Three years ago, news broke that Pittsburgh-born rapper Mac Miller had been found dead of an apparent drug overdose. He was 26 years old. Today, we at EntertainmentSA celebrate his birthday by going down memory lane and looking at the rapper’s achievements and death.
Roughly two months after his death in September 2018, Miller’s toxicology report was released by the L.A. County Coroners Office. The inquiry found Fentanyl, cocaine, and alcohol in Miller’s system at the time of his death, though none in high enough concentrations to kill him on their own. As such, his cause of death was ruled “mixed drug toxicity,” meaning that it was the combination of the substances in his system that caused the overdose.
Miller’s loss was devastating to the hip-hop community. Born Malcolm James McCormick, Mac had been steadily rising in the hip-hop world for the better part of a decade. Throughout that time, he steadily made fans out of his peers in the industry with his earnest reverence for classic hip-hop sounds and his fresh, introspective take on the genre’s longstanding tropes. With the release of his acclaimed 2018 album, Swimming, Mac Miller was poised to break through as one of the biggest acts in hip-hop—and popular music at large.
However, his personal demons caught up with him before he could reach that next echelon of star power. Miller had a history of substance abuse throughout his all-too-brief life and frequently spoke about his struggles in his music and interviews. Ahead of his death, he had been on the path toward cleaning up. With a big tour in the works and his new album climbing the charts, the future looked bright for Mac Miller.
Just under a month before his death, NPR published Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk Concert. The brief performance marked the first time Miller had performed any of the songs off Swimming for an audience. With a full, talented backing band surrounding him, Miller sat on a stool as he performed his verses with humility and grace as if to consciously put the focus on the collective, rather than on himself as the star.
After opening the three-song set with “Small Worlds“, Mac’s close friend and collaborator Thundercat moved from a shaker to his trademark six-string bass to hold down the low-end on “What’s The Use?”. Characteristically humble and softspoken, Miller quickly breezed through the customary between-song banter, once again opting to keep the focus on the music rather than on him.
One week before his death, Mac Miller was happy. On August 31st, the rapper invited the bassist Thundercat — a close friend and collaborator — and his daughter, Sanaa, over to his Studio City, California, home to spend the entire day celebrating the girl’s 12th birthday. “He refused not to celebrate it with us,” Thundercat recalls with a laugh. “He was like, ‘What do I get her?’ ‘I dunno, some Gucci flip-flops?’ ” Miller treated his guests to dinner, sang “Happy Birthday” twice, and then retired to the couch, where the three friends spent the rest of the night watching Sanaa’s favorite TV shows — with Miller periodically stealing her phone and trolling her Instagram and Snapchat feed. “The happiness was there, man,” Thundercat says. “I could see it in him. And it wasn’t fake.”
It would be the last time Thundercat would see his friend alive. On September 7th, shortly before noon, police officers responded to a frantic 911 call placed by Miller’s personal assistant and longtime sober coach, who discovered Miller’s lifeless body in a bedroom in his sprawling, compound-like home moments earlier. The 26-year-old rapper — who topped the charts as an independent teenage artist and championed and befriended many of hip-hop’s biggest talents, and whose career was defined by a relentless desire to improve his craft — was pronounced dead at the scene. According to an autopsy report released by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office on November 5th, Miller died of an accidental overdose. Fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol were all present in his system. A bottle of alcohol and prescription pills were found in his home, and a powdery white substance was found on his person.
According to witness statements in the autopsy report, Miller was last seen by his assistant around 10:30 p.m. on September 6th, and spoke to his mother on the phone that night. It was only when the assistant arrived the next morning — he typically woke Miller at 11:30 a.m. — and discovered Miller’s body that anyone close to him knew anything was wrong.
Miller had long struggled with addiction. While he was attempting sobriety, he had frequent “slip-ups,” according to a statement in the autopsy report, that could be excessive. The last such incident before the night of his death, according to his assistant, had been on September 4th, just three days before his death.
Miller openly discussed his dependence on lean, a combination of codeine and promethazine. It peaked around the time he was making his 2012 mixtape, Macadelic. “He had sort of made a turn after the making of [his 2011 debut album] Blue Slide Park, where I think he got a little bit deeper into drugs and was talking about it,” says Benjy Grinberg, the founder of independent Pittsburgh record label, Rostrum Records, who signed Miller to his first record deal in 2010 and served as his de facto manager for several years afterward. “It was definitely scary. I had never been that close to somebody who had issues like that.”
But for those closest to him, Miller’s death still came as a shock. By all accounts, he was in his best mental and physical condition in years when he died. Miller had been working with his sober coach since 2016, and was working out at an L.A. gym nearly every day.
Two weeks before Miller’s death, Ty Dolla $ign, who was in the midst of working with him on a joint project, spent the day with Miller at Chalice Recording Studios in L.A. “He was in good spirits,” says Ty, who first met the rapper through the pair’s mutual friendship with Miller’s onetime Rostrum labelmate Wiz Khalifa. “He had everybody in the room dying laughing.” Miller also met Fifth Harmony member Dinah Jane for the first time that day, “and she was talking about how nice he was,” Ty remembers. “She didn’t think he was gonna be that cool, but he was supercool. I’m like, ‘Yeah, man. That’s Mac.’ “
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