Mac Miller's Blue Slide Park Vigil
A sea of people, mostly college students, engulfed the unassuming Blue Slide Park playground this past Tuesday, Sept. 11. As song after song rang through the park Mac Miller made famous, his fans celebrated the life of someone they considered an inspiration. Despite the jovial energy, the gloomy overcast weather that evening reflected the sense of loss that hung thick in the air.
On Friday, Sept. 7, Mac Miller — Pittsburgh native and world famous rap artist — was found dead in his Los Angeles home due to an apparent drug overdose. He was only 26 years old.
Mac Miller’s fifth studio album, Swimming, was released on Aug. 3 to great acclaim from both fans and critics. On Oct. 27, he was set to go on tour, accompanied by renowned bassist Thundercat and rap artist JID. The last tweet he sent reads “I just want to go on tour.”
Born Malcolm McCormick, Miller was raised in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, just a couple of miles from Carnegie Mellon. He was Bar Mitzvahed at Rodef Shalom, a reform synagogue located on Fifth Avenue. At age 15, while attending Taylor Allderdice High School, he recorded his first mixtape on his laptop.
At age 18, Miller signed to Rostrum Records and released KIDS, his breakthrough mix-tape. KIDS featured some of his fan’s favorite tracks to date. In 2010 he told the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, “I wanted to create a voice for a generation of regular kids who can relate to this music, like a soundtrack to their lives.”
Mac Miller stood out because he rapped about his personal journeys with love, struggles with depression, and dreams of success. He had the braggadocious delivery one might expect of a rapper, but kept it authentic and sometimes even profound. On “Under the Weather”, a standout track from his first studio album, Blue Slide Park, Miller raps “You can have the world in the palm of your hands but it don’t mean a thing till you change it.”
“His music meant a whole lot to me and helped me through some really dark times in my life,” said one fan who spoke at the vigil, a sentiment undoubtedly shared by many others. Jon Hewson, another vigil attendee attested that he felt ”like [Miller] was really honest in his music, I feel like he really understood me.”
Mac Miller remains one of Pittsburgh’s most iconic artists. The pride he had for his hometown was evident in his 2011 album, Blue Slide Park, named after the park Miller grew up at. It was the first independently released album to top the charts in 16 years, selling 145,000 copies were sold in the first week. Songs like “Party on Fifth Ave” also referenced Pittsburgh, and the music video for the album’s single “Frick Park Market” has over 38 million views.
Lucas Ochoa, a senior in Human-Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon who also attended the vigil voiced that “[Miller] sung about Pittsburgh in a way that made me really proud to have grown up here.”
A plethora of artists and musicians expressed their grief and shock on Twitter. The Internet, who backed Miller on a 2013 tour, along with Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples, and Action Bronson, tweeted that “Mac treated everyone like we were headliners.”
Miller struggled with drug abuse for a long time, and made mention of it in his music. “Don’t tell my momma got a drug problem,” he casually raps on “Polo Jeans,” a standout track on his 2014 mix-tape, Faces.
“Malcolm had been so far up and then down the other side and up again,” wrote George Lange, a Pittsburgh native and longtime friend of Miller’s family. “I am just incredibly sad about Malcolm. He was so...so close to his greatest moment — and in one fragile step was gone.”
Organized by Pittsburgh music label, Nightfall Records, the vigil for the beloved rapper received help from food vendors and the police department. An estimated 2,000 people gathered at the Blue Slide Park vigil on Tuesday, according to Commander Herman of the Pittsburgh Police Department who described this event as “The Blue Slide Woodstock.”
The park felt alive with love and appreciation as people honored Miller in different ways. In one section of the park, there was a live spray painting of a black and white mural of the rapper donning a gold halo. In another, a petition signing to rename a section of the park “Mac Miller Blue Slide Park.” Most notable was the throng of people surrounding the famous sloping blue slide, which had been repainted that day in preparation for the vigil.
As night fell, the music from the speakers and the murmurs from the crowd died down. The dark sky grew brighter as people began lighting their candles and raising them in the air. Emotions ran high as the night concluded with a moment of silence for the deceased Pittsburgh rapper.