Mac Miller, the 26-year-old rapper known for his canny wordplay and artistic reinvention, died Friday at his Los Angeles home. The apparent cause of death was a drug overdose.
“Malcolm McCormick, known and adored by fans as Mac Miller, has tragically passed away at the age of 26,” his family said in a statement. “He was a bright light in this world for his family, friends and fans. Thank you for your prayers. Please respect our privacy. There are no further details as to the cause of his death at this time.”
The County of Los Angeles medical examiner said in a statement Friday, “In the late morning of Sept. 7, Malcolm McCormick (dob 1/19/92) was found unresponsive in his home located in the 11600 block of Valleycrest Drive in Studio City. Authorities were called and Miller was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:51 a.m. At this time, an autopsy is pending and a cause of death has not been determined.”
While initially counted as a member of the frat-rap genre of the early 2010s, Miller’s career was defined by a refusal to fit in an artistic box. He transitioned from party rap to heady backpacker lyricism to jazz-inflected songwriting in his final two albums. To do so, he often turned away from guaranteed commercial success in favor of experimentation and craftsmanship in his work.
Miller, whose real name is Malcolm McCormick, had publicly struggled with substance abuse throughout his career, and had a well-publicized DUI arrest in May of this year. Miller had been open about his addiction issues in the past, and had discussed his dependence on lean — a combination of codeine and promethazine — extensively. After a years-long period of sobriety, he began to drink again. According to tweets from his ex-girlfriend Ariana Grande, his substance abuse was a reason the pair broke up after two years. “I am not a babysitter or a mother and no woman should feel that they need to be,” she wrote. “I have cared for him and tried to support his sobriety and prayed for his balance for years (and always will of course).”
Miller was born in Pittsburgh in 1992, and first broke onto the hip-hop scene when he began rapping at 14 under the alias EZ Mac. He quickly racked up an enormous following as a good-natured, preternaturally talented wordsmith while still in his teens, releasing a series of mixtapes.
By 2010, he’d ditched the moniker for the simpler Mac Miller, and signed with Rostrum Records, the label of fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa, whose career was burgeoning at the time. Miller found wild success in the era of hip-hop blogs as a rapper that catered to fans in his direct demographic: young, and looking to have fun. Among his earliest hits was “Donald Trump,” a light-hearted song that would lead to a feud between Miller and the now-President. That song would be followed by Blue Slide Park, Miller’s 2011 debut album named after Frick Park in Pittsburgh. The album was a commercial smash, receiving disappointing reviews but debuting at Number One on the Billboard charts.
As his career progressed, Miller shunned the massive audience he’d developed early in his career. He quickly began to delve into more artistically daring — and often darker — fare. Watching Movies With The Sound Off, Miller’s 2013 follow-up to Blue Slide Park, was a far cry from the sound he’d burst onto the scene with. It featured elastic rapping, and more mature themes than what Miller had been known for, kicking off an artistic reinvention that he would continue to develop for the rest of his career. Miller became a prolific collaborator, working with other rappers, jazz musicians and acclaimed producers. He also began producing music under his own alter ego, Larry Fisherman.
By 2016, Miller had two more albums under his belt — each generally more critically favored than the last — and became a celebrity thanks to his budding relationship with Grande.
His final album, Swimming, was released last month and featured collaborations with Thundercat and John Mayer and production from Jon Brion. It was his most critically acclaimed album to date, and marked a return to the commercial success that defined his early career, debuting at Number Three on the Billboard charts. The album, an artistically assured effort, contained lyrics that discussed both his sobriety and his recent DUI.