The many faces of Mac Miller

The first thing I thought after hearing Mac Miller’s new album was, “How many times does he mention pussy on this album?” (Seven. Well, eight if you include “clitoris.”) “The Divine Feminine” was the furthest from his original sound I have heard from Miller. It has been a long and interesting journey – from the relatively unknown local Pittsburgh rapper to the successful mainstream artist Miller is now. Mac Miller has gone through many phases throughout his lengthy career. He got his start being the white boy party rapper, transitioning to the introspective stoner, again to the depressed drug abuser, and most recently the love-struck hippie. He represents a foil for so many people, and he extends hope of change to those who need it. Whether on electrifying synths, bombastic horns, emotional pianos or a jazzy saxophone, Miller is well aware of his audience: real people with real personalities. Miller has proven this over the years, through what he has achieved and overcome. He is one of a select few of artists that are self-aware, thoughtful and, most importantly, genuine.

While I would love to discuss every single one of Miller’s projects on his musical journey, to keep this analysis (relatively) concise, I will stick to Miller’s four studio albums. But by all means check out Miller’s most recent mixtape, “Faces,” personally my favorite project from him.

After establishing himself as a party rapper (along the likes of Sammy Adams and Wiz Khalifa), with his breakout mixtape “K.I.D.S” and follow up release “Best Day Ever,” Malcolm McCormick – Mac Miller – was well into the mainstream when he dropped his debut album, “Blue Slide Park.” This independently released debut album reached number one on the Billboard charts without a single feature, becoming the first independent album to do so since the 1995 release of “Dogg Food” by Tha Dogg Pound. It seemed as if everyone was enjoying Miller’s take on frat rap. Everyone, that is, except the critics. “Blue Slide Park” was met with scathing reviews and admonishment for being bland and lacking lyrical intelligence. Miller was labeled as just another generic Asher Roth. In a now notorious Pitchfork review, Miller’s album received a one out of 10 on their album rating scale. To be fair, “Blue Slide Park” was not exactly the next “Illmatic,” but it provided a fun soundtrack for kids to listen to while under the influence. The album covered topics ranging from Miller’s neighborhood in Pittsburgh, to parties, to not giving a fuck, to parties, to girls, to drinking, to parties. Just to illustrate the lack of lyricism on “Blue Slide Park,” arguably one of the most memorable lines on the album is “Uhh, let me get a turkey sandwich, uh lettuce tomato (bitch).” The album could have used a little boost in lyricism. At the time, though, it fit the mold for party music. Miller was so successful because teens liked him and related to his music. He was having fun and did not care about in-depth lyrics. Listeners could picture themselves in Miller’s position and saw his music as a product that was attainable even by themselves.

However, to avoid being upstaged by party kids, he raps “My name Mac Miller. Who the fuck are you?”

 (Photo courtesy of f-ucky on Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo courtesy of f-ucky on Flickr Creative Commons)

After the critical assassination of “Blue Slide Park,” Mac Miller began to abuse a mixture of promethazine and codeine – otherwise known as “lean.” When the reviews began coming out, Miller was only 19 years old and took those criticisms personally, believing they were attacking him as a person. This became most apparent on his previously mentioned mixtape, “Faces,” where he alludes to drugs on almost every song. Prior to this mixtape, Miller released “Macadelic,” a mix of his party rap style with more lyricism and depth. He even says in an interview with Fuse that “Macadelic is way more than just a mixtape, I just wanted to give it out for free because I wanted everyone to hear it. I think it shows some growth…” This mixtape was the first project that he released after starting his dependency on “lean.” Around this time Miller was reaching a high level of success and bought a new house in Los Angeles, where he spent most of his time in a dazed, drugged out state.  This connection with drugs followed Miller well after the release of Macadelic, and it was only until recently that he cut ties with them.

