Five years ago today, the world lost Mac Miller at 26. Five years ago yesterday, I lost my brother Christian at 21. In 2018, I worked for another outlet, and I learned about Mac passing while checking Slack in an attempt to briefly take my mind off the motorcycle accident that took my brother. But I was just inundated with more death.
At the time I pondered writing about whatever symmetry I could think of to get my mind off things. My brother was a rapper like Mac. They were both way too young. But I didn’t know what else to articulate and didn’t care to cull through the permutations of loss attached to a news peg (not that I was asked). Unbeknownst to me, I’d find my right set of words five years later at 4 AM.
I can’t pretend I was a diehard Mac Miller fan, though I enjoyed what I heard in later years. More notably, I can’t pretend I was a good brother, as I was too self-centered to be there the way I’ve heard big brothers conventionally are. But both men’s lifetimes make me think about possibility, fulfillment, and the illusory.
Most rap fans have championed Mac’s shift from a blog-era rapper with a little too much frat-boy kitsch into a thoughtful artist who made vulnerable, despondent projects like Swimming and Circles. Lines like, “Lot of lies cover the truth, you got options, what do you do?” from “Perfect Circle” are the kind of queries that have you questioning the sanctity of your decisions. It’s not necessarily something you anticipated from him while listening to his 2010 mixtape KIDS. He’s one of the few mainstream artists who vied to expand his craft instead of needling us with the same repackaged projects. And still, it feels like he had more elevation in store for us.
My brother was my first sibling and I watched him grow into a man of his own, with two daughters and his own dreams. At times I wonder how I failed him, but he was making his way regardless. By no means is he the first name most people will mention when they talk DMV rap. But if someone is deeply in tune with the movement, there’s a chance they have heard one of his songs or seen one of his performances. He was in the scene. That’s enough for his daughters to proudly say one day, the way artists tell me about their dad opening for jazz greats or that Freddie Gibbs laughingly recalls his dad losing to Michael Jackson in childhood talent shows. It’s enough for him to have a hand sign for his crew that my family throws up when they’re celebrating his birth or commemorating September 6th. That’s enough for anyone to feel solace about their contribution.
Beyond the obvious desire for my brother to still be alive, I ponder what his artistic possibilities were if he had stuck at it, and imbued his craft with more life experience. What did his version of a Mac Miller arc look and sound like? Maybe he would’ve stopped making music and done something else. Unfortunately, I’ll never know.
Some scientists and spiritual practitioners theorize that the universe’s timeline doesn’t run on the conventions of time we rely on to orient ourselves, and that everything that could happen already exists in one of infinite dimensions, awaiting us to manifest it. The more hopeful among us interpret that to mean that our wishes are already fulfilled. Sometimes I think that notion lulls me into thinking that my internal ideas are already actualized, tempering my urge to act on them. But then, I remember I’m a diehard fan of a genre where too many men are dying at 26 and 22.
Creation is timeless. I’ve been in the recording booth on numerous occasions, though not as much as Mac or my brother. And even if my results aren’t blowing anybody away, the creative process felt like I was tapping in with something deeper. I can’t imagine how much purer the experience is for artists whose art impacted millions. Five years later, Mac has a protective cohort of fans who fiercely defend his legacy. Even with that kind of support while he was living, it appears he too often felt alone. Perhaps the artist’s power to relate to millions of suffering people just magnifies their burden.
No one knows the nature of Mac’s drug use but him, but he depicted addiction throughout his catalog. I relate too much to his bars on “Come Back To Earth:” “My regrets look just like texts I shouldn’t send / I got neighbors, they’re more like strangers… I just need a way out of my head / I’ll do anything for a way out / Of my head.” Life can teem with heartbreak and misunderstanding and disappointment, and sometimes we’re the catalyst of it. That can make us feel like lucidity is the wrong state to be in — and we flee it however we can.
Back in 2018, I overheard my mother saying that my Aunt thought my brother riding his motorcycle was his escape. Eerily, his last Instagram story was about him loving the movie Biker Boyz. By no means am I equating drug use with being on a motorcycle, but that ride seems like a microcosm of truly living life, gnashing your inhibitions in a tire screech and winding down a path that feels glorious but always harbors the possibility of tumult. That’s the risk of riding, like the inherent risk of living.
Possibility is why we do anything, even if the prospects are perilous. I feel too acquainted with life’s fragility. This morning, I woke up with an urge to write. Other nights, I just wake up and stare out the window, disoriented, but with enough clarity to appreciate that these moments are fleeting. Being a rap fan makes me equate outros to last wills and testaments and sunsets to sands in an hourglass. Losing three men in my family under the age of 40 (two under the age of 25) in a five-year span intensifies that feeling. These realizations inform my keenness on ignoring reservations and saying and doing the thing whenever I’m compelled; few understand that mindset.
The loss of my brother, like the loss of Mac, reassures me that nothing lasts forever; few things even last long. But the bravery of exploring our potential engenders rewards that have the strongest chance of an impact that outlasts us. Death, especially premature death, challenges us to respect impermanence, and to explore our possibilities before they’re past tense. Time is on our side — until it’s not.