“The reason Miller’s masses of fans follow him isn’t because of his music,” read a takedown of McCormick’s first album on music site Pitchfork. “It’s because he looks like them, because they can see themselves on stage behind him.” The reviewer called it “crushingly boring” and rated the album a 1 out of 10 – the heaviest of several pans. “Malcolm was distraught,” Cantor writes. Never mind that the record went to number 1 on the charts.
By rejecting “not just Malcolm’s music, but even Malcolm’s own idea,” Cantor argues, the Pitchfork review identified a fundamental dilemma for McCormick. Artists sell because of something special in their work, or because they are something special themselves that the public wants to become. The best manage both, but in the end mediocrity is not a reflection of fantasy.
McCormick chose to get better, and he did. His beats became more complex, his lyrics more disturbing. Even his cadence changed, taking on a soft murmur here, a songwriter’s soulfullness there. He was a “serious student of hip-hop” who took in classics—Big L (dead aged 24) was a lodestar—but his ear for innovation, plus a newfound dark streak, led to what one critic said was “a huge leap.” forward in artistry”. .” In fact, Cantor makes a pretty compelling case that for all of McCormick’s subsequent success, he was actually underestimated, or at least underestimated, his whiteness, an albatross that constantly made him suspicious.
Smoldering under his talents was a vicious drug addiction. A penchant for weed became a penchant for lean (prescription cough syrup and soda), then pills; and Cantor, playing out the tragic mistake, is exhaustingly fixated on the subject in a repetitive book, where entire chapters can float by without much new information. Yet we learn almost nothing about the circumstances surrounding his death (bedroom, fentanyl), or its larger context.
McCormick died in an extraordinary year for hip-hop. Rolling Stone called 2018 a “changing of the guard,” in which virtually every well-known rapper released a major project, but rising stars often overshadowed veterans. What’s more devastating is that McCormick’s passing came weeks after he released what Cantor rightly calls his best album “Swimming,” and the tragedy was spread before and after by others: XXXTentacion (dead aged 20), Nipsey Hussle (33 ), Juice Wrld (21), Pop Smoke (20).