The tragedy of Mac Miller’s death in September 2018 shocked not only the music industry, but a global population of fans that had been so consistently buoyed by the rapper’s upbeat melodies, ingenious lyrics, and disarming brand of comedy. He was the poster child for anyone trying to make it in an industry on their own terms: through hard work, discipline, and talent. And with a promising career that excited musical greats and had many believing he was only just finding his groove, his death suspended us all into disbelief, immediately followed by intense mourning. Miller was just 26-years-old.
As so often happens when an artist or musician dies, we take to their work with increased fervour. Perhaps the worry for most is that in death, their time on Earth will have proved futile and there will be nothing to show for it. Miller on the other hand, was someone who wrote and recorded rather voraciously. Having signed with an independent label in his hometown of Pittsburgh, the rapper released two mixtapes, K.I.D.S. in 2010 and Best Day Ever in 2011. The two immediately found a wide fan base and established Miller as a rising talent. Five studio albums later (all of them top-five Billboard hits) and fans will once again be gifted new music from Mac Miller in the form of a posthumous album.
Titled Circles, the album is due out on January 17. As LA Times suggests, while the rapper won’t be able to sign off on the release himself, an L.A. composer who helped shape the sound of Swimming, Jon Brion, will be able to do so. According to Brion, Swimming was actually “intended to be the first half of a double album rooted in contrasting aesthetics.”
A statement posted online from Miller’s family said, “At the time of his passing, Malcolm was well into the process of recording his companion album to ‘Swimming,’ entitled ‘Circles.’ Two different styles complementing each other, completing a circle.”
They added, “This is a complicated process that has no right answer. No clear path. We simply know that it was important to Malcolm for the world to hear it…Thank you to all the fans who’ve supported him unconditionally through the years. We miss him. We are left to imagine where Malcolm was going and to appreciate where he was.”
The idea of Circles being a complement to Swimming is interesting. The latter came out just a month before Miller’s death and was to many a breakup record. It followed on from Miller’s 2016 The Divine Feminine, a project he worked on closely with Ariana Grande who was his muse, collaborator, and girlfriend. When their relationship ended, it marked a difficult time of healing for Miller, the struggles of which he articulated on Swimming through the lyrics and warm, wistful melodies and moody keyboards.
The release of a posthumous album might always leave people questioning the ethics of such a decision and just whether the final outcome would have been one Miller was happy with, but as his family suggests, there is no right answer. We can only listen and remember the artist fondly.