How Mac Miller’s "Red Dot Music" Unlocked His True Potential

How Mac Miller’s "Red Dot Music" Unlocked His True Potential


“You was easy mac with the cheesy raps, who the FUCK is Mac Miller?” 

In November of 2018, the unfinished legacy of Mac Miller was memorialized by a prominent cast of his peers. To say the evening was emotional can’t begin to describe it. A celebration sprayed with a mist of sorrow. A coronation with the stench of resignation. As much as everyone tried to drum up good feelings and memories it was nearly impossible to ignore the 300lb knot in all our throats and barbed wire wrapped around our stomachs. In a tragic fashion, the music world suffered a terrible loss. One of its brightest stars faded to black. I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of those in the crowd. 

I had seen that look before. A sight so visceral, it was like something reached out and touched you. I didn’t quite grasp why my uncle cried when 2 Pac died. 10 year-old me was conscious enough to digest his music but not cognizant enough to grapple with his gravity. In the days that followed, everyone bore t-shirts wielding his likeness and quotes he said while still breathing. His face superimposed with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Muhammed Ali. A year later I remember watching the television in silence as images screamed through in colored pixels for Biggie’s precessional crawling through the Brooklyn streets. The path lined heavily with onlookers hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse of hip-hop’s chosen one. It was here I first realized how connected people became with artists. Not to say that Mac is Pac or Biggie, but for some soul out there, Mac was a distant friend, a voice to null the drudgery of life. Even as I write this, it still seems strange to be referring to him in the past tense.   

How Mac Miller's "Red Dot Music" Unlocked His True Potential

A makeshift Mac Miller memorial in Los Angeles, September 2018 – Katharine Lotze/Getty Images 

Rewind back to 2018, at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on that somber Wednesday night. Friends and fans communed the rapper once known as “Easy Mac.” Hundreds looked on while hundreds of thousands watched live stream. The most gripping moment came when Action Brunson took the stage to perform “Red Dot Music.” With what I’m sure was a heavy heart Bronson consummated the celebration by delivering the song which created the Mac Miller we mourn but was writing on the wall for his inescapable fate. Yet without the Excalibur moment that was “RDM,” we would not have The Divine Feminine nor Swimming or the soon to come Circles.

Pittsburgh native Mac Miller grew into an independent hip-hop star with Blue Slide Park, his freshman album. It was the first independently-distributed debut to top the US chart since 1995. The project’s success didn’t nullify its aversion. Some critics took aim at the album and Mac was sincere about how that affected him in a 2013 interview with Billboard. He said, “You’re 19, you’re so excited to put out your first album, you put it out — and no one has any respect for you or for what you did.”On his promethazine (or lean) addiction, Miller said this: “I love lean; it’s great… I was not happy and I was on lean very heavy,” Miller says. “I was so fucked up all the time it was bad. My friends couldn’t even look at me the same. I was lost.” 

Miller’s follow up album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off produced in part by Pharrell Williams and Diplo, etched his name onto the stone tables of 21st-century rap. The best way I can describe the album is as a dark inspiration. A now drug-addicted Miller delivered a further sunken sort of expression. Diving deeper into oblivion by the day, Miller was now, perhaps, fueled differently by this poison. It verified him. The first cobblestone on his road to crafting a legacy. No more “cheesy raps,” like “Knock Knock” and “Donald Trump.”

If Miller’s maturity as a rapper could be surmised in one song, the delineation would come at “Red Dot Music.” The track is forthright in addressing central themes in Mac’s life and career. The record is an earthquake that terminated Easy Mac and out of its ruble survived Mac Miller. For better or for worse, this is who grew to become a universally-loved figure in the hip-hop community. It was a shot of real hip-hop injected directly into the veins of anyone who felt Mac was simply another white boy garnering more acclaim outside rap’s wall than inside it. An allegory of his inner torment. The silent battle he chose to face alone. It is an underrated but integral part of Miller’s story arc. “Red Dot Music” was where he demanded – no, he took, his respect. But growth is pain. Progress is pain. And in the end, the scars of his transformation were maybe too much to bear. 

In an interview with Billboard, Miller said his favorite part of the song was the hook where he says: 

“They looking down, keeping watch ’til I’m dead (I said it must be the drugs)

So how’d I get this red dot on my head? (I said it must be the drugs)”

Chilling to read, is it not? The root of his demise came from his own lips, not just in “RDM” but often. As he battled with drugs and alcohol Miller spoke frequently of bouts with vices in his music.  

