Thanks to the high school students with whom I’ve shared the past six weeks as instructor of creative writing and residential adviser at a pre-college summer enrichment camp on the campus of Amherst College, and thanks more importantly to my willingness to let those students plug their iPods into the auxiliary socket and turn the volume to “max” when they are riding with me in one of the fleet of mini-vans we keep on hand for class activities, evening excursions, and other sundry errands, I have of late found myself taken by the effortlessly relentless flow of a young MC from Pittsburgh by the name of Mac Miller. Just nineteen years old, Mr. Miller has not yet been signed to a major label, nor has he released a full-length album. By and large, he has made his name by way of what are called “mixtapes,” short compilations advertised by word of mouth and given away at concerts and online for promotional purposes, in the hope of eventually securing that coveted major label deal. For now, the majority of Miller’s fans are even younger than he is. But if you do not fit into that category there’s at least half a chance that you’ve heard a few bars of his “Donald Trump.” The hit song’s lyrics, coasting atop a catchy Saturday Morning Cartoons meets Sunday morning church chorus beat, include “I just wanna ride, ride through the city in a Cutlass/Find a big butt bitch, somewhere get my nuts kissed,” “I ain’t picky but these girls be acting tricky/When the situation’s sticky and the liquor got them silly,” as well as Miller’s rather inscrutable pledge, and apparent origin of the song’s title, to “take over the world when I’m on my Donald Trump shit.”
I was born in 1976, the year in which the Apple computer company was formed by a couple of similarly ambitious young fellows named Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Miller was born in 1992, just as the internet was making its way toward the center of mainstream culture and mainstream culture, as a result, beginning to assume the spectacularly interconnected form in which we know it today; to become the kind place in which, from a dorm room at Amherst college, I can log on to the internet on my MacBook Pro, sign into my Pandora account, enter the name “Mac Miller” in a box, and thereafter be broadcast what is described by the popular online music source as a “personalized stream of music” the contents of which are determined via an automated comparison of the musical characteristics of Mac Miller’s songs – its so-called “musical DNA” – to those of countless other songs catalogued in the company’s massive library. There is, to be sure, something mildly unsettling about a string of programming code thusly presuming itself capable of calculating my musical tastes. In this case, however, I am far more unsettled to find myself moved – quite literally bobbing my head as it plays – by the music of someone young enough to be my son if I’d only a.) gone through puberty about five years earlier than I did, and b.) had more success with members of the opposite sex in high school. Shouldn’t our positions – mine and Miller’s, that is – be reversed, given the supposed advantages of age and lived experience? Shouldn’t sixteen extra years of hope and disappointment and bits and pieces of happiness always more modest (but, I like to imagine, also far more meaningful) than I dreamed when I too dreamed of taking over the world give me the upper hand when it comes to the capacity to communicate with others, and to move them? And if they do not, if it is Miller who is able to move me and not the other way around, then what were all those years really good for?
Perhaps these are futile questions. Ultimately, I know that this camp I’m working at will end, as it does every summer, at which point I will stop listening to teenagers’ iPods while driving them around in mini-vans, and I know that, because my resources as a consumer are limited and there is so much more out there to choose from, I will almost surely never invest in a Mac Miller album, and moreover that though I am still enjoying his songs when they come through my computer’s speakers, bobbing my head as Miller rides the beat, I’ll soon have to remove him from my Pandora index on account of all the unlistenable stuff – Eminem (too much screaming), Whiz Khalifa (his name sounds like something you do in the bathroom) – that gets thrown my way by association. And even as I write about him here, itself a gesture toward immortality, I can’t but suspect that if, whether due to a lack of sufficient “Donald Trump shit” or some other as yet unforeseeable circumstance, Mr. Miller fails in his own efforts to take over the world, it will not be long before I forget him altogether, just as I am already forgetting, and being forgotten by, the young students, barely half my age (but every day the gap between us is mercifully closing), from whom, out here in this hot, airless western Massachusetts valley, I learned about him in the first place.