On June 18, 2013, Miller dropped his second album, “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.” This new album, featuring self-produced tracks and introspective diction, was received significantly better by critics and was more experimental. This created a large disparity between Mac’s first and second album and a departure from the shallow party anthems that gained him his initial popularity. While not quite as self-deprecating as “Faces,” “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” did mull over his drug abuse – specifically codeine – on songs like “Someone Like You,” where Miller raps, “Life move fast but my baby keep it slow.” Miller actually had to clear up the general consensus that he was singing about a woman on that song, telling reporters that he was instead expressing his infatuation with “lean.” Along the same lines, the song “Objects In The Mirror” serves as a metaphor of all of his addictions in life, including music. He opens the hook with the line, “Just a little taste and you know she got you,” which serves as a double entendre between a woman and his addiction to “lean.” Miller foreshadows the lows he reaches in the year following this album on the same song, where he raps “Carry my own weight, all these earthquakes don’t wake me up from this deep sleep, diving into this cold lake.” The imagery of the deep sleep representing depression and the “cold lake” the problems that arise from that. Rather than avoiding the lake, he plans on diving right into it, wallowing in his own self-pity through the use of drugs. Not to glamorize drugs as he had in the past, Miller acknowledges the downsides in the song “The Star Room,” saying, “All these backfires of my experiments with drugs.” These “backfires” may have included his depression and reclusiveness.

The period after releasing “Watching Movies With The Sound Off” and before releasing “Faces” was filled with even more drug use and isolation for Mac Miller. He rarely gave interviews and was not touring. Instead, he kept to himself in his house in Los Angeles. When questioned about this slump of hazy loneliness, Miller says, “You just get to a point where you’re just like okay I’m doing too much [drugs].” The interviewer then counters by asking, “You used drugs to write music, though, was that part of your writing process back then or no?” Miller replies “Yeah I used drugs to do everything. Brush my teeth, you know what I mean?” He normalized his substance use to the equivalency of brushing teeth. It became a daily routine and a dependency. In one of his few concerts at the time, you can see the extent of the effect of the drugs on Miller at a performance he did with Jay Electronica, where he forgets his verse and blows a huge opportunity to work with Jay-Z, who was backstage. Luckily, Jay Electronica manages to make it slightly less awkward by making light of the situation. Nevertheless, it was unprofessional and not a good look for the MC. My favorite quote by Miller was uttered during this time in his life. At the end of an extremely odd and funny monologue with Noisey about Youtube comments on his videos, Miller randomly drops a bit of advice that I have yet to be able to decipher. He says,

“Sometimes the world isn’t as simple as you think, but sometimes it is. Sometimes you need to open the book and close it and look at the last page before you read the first page. Sometimes you need to watch and look at the table of contents before you start reading. Sometimes you need to look up the words you don’t understand. Maybe use context clues. I don’t know.”

I believe that Miller was not actually addressing the world with this metaphor, but rather himself. People write him off as some white rapper that got famous off of party songs. He has opponents that believe he is not capable of contributing anything more to hip-hop – that see him as nothing more than a slow talking amateur who used his white privilege to carry him  all the way to the top. These opponents, unfortunately, take him at surface value and neglectfully avoid looking into his work as an artist.

The next project released by Miller was his most experimental. Miller wallows in his addiction and self-loathing completely over the dark production of 24 tracks. “Faces,” while a mixtape, was highly regarded as his most lyrical release. Shortly after the release, Miller chose to put an end to his drug abuse. In a Billboard interview, Miller talks about his drug use and its connection with “Faces.” He says,

“I was doing a lot of drugs around that time, which is another difference now: I’m not doing as many drugs. It just eats at your mind, doing drugs every single day, every second. It’s rough on your body. That was the plan with Faces: [Closing song] ‘Grand Finale’ was supposed to be the last song I made on Earth. I don’t feel that way as much anymore.”

This interview officially marked a public change of Mac Miller, not only psychologically but also musically. (Seriously though, guys, if you have not listened to “Faces,” get on that shit now.)

