I know I wasn’t the only one who was shocked when I learned of Mac Miller’s death on Twitter yesterday. My timeline was flooded with “RIP” and “I can’t believe it.” I, along with most of my peers, have been listening to Mac Miller since he released “K.I.D.S.” in 2010. We were there for Blue Slide Park, his first studio album released in 2011. We were there for his transition into a legitimate hip-hop artist that was cemented by his 2013 joint project with Vince Staples, “Stolen Youth.” And we were there for his 2014 project Faces in which he raps about substance abuse or mental health problems in almost every track. So why were we all so surprised when we found out that he died of an overdose?
Of course it’s natural to feel shock when someone you care about dies, especially so young. When Mac Miller burst onto the scene with “K.I.D.S.,” his rhymes were upbeat, happy, and fresh. He had just graduated high school, and that was part of his image: a young and happy kid, fresh on the scene, with nowhere to go but up. That could be one reason that it was so surprising to hear he was gone. It feels like just yesterday he was rapping about Kool-Aid and frozen pizza.
However, it’s simply not realistic to say that his substance abuse issues were completely unknown to the public. Following his breakup with Ariana Grande this past spring, Miller was charged with a DUI after crashing his car. Grande also mentioned his issues with sobriety in a post on Twitter regarding their breakup: “I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety and prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course) but shaming/blaming women for a man’s inability to keep his shit together is a very major problem.” So, again, with all this happening, why were we shocked?
This shock is part of another, larger pattern within the hip-hop community. Consumers of hip-hop often write off the theme of addiction as an inherent a part of rap music, something that we must accept and look over so that we can appreciate the other aspects of the genre. It’s easy to convince ourselves that addiction is something that will always be prevalent in rap; that it’s simply a casualty of creativity or genius. Not only is this untrue, but it’s a dangerous way to consider addiction. It is absolutely necessary that we start critiquing this way of thinking.
In a 2012 Complex article titled “25 Things Everyone Thinks About Hip-Hop (But Nobody Will Say),” the ninth item on the list states that “substance abuse is one of the most serious problems in the industry.” Additionally, in a 2017 interview with Billboard, Chicago rapper Vic Mensa opened up about the links between drug use and rap: “I just think that we’re in such a dangerous place now because it’s been normalized and the drug abuse has been reduced to like a marketing tactic.”
As a culture, it’s imperative that we continue critiques like these and stop accepting addiction in the ones we love and look up to. This is not to say that we should shame the addicted. But we must begin questioning the culture of addiction that exists within the music industry before it’s too late.