Whose story are we going to listen to when a star dies?
Artist Mac Miller was an undeniably talented musician and performer –seriously, try to watch Miller’s NPR Tiny Desk appearance and come away unimpressed. Miller, tragically, was also unable to conquer the demons that hounded him, dying from an accidental overdose of cocaine, fentanyl, and alcohol at 26-years-old in 2018.
Fans celebrated Miller’s posthumous 30th birthday this past January 19. The date also happened to fall the day after the release of Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller by Paul Cantor. It’d be difficult to tell from the title, but the Abrams Press biography was met with vitriol by Miller’s family. The family released a long statement in May 2021 excoriating Cantor’s accounting and expressing support instead for the October-released The Book of Mac: Remembering Mac Miller, authored by Donna-Claire Chesman.
Which tale is telling the truth? And which account are readers supposed to believe? Really, it depends on your perspective and how you want to remember a human being.
Following Mac Miller’s heartbreaking passing, Chesman dedicated the following months to chronicling the hip-hop artist’s work through a personal lens, describing Miller through the eyes of his fans, friends, and fellow musicians. This portrait leans towards a personal essay, showing what the man meant through the singular relationship to his sound and words.
Cantor’s biography is no less accurate but much more complex. The respected music journalist, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, New York Magazine, Rolling Stone, and more, spent several years researching Miller’s life — from his roots in Pittsburgh to his time in Los Angeles and New York City. You can see why Miller’s family may not have approved from the Amazon book description alone.
“But despite his undeniable success, Miller was plagued by struggles with substance abuse and depression, both of which fueled his raw and genre-defying music yet ultimately led to his demise.”
Though the family asserted that Cantor “chose to proceed against our polite insistence that he does not do a disservice to Malcolm’s legacy through writing a book without legitimate primary sources,” the Amazon description cites “detailed reporting and interviews with dozens of Miller’s confidants.”
Cantor, for his part, offered his understanding to Miller’s family. In a statement on Page Six, Cantor said, “My heart goes out to his family. Nothing that I can say here can heal the pain of losing their son. I carried that with me in every sentence I wrote.”
This isn’t the first instance that the late rapper’s family has objected to a project. The Fader reported that director CJ Wallis ceased production of “the definitive” Mac Miller documentary in 2019 at the Miller family and manager Christian Clancy’s insistence. And this definitely isn’t the only objected-to musician biography. John Lennon, Lou Reed, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and Jimi Hendrix are just a few of the posthumous accounts to be subject to scorn.
The beauty of both books is that they each contain truthful, verified assertions that supply equally valid and popular divergent points of view. The Book of Mac sits at number seven on Amazon’s “Best Sellers in Rap & Hip-Hop Musician Biographies” and Most Dope has settled in at number 11, affirming the continued interest and impact of Miller’s work in a life that ended too soon.
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