After a two year hiatus between albums, Mac Miller dropped “GO:OD AM. This album once again facilitated an adjustment in Miller’s tone and sound. The Pittsburgh rapper actually sounded happy to be rapping and displayed his positive vibes throughout the tracklist. However, this project was not a return to the days of “Blue Slide Park.” “GO:OD AM” is not necessarily a party album, and certainly does not solely focus on such simple concepts. The project takes the concept of feel-good music and mixes it with moderately intricate lyricism. In a discussion about the meaning behind the name “GO:OD AM”, the interviewer says “It’ll be good in the AM.”, to which Miller responds, “Yeah that’s exactly the point.” “GO:OD AM” is Miller’s return to reality and his new outlook on life. He nodded to the transition from his sophomore album on the Breakfast Club, saying, “The last album was like this kid who’s like going through life and he has all these questions to ask. Very like ‘What are stars? Where do stars come from?’ And this is a little more like let me just be direct and like I don’t care. I’m not tripping about what my place is anymore. I’m not worried about what I can and can’t do. I know who I am…” Miller is confident in his ability and personality on “GO:OD AM,”and is capable of being himself and being proud of that.

Miller addresses the end of his “lean” addiction on this album as well, rapping “Ascension / A brand new me” on the hook of “Ascension.” He does admit to not being completely sober, but he was definitely in a better state. “I know it’s been a minute since I been away / Didn’t mean to cause you pain, I just needed to escape / Ain’t saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place” (“Doors”). In an interview with Hypebeast, Miller addresses the different feel of the album, saying, “It’s [‘GO:OD AM’ has] been in the process of being created for a long time, and I wanted my next statement to come from a place of confidence. I had to get myself in a state of mind that was comfortable with myself and what my life is. So I wanted this album to be more upbeat and fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. A lot of people are like ‘Having fun is corny.’ Nah dude, having fun is tight and it’s way better than being depressed.” While Miller covers deep topics like drugs, mortality and depression, they are heard  less on “GO:OD AM.” Most of what Miller raps about concerns heaven, individuality, success, love and, of course, partying. The optimism of the album is possibly best exemplified on the song “Jump,” where Miller sings “Open eyes, I’mma let you see / This world is like our dreams / I’ll throw it all away to celebrate one more holiday / I’m running to the edge / And when I get there best believe that I’mma jump / Jump, jump / To see if I can fly.” He urges the listener to follow their dreams, take risks and “jump” into life, instead of hiding from it like he had done in the past. In an interview with BigBoyTV, Miller talks about being able to enjoy his success again without worrying about what people think when he says,

“Everyone seems to really like this song called ‘When In Rome’, which is just like a super banger and it’s me like super aggressive and rapping. And that just makes me happy because I think like people want to see me flex a little bit. I think it’s just kind of like ‘Aight dude, we get that you’re a thoughtful human being, now like come out and shit on everyone. You’re good, you don’t have to worry about like what the world means all the time. Sometimes we just wanna turn up.”

Miller makes it clear that he has “made it” and is at the “top of my game” (“When In Rome”). He no longer needs to rely on illicit substances because he knows that he is creating the quality music that he wants to make. He does not fear the future, but rather embraces it and focuses on being happy and having a good time.

Miller worked with Fader on a mini-documentary called “Stopped Making Excuses” after this album and its preceding tour. The documentary follows him on his move to New York, and how his experience in Los Angeles was “toxic” because he stayed inside all day and used drugs (this time period was where his infamous “drugs are on me” video is from). “I needed to get a drug that was a little more numbing and less, like, in your head. So yeah, I think that’s really what sparked me doing other drugs because I hate being sober. I wanted a drug to do.” “I’d rather be the corny white rapper than a drugged out mess that can’t even get out of his house. Overdosing is not cool. There is no legendary romance. You don’t go down in history because you overdosed. You just die.” As a kind of symbolic homecoming, Miller traveled back to Pittsburgh around the time of his album drop. “There’s no better thing than having your own town love you. I think they love me. I love them.” He ends the documentary with a reassuring statement of his status as a legitimate rapper, seemingly realizing in that moment, after all of the music he has released, the obstacles he overcame, the stereotypes he rose above, that he can genuinely rap his ass off.

