Mixtape Maturation: The Many Faces of Mac Miller

Being a white rapper is hard. In a way, white rappers experience what most people of color experience on a daily basis: the need to be “twice as good,” the constant doubt of whether you belong or if you’re only there because of the color of your skin. Malcolm James McCormick, a gifted MC who performs under the stage name of Mac Miller, is white, and he has always been very good at rapping, but he didn’t grow up in a trailer park like Eminem, and didn’t have a battle-tested resumé to bolster his rep, either. Until very recently, despite his considerable talent, not everyone seemed ready to admit that Mac is legit, least of all himself.

Now, in the leadup to GO:OD AM, out September 18 on Warner Bros., those doubts almost seem silly. It’s Mac’s third proper album, and his first for a major label. He’s confident on the record (even arrogant), switching rhyme styles and handling production duties with equal adroitness. But it took a while for him to get this comfortable in his own skin. Growing up, he worshipped the gritty street dramas of harlem rappers like Big L and Cam’ron. He admired their skills and stories, but acknowledged the gulf of experience that separated them. Watching from Pittsburgh, he was a tourist.

When he put out his first mixtape But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy, at 15 years old, both his pale skin and shallow but technically gifted raps were a blank slate. It’s taken two albums and almost a dozen mixtapes, but he’s matured into a colorful wordsmith, while rapidly covering his body in tattoos. As he colored his music with beats from the likes of Alchemist and rhymes elevated by his peers, the color granted by the ink of his tattoos finally reflects what he feels inside, on the outside. That forceful injection of color was undoubtedly a painful process.

And when you consider that all of this played out during years 15-23 of this young man’s life, it’s quite a feat that he has not only survived, but is better for it. So in honor of his graduation to the majors, we’ve collected a sampling of several points in the process of Mac Miller’s maturation—from the juvenile raps of his literally juvenile years to his drugged out mixtapes and onto his major-label debut. Keep an eye on what he does next.

“Cruisin'” (But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy, 2007)

At this point in his career, Mac is still going by his early stage name, Easy Mac (and weirdly, using the Kraft product logo). He’s been studying his favorite art, and makes sure to wrap himself in signifiers. That means he’s rocking the fresh designer fitted cap with the flat brim and stickers intact, flanked by black homies who give him dap, including one exchange in front of a particularly dramatic backdrop of the Pittsburgh skyline.

Even for 2007, the beat is a throwback, the kind of instrumental Roc Marciano might make, with horns that Joey Bada$$ would salivate over. It only takes him a couple bars to get ig’nant (“Haters keep to hating/ Little faggots figure skating”), but it’s hard to fault him too much at this point: he’s a 15-year-old boy. And he flexes like one.