Seven years after his first album Blue Slide Park, Mac Miller still exists within the hip hop genre as someone who is popular, but not popular enough to draw a Drake-like buzz when new music is dropping. Regardless, a lot’s gone on in his life since his break-up with Ariana Grande following 2016’s The Divine Feminist. Apparently, Miller’s carefree personality became too annoying for Grande to handle, eventually leading to the split, not only romantically, but artistically as well. Grande played a heavy roll in the production and vision of The Divine Feminist.
Rather than go the predictable heart sicken route however, Miller instead took a couple of years off to himself, and bounced back with a thirteen-track album about redemption called Swimming. Sure, he still addresses the problems from the past involving Ariana, but very minimally, and in a surprisingly sophisticated manner.
Sonically, Miller takes a much different approach on his fifth official studio album. His laid-back style is put on full display with production from the likes of Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange), The Internet’s Syd, and Jon Brion (who’s worked with Kanye West and Frank Ocean in the past). Their easygoing mixing contrasted perfectly with Miller’s serious and affirmative tone. Miller trades trap beats for funk synth leads, as well as detailed dance hall vibes.
The Pittsburgh rapper notably feels content with his current state right from the beginning, especially with the very unpredictable, “Self-Care” (“I got all the time the world, so for now I’m just chilling/Plus I know its a beautiful thing feeling, in oblivion”). These type of lyrics should come as no shock for a notorious weed-smoker, but the songwriting is a perfect representation of the director Miller heads toward.
The glitchy guitar riffs in the background of “Wings” act as a subtle inspiration from Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Miller officially frees himself of any figurative wounds he had to deal with since his break-up (“The sun is shining, I can look on the horizon/The walls keep getting wider, I just hope I never find ’em, I know, hey”). He then seamlessly slides into the next single, “Ladders,” where the Brion-produced track operates as a freeing sense of happiness for Miller. Apparently, some of the lyrics were written prior to his breakup with Grande, but the placement of the song seems purposefully incorporated in the album to show Miller’s persistence.
What separates this project from other break-up records is Miller’s insistence on staying true to himself, and understanding his own mistakes. “Small Worlds” is a perfect example of that, where Miller calmly expands on the rough year he’s having, whether it be his alcohol addiction, or his hit and run incident in Los Angeles, where he was two times over the blood-alcohol limit. He’s tormented (“I’m building up a wall till it break/she hate it when I call and it’s late/I don’t wanna keep you waiting.”), and confessional (“I know I probably need to do better, fuck whoever/keep my shit together”) all at the same time. The piano-driven track is the highlight of the album, as it displays a thorough dichotomy of someone who’s reached this complex feeling in their life.
Miller cleverly looks at both sides of this conflicted relationship, and figures out where both he and Grande went wrong. There’s a certain level of self-awareness put on display, namely the gorgeous horn-driven “Conversation Pt.1.” It’s a victory lap of sorts for Miller (“My head up in the clouds but my feet be on the pavement”), as he acts proud of all his accomplishments, but remembers to stay grounded, hence the very astute bridge he incorporates.
While “Dunno” is just as pristinely produced, Miller isn’t as subtle with his feelings, and as a result, the track becomes a little awkward and repetitive by the end of it. Lyrically, its one of his least interesting moments on the project. Even then, he still stays tonally consistent.
As silly as “So It Goes” seems on the surface, the finale represents Miller perfectly. There’s something undeniably infectious about his jubilant chorus (Well, everybody gather around/I’m still standing, str down/ And I know I’ve been out/But now I’m back in town”). The M-83-like ending embodies optimism in the purist form, and captures Miller’s tendency to let things go in a picturesque manner.
This is probably Miller’s most sonically consistent project to date. He had an idea, and stuck with it. The ocean-themed palette he raps over epitomizes the constant waviness shown throughout; to precision, kind of like how The Internet’s album eventually came together. Miller definitely grows up, but stays true to himself in the process, something that is both admirable and surprisingly mesmerizing all at the same time.