That brings us back to Miller’s most recent album, “The Divine Feminine.” Coming out almost exactly a year after “GO:OD AM,” “The Divine Feminine” finds Miller singing about sex, love and commitment in the midst of a relationship with international celebrity, Ariana Grande. At this point in Miller’s career, he is officially sober. No alcohol and no drugs (with the exception of cigarettes). He discusses the connection between being sober and this album on Sway, saying “This is actual real happiness. This is real sadness. This isn’t like, you know, me going to the pharmacy and trying to pick an emotion and trying to put it together. The world that I‘ve been hiding from, this is me like channeling that energy, and letting it kind of go through me and putting it out creatively.” Miller admits to using drugs as an outlet to escape from reality, from himself. If “GO:OD AM” was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, “The Divine Feminine” is a gasp.

At first listen, the new album is packed with explicit love songs from start to finish. Love songs for, presumably, Grande. However, Miller maintains that it is about more. When asked by Charlamagne whether the album is about Ariana Grande, Mac asks him in return how long he thinks an album takes to make. His relationship with Grande is very recent, and he is insinuating that he started constructing this project well before dating her. In fact, Miller began work on “The Divine Feminine” while with a different (now ex) girlfriend. To be expected, Charlamagne asks him how Grande feels about this album being about other women, to which Miller drones, “You need to chill.” But then he gives the listener a great insight into his thought process. Miller says, “it’s [the album is] not really songs about other women; it’s songs about my perspective on love.” Miller reiterates that these songs are not about one woman in particular, but the concept of love as a whole.

He even cites nature as a major inspiration for the music. In an interview with Complex, he tells them “The Divine Feminine, to me, is the universe. I’d hate to be cliché, like, ‘I looove the universe, maaan.’ But it’s so real. Treating the world how you’re supposed to treat a female is awesome. The more you make love to it and the less you try to fuck it, the better it all becomes for you. It’s a deeper experience with life. I’m trying to cuddle the world after sex, not keep the Uber running and dip out.” This is not to say that the whole album is about nature, because no matter how much Miller avoids directly addressing his relationship with Grande and its influence on his album, the lyrics sometimes speak for themselves. The problem with Miller’s assertion that the source of his happiness on this album being “Trees! Plants! Like, the outdoors, man”, is that there are very few lyrics on this album that can be traced to nature. Miller does rap in “Soulmate”, that “I think you’re too divine for my human mind / When I’m with you, what do you do? Bring me to life.” This could possibly be a double entendre for nature and a woman, with the use of a “human” mind in contrast to divinity, but in the same song he croons about songs shared by him and the soulmate, the soulmate’s clothes, and other physical attributes that would refute the premise of his soulmate being nature. Nature is used throughout the album as comparisons and metaphors, like in the song “Stay” where Miller raps, “It’s only she and I, ocean floor, how deep we dive / We be high lookin’ for another fuckin’ tree to climb” and in “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” in the lines “Heart to my dying light, bullet to your rose / Then I watch your petal fold.” He uses these metaphors of nature to compare it physically with his partner as well as comparing it to his love for his partner. This is nothing new or ground-breaking, seeing as how musicians have used nature in comparison to women for decades before Miller. (See “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”)

However, that is the most depth his lyrics reach on this album. While he is vulnerable and opens up emotionally in his expression of love through his lyrics, he relies mostly on his laidback, emotional production to carry him on the project. Some have criticized Miller for his lyrics, labeling them as juvenile and misogynistic. Is this a step back for Miller? It has yet to be seen, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it. The lyrics may not be what some fans expect from Miller at this point in his growth, but he is finally truly happy and is making music that he loves. Maybe I should rather focus on his artistic expression and sensitivity. With “The Divine Feminine,” Miller successfully replaces drugs with love. After all, the word “love” is mentioned exactly 50 times on the album.

Shoutout to Genius.com for being the real MVP when it comes to breaking down Miller’s lyrics.

Support “Easy Mac” by buying his most recent album here.

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