By: Zach Chitwood
In the summer of 2010, I was entering my sophomore year of high school, and I was interested in two things: basketball and rap. Most days, my friends and I met up at a park, someone’s house, or wherever else there was a basketball hoop, and we played long into the nights, listening to scratchy rap beats blare through a stereo with static-riddled speakers. The street lamps and car headlights lit our nighttime hoop sessions, and the feint echoes of Lil Wayne and Drakes’ muffled voices acted as background music to the squeaks of our Zoom Soldier IIIs’ (the school team shoe) shuffling across pavement. We always had music going, on or off the court, and rotated through rap albums or whatever singles dropped on Datpiff that day, taking turns queuing up handfuls of songs. On just another normal humid afternoon, a friend played Nikes On My Feet, my first encounter with the young Malcolm James McCormick, better known as Mac Miller.
Rostrum Records released Mac Miller’s fourth mixtape, K.I.D.S. (Kickin’ Incredibly Dope Shit) on August 13th, 2010, two weeks before the start of school, and I don’t believe I listened to another piece of music during that fortnight. Prior to the release of the album, two singles were already posted with videos on YouTube: Nikes On My Feet, and the breezy Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza, sung over Lord Finesse’s Hip 2 Da Game; the music video of the latter featured an insouciant Mac walking around local Pittsburgh shops in a t-shirt reading “Putchya L’s Up,” commemorating the life of the late Big L. I was hooked.
My relationship with rap and hip-hop up to 2010 was largely defined by the prominent icons of the mid-2000’s; I consider Tha Carter III one of the imperative musical compositions of my adolescence. As a suburban kid from south Charlotte, I was quite oblivious to rap’s historical roots or cultural significance, but during my time traveling to AAU tournaments on the weekends in middle school, I fell in love with rap because of a very simple logical progression: I play basketball; basketball players love rap; therefore, I should love rap. That simple thought process led to me installing LimeWire and downloading every song from the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop list at the time, and I immediately fell in love with the genre.
I connected deeply with K.I.D.S. because it voiced, and validated, who I was. Though my appreciation for the history of rap continues to grow and I often surf through Spotify to listen to old MCs, trying to fill the gaps of my hip-hop history, Mac was the first rapper who, to be frank, looked like me and did the same shit I did. He presented himself as a happy-go-lucky Pittsburgh “dude” that liked to hang out with his friends, smoke weed, and make music, which could not have been more on-brand for where I was at in life.
But beyond being a moment of personal connection with an artist, the general sentiment was that the mixtape was cool as fuck. Several songs began or ended with dialogue from the 1995 Larry Clark coming-of-age film titled Kids. The excerpts largely mirrored the mood that Mac created, which was an embodiment of an unabashed, and slightly underserved, confidence that is quintessential to the mid-teens experience. The 18-song collection featured a cornucopia of samples that showed Mac’s hip-hop influences and his ability to reinvent beats to cater to his flow. Along with Lord Finesse, K.I.D.S. featured other hip-hop samples from Nas, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, and DJ DMD, but also made use of contemporary bands like Owl City and My Morning Jacket. The length of the mixtape gave Mac enough room to show off his range, switching from charismatic sing-along tracks like Knock Knock, to The Spins, sung over the synth-pop melody of Empire of the Sun’s Half Mast. On top of musical range, Mac showed he could be heartfelt; Poppy, a sub-three minute track in which Mac commemorates his grandparents, is a beautiful, slow ode that could have been plucked from the early nineties.
Mac passed away less than six months ago, yet it feels more like a lifetime, a testament to the impact he made on music. I tried to write a eulogy, but there are much better ones here, here, and here if you’re interested. He was the first celebrity to die that made me consider how his content shaped my life. I was fifteen when K.I.D.S. dropped, right in the middle of adolescent self-discovery, finding music, art, and culture on my own for the first time. Before K.I.D.S., I didn’t listen to Tupac, or Mos Def, or Dr. Dre, but Mac helped me feel accepted, that it was okay for a scrawny white kid to enjoy, and identify in rap, which propelled my love for the history and narrative of the genre.
What’s that one cliché – you don’t know what you got until its gone – that’s how I felt about Mac. Not until his death did I realize his impact on me. I was sitting on the floor of my fiancée’s bedroom when my brother texted me the news, only three words: Dude, Mac died. I showed her the text and we sat silent for some time. We both had recently started listening to him more consistently again, because Swimming was amazing, before he passed. His death made me reminisce on those summer nights playing basketball and smoking under the stars.
Kids, which Mac pays tribute to in the K.I.D.S. cover art, along with the sampled dialogue, was a controversial movie, featuring high amounts of underage sex and drug use. Clark challenged the notion of how American youth were portrayed in cinema. He wanted to “make the Great American Teenage Movie.” I believe K.I.D.S. was Mac’s attempt to make the Great American Teenage Mixtape. The last minute of the Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza music video features a montage of Mac dancing, smiling, and echoing the words, “We just some motherfuckin’ kids.”