every track (“A drug habit like Phillip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin,” he raps on “What Do you Do.”)

In the projects that followed Faces — the upstart GO:OD AM and the alternative hip hop effort The Divine Feminine — it seemed like Miller was on his way to beating his demons as he kept evolving.

On his final album, Swimming, released just a month ago, it finally felt like Miller had mastered his craft on the microphone and found peace off of it.

It was the most critically well-received album of his career, a smooth, jazzy and introspective ode to self-love in the face of sadness that wouldn’t sound out of place on a playlist with the best work of artists like Common, A Tribe Called Quest and J Dilla.

And although an undercurrent of sadness ran through Swimming thematically, it felt like the album Miller had been building towards for years: the project where, finally, he could acknowledge his own demons and depression without being consumed by them.

To find out only one month later that his own prediction from Faces four years earlier had actually come true was a shocking punch in the gut.

There are many nice things you can say about Mac Miller as both a musician and a person, but to me the most special thing about him was this: Anyone who listened to his music felt like they knew him, and that’s why he was so popular for so long.

He was a person worth knowing, even in his darkest moments.