I Love NC, Thank You

For a Los Angeles-by-way-of-Pittsburgh MC, Mac Miller had an unusual number of ties to North Carolina. For him, it was just the usual.

I Love NC, Thank You
Super Empty illustration © 2024

It’s hard, in one entry, to capture all of what makes Mac Miller’s passing so hard to accept for many of us, from casual listeners to die-hard fans.

His young age (26), his collaborative spirit and history of using his platform to uplift new artists, his central role in the “blog” era of the early 2010’s — they all play a part. 

Perhaps the hardest, though, is the feeling of a trajectory re-drawn with swift and cruel malice. Mac Miller didn’t die of an overdose in 2013 or 2014, when by all accounts he was constantly under the influence of hard drugs, and rapping about premature death, suicide, and the like. Instead, he died suddenly and without warning, four years later, four weeks removed from a tranquil, self-assured album — his best ever — called Swimming

Whatever the reason, or combination of them, the shock has not faded three days later. In our digital media age, startling celebrity deaths, particularly young ones, inevitably provoke a stream of social media tributes. Mac Miller’s has unleashed a flood. 

From worldwide A-listers like Snoop Dogg, Diplo, Elton John and John Mayer to close collaborators like Chance The Rapper, Rapsody, SZA and Anderson .Paak, tributes have been paid and previously untold stories have been brought to light. Music writers and radio personalities have posted openly about crying at the news alone, in groups, and to friends on the phone. Each one of them remembering and celebrating Miller in their own unique way. 

Maybe Mac’s connection to North Carolina isn’t all that special, considering the eulogies that have poured in about the baffling number of people he connected with in his brief life. But it feels, to at least this Carolinian, like an important part of his story. A small piece of why, on top of everything else, he was so important.

In 2009, Brooklyn MC Skyzoo was approached by a white, teenage rapper from Pittsburgh to work together on the song that would become his and Miller’s “Pen Game.” It was a period of time that just happened to coincide with Skyzoo’s brief stint on 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records imprint. 

Through that early connection or another, Miller eventually made inroads with NC’s hip-hop elite. 9th and Phonte, newly rekindling their creative partnership from Little Brother, both became collaborators. Phontigallo would appear on a song from Miller’s breakout mixtape, Best Day Ever; 9th would provide beats for Miller on the tapes I Love Life, Thank You and 2014’s Faces, and in return, get a vocal assist from the rapper on the song “That’s Love” from the 2011 album The Wonder Years.

"Rain" - Mac Miller ft. Vince Staples, produced by 9th Wonder

Asked in 2011 about Miller, the producer said:

“I might hit somebody in the face for saying something bad about Mac Miller man. Because he just breathes positivity, and I love positive people… He’s not trying to be anything he’s not, which is a bad epidemic in Hip-Hop; you got a whole lot of n****s lying. Doing things, and being things that they’re not because they think that gets them somewhere. Mac Miller is totally opposite.”

Miller’s impact would be more profound on 9th’s budding flagship artist, Snow Hill’s own, Rapsody. The first major artist to take her on tour, he’d also lend verses to multiple subsequent projects — from “Extra, Extra,” on Return Of The B-Girl, to “Generation” on She Got Game.

The music video for the former is a delightful romp in and around the Elmo’s Diner on Ninth Street in Durham, just off the campus of Duke University. On Instagram this weekend, she wrote, “My story isn’t the same without you in it.” 

How thoroughly did Miller cover his Old North State bases? Just for good measure, in the liner notes of Swimming, you’ll see a familiar name among the producer credits for the song "Hurt Feelings": J. Cole¹. He tweeted, “Rest In Peace to the great soul Mac Miller.”

We may never know how far Miller’s influence reached. But in our state alone, we know he impacted the lives of every one of our biggest stars. It’s one of the many ways that he also impacted us.

¹ In addition to J. Cole, North Carolina producer and Soul Council member Eric G. also produced for the album — on the excellent, nostalgic "2009." You can read an interview with him about the song (including how Mac did seemingly did the first part of the track off the top of his head in one take) at DJ Booth here.