“Think I can see a fucking halo bout to meet my maker brought a double cup of draino and soda for the flavor…” 

I remember scrolling through twitter the day the news broke of Miller’s death. This song was mentioned by masses who suggested it got them through a rough time in their lives. He gave so much to his craft. You can hear the overflow of his blood and tears leak from every song. As I’ve stated in prior pieces, true artistry begins at the point of full vulnerability and transparency. Both come with a heavy price for artists and musicians. For them, drugs become tranquilizers that ease the skeleton’s voices bouncing off the closet walls, for a moment.    

“I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs

I said it must be the drugs”

The fact he used “must be the drugs” as a mantra is chilling because drugs are what took from us. Later in the song, he says:

I said it must be the drugs that got us thinking crazy shit

Looking up into the clouds where the angels sit

They looking down, keeping watch ’til I’m dead

So how’d I get this red dot on my head?”

The red dot marks an impending doom Miller feels will befall him sooner or later. No matter what he does. The heavens have a target on him.  

On a 2014 track titled “What Do You Do” Milled said, “A drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin.” 

In a Vulture interview published a day before his death, Miller discussed the immense pressure he and other artists feel from the public. “I used to rap super openly about really dark s–t because that’s what I was experiencing at the time,” he continued “That’s fine, that’s good, that’s life. It should be all the emotions.”

How Mac Miller's "Red Dot Music" Unlocked His True Potential

Mac Miller performs at the Smokers Club Festival on April 29, 2018 – Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

In 2018, Miller released the single “Self Care.” In this track, the rapper addresses the state of his mental health and the now undeniable effects of his substance abuse. He looked to acknowledge that change is needed to live a better life. Though he would pass shortly after this, it presented that things were on the up-and-up. 

Miller made a lot of music about appreciating life for what it is. Accepting its realities and living with the best you can. I theorize Mac wanted to say these words himself, but it was more profound coming from a third party:

“You can’t match your killer with that wigger

I’d rather attack Tigger or Jack Triller

He got track fillers for a album

If he had Jigga on an ad-sticker

Wouldn’t go cat litter where I’m from

Malcolm, I knock the thoughts off your balcony

King, you’re from a home of funny bones

Not like quite the one I’ve known

You look like, before you punched in flows

You were struckin’ blows, bloody nose for your honey row

In the lunchroom gettin’ yo money stole

You’re a bully’s Best Day Ever

With them Nike’s on your feet

Coming through Blue Slide Park

I’m gon’ rob this chump

On a party on Fifth Ave like he Donald Trump

Nigga give me that shit

I liked you better when you was Easy Mac

With the cheesy raps

Who the fuck is Mac Miller?”

Loaded Lux said these lines in the outro of “Red Dot Music.” It gave a voice to the inner thoughts of hip-hop fans across the spectrum who questioned how thorough this goofy kid from Pittsburgh was. In this soliloquy Lux slew the old Mac Miller or Easy Mac. By the artist’s own request. As Loaded Lux alludes, people loved the image of the primitive Mac more than his substance. As time passed that changed. He made believers out of countless eventual listeners who detested the “Best Day Ever” version of Miller.  

Miller told Billboard: “I was too worried about the legacy that I would leave behind — how I would be remembered if I died. That was my whole thing. Like, you never know, man, so I’ve got to make sure I make all this music so when I die there’s albums and albums,” he said when talking about his fear of dying. 

How Mac Miller's "Red Dot Music" Unlocked His True Potential

Mac Miller performs at Camp Flog Gnaw on October 28, 2017 – Rich Fury/Getty Images

Miller’s passing rocked the music world. Though he could not finish life’s race, his legacy will trot on by way of his catalog. The permutations of his voice shall forever live in the hearts of those who loved his music. Vexed by the battle an internal tug-of-war, Mac gave of himself in the purest way for us, his fans. “Red Dot Music” and other songs like “Self Care” opened the doors and debate needed for mental health-probing in hip-hop. Songs followed such as Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” addressing suicide. The tragic nature of his death is a wound hip-hop won’t soon forget but I hope that his final inspiration was to encourage someone who feels like they are barely holding on to seek help. I want that person, if they are reading to know, you are never alone.