Mac Miller: More than a musician

After the shocking death of the Pittsburgh-native rap artist, members of the community speak of the icon with words of love and admiration.


Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Malcolm James McCormick, professionally known as Mac Miller, performed at Coachella in Indio, Calif., in April 2017.

By Sarah Connor, Culture Editor

Roscoe Rhoden can easily recall a time before there was public dating drama, tours with Wiz Khalifa and platinum albums, before the name “Mac Miller” was known the world over — just a time when a Pittsburgh high schooler would rap to beats with his buddies in school.

“I just remember seeing him in high school — he would come down to Central [Catholic] and rap battle some of the kids there. I remember in middle school, he was really popular with the high-school kids,” Rhoden said. “Older girls, high-school girls would hang all over him saying, ‘Oh my gosh! He’s so cute!’”

This young man would go on to create the contagiously upbeat hip-hop tune “Party On Fifth Ave.,” which has been an anthem for Pittsburgh teens and young adults since it first came out in 2011. Malcolm James McCormick would release this song under the rap pseudonym of Mac Miller and thus launch his international career.

Miller gained international fame upon the release of his album “Blue Slide Park,” named for the popular blue fixture in Squirrel Hill’s Frick Park that featured “Party On Fifth Ave.” and other songs with Pittsburgh references like “Frick Park Market.”

After seven years of commercial and radio success, five full-length albums, seven concert tours and years of being open about his ongoing struggles with drug addiction, Miller lost his battle with substance abuse. He was found unresponsive at his Southern California home on Friday around noon and was pronounced dead at the scene by law enforcement, according to a report published by TMZ. He was 26 years old.

Miller grew up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh and attended Winchester Thurston School and Taylor Allderdice High School, graduating from Allderdice in 2010.

Though fans within the Pittsburgh community were devastated by the news of his untimely passing, many who knew Miller looked back on his life with pride in his work and admiration for his bright personality.

Rhoden, a rap artist and music producer originally from the Hill District, attended elementary and middle school with Miller at Winchester Thurston, and worked with him on music in the early days of Miller’s career. The Central Catholic alum — who now resides in the South Side, runs a recording studio called The Rap Cave and produces under the name Roscoe Wiki — worked with then-fellow high schooler Miller in 2007 to produce a song for one of the first Mac Miller mixtapes.

“A couple of times, Mac came over to where I was living at the time and we recorded a few songs,” Rhoden said. “I gave him a beat of mine one time and he ended up using it on his mixtape ‘The Jukebox’ — I think that was his first or second one. The song was called ‘Keep Me Alive.’ I gave him that beat and he came over and he was really excited to f— with it.”

The last in-person memory Rhoden has of Miller was from his first tour in 2011.

“I was in college at Full Sail University and Mac was performing at the club called the Fubar down in Orlando, Florida. At the time I was really cool with him and his manager Quentin Cuff, who also went to Central Catholic,” he said. “Since I was cool with them, I got to get in with a few of my friends. It was just really cool that they let us in, we had a good time.”

Miller is remembered in Rhoden’s mind as someone who took risks, dedicated his life to his music and ultimately lived an inspiring life.

“He lived life for about 20 individuals, that’s for sure,” Rhoden said. “I’m not gonna lie and say I was one of his best friends, but his life definitely affected mine and I can say that he changed my life. Just being in the same crowd and growing up in the same music scene, it was really cool to see that, and to have a little bit of a part in that was amazing.”

As Rhoden witnessed the skyrocketing takeoff of Miller’s career, fans all over the world fell in love with the rap beats of Mac Miller. However, local fans have — and always will — feel a connection to the die-hard Pittsburgh Pirates fan who also happened to be one of the hottest rappers of the past decade.

Twenty-two-year-old Delaney Hoolahan first fell in love with the music of Mac Miller shortly after the release of his mixtape “K.I.D.S” in 2010. Miller’s music brought her some of the best memories of her teen and early-adult years.

“My parents surprised me and two of my friends with tickets to the ‘Blue Slide Park’ tour at Stage AE, and on our way they took us to the actual Blue Slide Park and to Frick Park Market,” she said. “I really thought that it couldn’t get better than that, but we got to the concert early enough that we lined up in the front row.”

The Robert Morris University graduate and Plum Borough native described the heartbreak she felt when the news of Miller’s passing broke.

“When I heard the news, I was numb. I instantly had flashbacks of driving to and from high school listening to Mac with the windows down and all throughout college lining up his songs in the queue for our dorm parties,” Hoolahan said.

Pitt senior economics major Ben Spock also has an unlikely connection to Miller. Growing up in the Upper St. Clair part of Pittsburgh suburbia, Spock attended the overnight camp of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the Emma Kaufmann summer camp in Cheat Lake, West Virginia. Miller also attended this camp in his youth.

“I had a friend, Adam, from camp who was the same year as me and he had a brother who was a couple years older than us who was close with Mac,” Spock said. “His brother, his name was Reuben Mitrani, developed a brain tumor and passed away when he was only 20.”

Mitrani was a friend of Miller’s when they were about 11 or 12 years old. When Miller heard of Mitrani’s death, he took it into his own hand to write a song about the tragedy. The song — “REMember” — is featured on the 2013 album “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.” The lyrics to this song speak of the experiences the two friends had at camp.

Soon after Reuben Mitrani’s death, Adam Mitrani was in Pittsburgh at the same time as Miller, so he and Spock went to Miller’s recording studio to hang out while he recorded.  

“Mac let us hold the key to the City, which was pretty cool,” Spock said.

Photo courtesy of Adam Mitrani

Since Spock and his friends needed a ride home at the end of the night, Miller drove them home after they visited him at the studio.

“He was really famous at this point too, but because he was there for [Mitrani’s] family, he let the family and Adam’s friends just hang out there. It was a really cool experience,” Spock said. “[The song ‘REMember’] is really sad to listen to now.”

Fans, friends and family of Miller can memorialize his life and career tonight at 5 p.m. at Frick Park as part of the Blue Slide Park candlelight vigil hosted by Nightfall Records. His family has asked for privacy in light of this tragic loss.