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At Blue Slide Park, Fans Remember Pittsburgh Rapper Mac Miller

Friends, family and fans gathered at Blue Slide Park in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood Tuesday evening toremember hometown rapper Mac Miller, who died Friday at age 26.

Photos, paintings and beanies were scattered around the playground named after its bright blue slide at a vigil for  Malcolm James McCormick. The park was full of teenagers and young adults hugging and listening to live DJ sets of Miller’s music.

Miller grew up in Point Breeze and attended Winchester Thurston School and Allderdice High School. He started rapping under the name E-Z Mac as a teenager, before dropping the E-Z in favor of his brother’s first name, Miller. At 18, he signed on with the local indie label, Rostrum Records, known for signing fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa. Miller’s debut album, Blue Slide Park – named after the city playground, hit number one on the Billboard hip-hop charts when it was released in 2011, selling about 144,000 copies in its first week.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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Teenagers sit on part of the blue playground in the iconic Blue Slide Park in Squirrel Hill. Miller used the park's name as the title of his debut album.

Penn Hills native Peter Ferrante said he was so inspired by the rapper that he moved to the West Coast, because that’s what Miller did.

"As soon as I heard Mac died, I actually packed up the car and came across the country to this," Ferrante said.

Pittsburgher Anna Reynolds attended the vigil for Miller and encouraged people to sign a petition to officially change the park’s name to Mac Miller Blue Slide Park. Like a lot of area kids, Reynolds said she grew up listening to Miller’s music.

"I felt really connected to him ever since I heard his music for the first time. It’s like a friendship," Reynolds said. "I feel like that’s why a lot of people are here today, because they really feel like they lost a friend."

Local DJ Selecta said he saw Miller perform in his early years at the historic hip-hop club Shadow Lounge. Even as a young emcee, Miller made a good impression.

“Everyone just said how humble and how great of a guy he was and how genuine of a fan of hip-hop he was,” Selecta said. “He wanted to make an album that was truly him.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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Artists created portraits of the Point Breeze-raised rapper throughout the evening.

As Miller’s career took off, his music evolved from traditional freestyle rap. He explored other genres like jazz and worked with prominent producers and artists.

In 2013, Miller launched his own label, REMember Music, which was later picked up by Warner Brothers Records. He produced mixtapes for fellow hip-hop artists under the nickname Larry Fisherman and an MTV show called Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family.

In May, Miller hit a power pole in San Fernando Valley, Calif., and was later charged with driving under the influence. He often talked about battling depression, something he rapped about on his latest album, Swimming.

Self care, I'm treatin' me right, yeah Hell yeah, we gonna be alright (We gon' be alright)

Miller was reportedly found unconscious in his home Friday. His family released a statement that said he was “a bright light in this world for his family, friends and fans.” Selecta said Miller will be remembered as a versatile rapper always looking to grow.

“I think he’ll be remembered as an artist who stuck to his musical guns and was relentless and was always motivated to do better,” Selecta said.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
The iconic blue slide in the playground was a popular spot for pictures throughout the vigil.

At Tuesday's vigil, Miller’s mixtapes played to a crowd of hundreds. Rapper Terence Coles, who goes by the name Franchise, said he had the opportunity to tour with Miller. It changed his life, he said.

"[He was a] beautiful dude," Franchise said. "It’s a tragedy, but his character and his soul will live on. Not only through music but who he was as a person."

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA and 91.3 WYEP, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community.