Mac Miller matures in psychedelic new album

September 17, 2015

soletron/ CC BY-ND 2.0 In his third album, Mac Miller shifts from rhymes about booze and weed to confessions about addiction.


For The News-Letter

Rapper Mac Miller’s newest studio album GO:OD AM became available to stream online via NPR’s First Listen program on Sept. 14. Miller’s third album, GO:OD AM represents a noticeable maturation for a rapper with a career that could be described in hindsight as “growing up.” The album will be officially released for widespread listening on Friday.

In 2010, Miller’s debut mixtape K.I.D.S. served as a paradigm for the then-popular “frat rap” movement — a genre pockmarked with songs glorifying college life, drinking, parties and smoking weed. At this initial point in his career Miller was mainly compared with other frat rappers like Asher Roth and associated with fellow Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa. Yet one could note that even at this early point Miller’s lyrical delivery and flow were above the other rappers that fell into the young-minded frat rap genre.

After his first two popular mixtapes Miller released Blue Slide Park (2011), which received conflicting reviews including a scathing review by Pitchfork.

“It’s a normal rap album, sure, but as listeners we should strive for more than a no-stakes work by a guy wearing the same streetwear brands and snapbacks as everyone else, who has merely found a niche and exploited it,” reviewer Jordan Sargent wrote.

After this criticism Miller’s career took a decided turn towards the weird and experimental. In 2012 he released the mixtape Macadelic which featured many guest appearances (including Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne) as well as a turn towards a more original style of psychedelic hip-hop.

Miller continued down the psychedelic route with his next album Watching Movies with the Sound Off in 2013. The album featured a bevy of production credits — including cloud rap guru Clams Casino and jazz rap connoisseur Flying Lotus — and moved him even further into a genre shift toward the ethereal cloud rap tone. Even more important to note, however, was the change in Miller’s subject matter towards a more insular, personal style.

Finally Miller’s 2013 mixtape Faces serves to show the rapper’s continued personal growth and most closely lead into his latest GO:OD AM. Faces featured a full-out dedication to the psych-rap sound and garnered somewhat of a positive reception. Miller’s decision to expose even more personal details like his addiction to the narcotic promethazine, also known as lean, which he was coping with following his 2012 Macadelic tour. Additionally Miller explores other themes such as isolation and a somewhat existential look at his life as an artist on multiple tracks.

In the aftermath of this period of wild musical exploration is GO:OD AM. The album’s intro (produced by Tyler, the Creator) is titled “Doors” and works as a sort of soliloquy as well as the metaphorical opening of the LP’s curtains. The opening lyrics help the album’s beginning to serve as a one-two punch. “Doors” is calm and retrospective but the beat then transitions to triumph smoothly.

“They say that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place,” Miller raps in a semi-spoken word flow.

As the short intro closes, it gives way to “Brand Name.” The introspection is still there but the softer spoken flow is gone and replaced by hyped-up yells.

Miller’s flow is back to what fans remember most a “boom bap” sounding love letter to the rappers that he idolizes. One could mistake the ease with which he gets into his flow with one of Miller’s earlier offerings. However, the rapper makes the point to express his growth from his hard-partying, frat-rap roots.

“I’m hopin’ not to join the 27 Club,” he raps.

From “Brand Name” on the album ramps up. There are notable beat changes, usually from a chiller vibe to a more rapid-fire beat. The album’s lead single “100 Grandkids” features the best example of this as well as the double-track “Perfect Circle/God Speed.”

This album also features many different artist appearances and frankly, Miller uses them well. He keeps Lil B in the background with a role reminiscent of one of The Based God’s earlier mixtapes (Rain in England) for the track “Time Flies.” Miguel is given a strong chorus to work with on the track “Weekend.” The song’s catchiness and overall replay value is above that of the third single “Clubhouse”.

Overall Miller lets rappers be themselves on his album, like Ab-Soul, who gives a strong verse in “Two Matches” and Chief Keef in “Cut the Check.” The latter is the strangest because it features a startlingly coherent Keef, known for his half-slurred Chicago accent, on one of his most technical verses to date.

The album’s weaknesses however lie in some of the filler tracks such as “Clubhouse,” “In the Bag” and “Jump.” These tracks feel somewhat overproduced on an album that features tight production overall.

At the album’s conclusion, “The Festival” demonstrates the type of artist that Mac Miller has become. On a great majority of other rappers’ songs, a feature is less of a collaboration but more of a give-and-take relationship. This track allows Swedish band Little Dragon to add their musical influence to the song’s beat. Although the track is produced by ID Labs (as is most of the album), Little Dragon’s influence is immediately felt.

Rather than one of the artists feeling overbearing, Miller allows both parties to share ample airtime to make a tight track that showcases everyone’s talents.

“I don’t know who I am, I’m so good at doing impressions though,” Miller raps in “The Festival” with his tongue firmly in cheek.

If this album is any indication of the real Mac Miller then fans should continue to keep an eye on his growing career, and this album should definitely find its way into their hands.

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