2020 – Pop / Rap
Mac Miller’s first posthumous album is an inspiring journey through the young rapper’s final moments
In 2018, the world of rap had a huge lost: Mac Miller, only 26 years old, passed away. Although not very well known, Miller made a mark and grew over time. In 2011, he released his first solo album: Blue Slide Park. However, Mac’s artistic life started much earlier, when he was 18, when he joined the group The III Spoken. Even with several changes in his sound, lyrics and themes, Miller always showed an evolution in his personality in the search for his own sound. While 2014’s Faces demonstrated the rapper’s ambitions, GO: OD AM (2015) demonstrated vocal exploration and finally, The Divine Feminine, released in 2016, had a range never seen in her career. Even with all the Miller’s advances, he never got lost and he always kept himself.
In August 2018, a month before his death, Mac Miller had just released his new album: Swimming. This album, while not one of the most striking of his career, was the final key for Miller to become a sedentary in his own sound. In addition, the album has several connections with his first posthumous album: Circles, not due to the fact that Circles was thought of as a continuation of Swimming, but also due to the sound and lyric similarities and to the connection made in “So It Goes”, Swimming‘s final song: “My god, it go on and on / Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from”. The desperation of this final track talks about the hopelessness about your life always being stuck in a loop, something worked deeper on his new album.
In January 2020, two weeks before the release of Circles, “Good News” appeared to the world. The song belonging to Mac Miller’s sixth studio album, which was recorded by Miller, before his death, and produced and finished by Jon Brion. And the best definition for Circles? a moving journey through the interior of Mac. In a macro aspect, Circles tells stories about love and breakup, about hope and hopelessness, about feeling good and feeling bad, but mostly about mental disorders that Mac has faced over the past few years. With that, we can conclude that this record contains the most personal songs of Malcolm’s career: the tracks, mostly, are beautiful and soft poems with a huge dose of sentimental and truthfulness but well enjoyable to hear.
Circles has a lot of positive aspects, and one of the most positive is the cohesiveness. In this record, Miller managed to explore different sounds, and even so, make these sounds talk to each other and sound like they are from the same family. The best example of this well-done contrast is already on the start of the album: “Circles” and “Complicated”. While “Circles” sounds more like the lead single, “Good News”, with more soft and calm instrumentation composed by shy synthesizers and guitars, “Complicated” has a more electric sound with synthesizers and remixed voices that draw attention. In addition, the lyrics play with the contrast as well: the first one complains about life being monotone in a world dominated by depression, a place without salvation; the second sings with a certain hope about how things could be simpler, abandoning the anxiety that tormented him and makes him think about the future.
But Miller keeps innovating, in “Blue World”, Malcolm takes us to the time of the radio with a characteristic voice right at the beginning. The track knows how to dose all the elements while complaining about the persecution and provocations that Miller has always received. As already said, “Good News” is one of the best tracks on this album, even though it is one of the longest, it doesn’t sound long, in fact it is the type of track that could have 10 minutes that you would still like to hear. Following the long duration, “Surf” — the second longest — is a letter about feeling alone even in the moments that we are surrounded by everyone: “Sometimes I get lonely / Not when I’m alone / But it’s more when I’m standin’ in crowds”. The Hawaiian and beach instrument on this track are really nice to hear, really calm.
Another very common topic in Circle is the dreams. In “Surf”, at the end of the album, Miller says: “I dream of this moment / Will it come true?” even with several breaches of expectations that he went through, as in “I Can See”, in which Miller describes a desired dream in the first verse — “The feeling amazing / Now I’m switchin ‘location” — and destroys it in the second — “Life is a fantasy until you wake up in shock “. In “Everybody” Miller demonstrates one of the peaks of hope using a more common instrument to reach a larger mass of people to talk about people trying to have fun even in the worst moments. In “Woods” Miller tells a story of a breakup, in which he does not forget his partner: “Hate love, heartbreak will have you bankrupt”. Although this track doesn’t have something so revealing on the instrumental, it’s a really good track. In “Hand Me Downs (feat. Baro Sura)”, the story talks about Miller moving on, even though the instrumental is kind of melancholy and lyrics seem like an exaggerated thanks and has several negative thoughts, the rapper wants to move forward — this one is, probably, the weakest on the record.
Despite having a very repetitive chorus, “That’s on Me” talks about one of the main aspects of depression: blaming yourself for everything. And even with that horrible feeling, on this track Miller changes between the pessimistic views and the desire to help those who are going through the same. A child and a battery start Miller’s letter to himself: “Hands”. The track that shows a more thematic rap instrumental makes a question for the singer himself about why he is in this state of sadness and is unable to get up: “Yeah, why don’t you wake up from your bad dreams? / When’s the last time did you take a little time for yourself?”. To finish the album, the beautiful and simple “Once A Day” that in a very subtle and poetic way speaks of the war that Miller faced every year, addictions and about his opinion. There was no better song to close this album.
As I said, Circles is a beautiful, deep and personal testimonial. With simplicity and softness, Miller managed to single beautifully and with veracity the lyrics that contemplated all kinds of problems that Mac went through in the most beautiful, poetic and true way.