On September 7, 2018, the world tragically lost another young artist. Only 26-year-old Malcolm James McCormick, known more commonly as Mac Miller, was found unresponsive in his residence due to apparent drug overdose. After paramedics arrived, he was pronounced dead at the scene. This death of a famous artist is, however, only one of many in recent months; fellow rappers Lil Peep, XXXTentacion and Jimmy Wopo have also died in the past year.
Although I would never claim he was one of my favorite artists (posthumous bandwagoning has reached epidemic proportions in recent years, and it infuriates me), to me, Mac Miller represented and still represents free living, summer fun. After hearing about his death, I scrolled throughout my SoundCloud playlist and, sure enough, the second song I ever liked was Miller’s single, “Senior Skip Day” (ironic, as the year he died is the year I finally became a senior).
Nostalgic and seeking a way to pay my respects, I took the time to listen to and review Miller’s last album, Swimming. Released on August 3, 2018, Swimming was generally thought to be overshadowed by Travis Scott’s Astroworld, which was dropped on the same day. Following his death, however, the album’s stream numbers shot up. I was interested to see if the recent surge in numbers was due to mere listener curiosity, or if there was indeed an album I was missing out on.
*Notice: These are my ratings of the songs and others will likely have a far different interpretation of the album
Track One: “Come Back to Earth” Rating 3/5
As the intro track, this sets the tone for the rest of the album: slower than his previous albums, with a very melodic background and smooth tone, similar in many ways to the work of Frank Ocean. Miller describes his struggle with depression and his desire to escape emotion with verses such as “I just need a way out of my head, / I’ll do anything for a way out of my head” and “Some alternate reality, and I was drowning, but now I’m swimming.” Overall a good, short, and slow song meant more to introduce the listener to Mac’s current state of mind than to boost his chart ranking.
Track Two: “Hurt Feelings” Rating 2/5
This track has a classic and simple background beat that stays consistent throughout the entirety of the song (meaning it’s more old school and centered mainly around lyrics). Mac takes a resilient tone in this song with a repeating hook, “I always sayin’ I won’t change, but I ain’t the same.” The thoroughly conveyed message throughout this song, lies in the lyrics, “Don’t know what you missin’. Shame on you.” This lyric likely refers to Mac Miller’s somewhat recent breakup with A-lister Ariana Grande. Grande left Miller in a time where he was struggling to better himself (many now hold this against her, but she shouldn’t be to blame for simply leaving a toxic relationship). Although Mac was evidently shattered as a result of the split, the song conveys that it was in fact his former that is missing out on him. Overall, I found this song to be a little slow for my taste and repetitive at times as the chorus is repeated more than enough.
Track Three: “What’s the Use?” Rating 4.5/5
Immediately striking my ear was the starting beat, which resembled a more “groovy” late 80s or early 90s beat. This time period is fitting, as the one and only Snoop Dogg is also featured in the last chorus. Starting with a choppy and muted vocal pitch, Miller works with the head-nodding beat, eventually hitting a full stride and changing chords from a mumble to a soulful tone. It is no secret that Mac struggled with sobriety since the early 2010s, referencing drugs in this song, as a co
ping mechanism that prevents emotions― “Get a little sentimental when I’m off the juice.” Despite this, the song is upbeat as Miller discusses not letting his critics get to him as well as cutting toxic people out of his life. A psychedelic reference is also made in, “I’m so above and beyond you take drugs to make it up,” Miller is finally finding a way to feel happy without relying on his old “crutches.” This song kept my head constantly moving with the beat and was, by far, my favorite of the first three.
Track Four: “Perfecto” Rating 2 /5
As he often does, Mac wrote this song in a way that could be applied to both ex-girlfriends and substance abuse. Miller says that, although he appears fine on the surface, underneath he’s “buggin.” “Buggin” could be misinterpreted as just another relationship fueled frustration but Miller is in fact referencing tweaking on drugs.
Although already not my favorite song I particularly enjoyed this clever dual lyric. This track has a mellow beat throughout, with an occasional chorus interlude that keeps things interesting. Closing out the song, the beat fades and Miller begins speaking more than rapping, once again referring to his former partner: “She put me back together when I’m out of order, perfect.” This lead me to believe that, while Miller tackled depression and drug addiction, Grande kept him from falling apart, in Mac’s eyes she was “perfect” (lots of mixed emotions being received at this point). In my eyes, this track was slow and once again revisited Mac’s progressing mental health.
Track Five: “Self Care” Rating 4/5
Immediately after viewing the tracklist to Swimming, I had high hopes for this track, expecting a lyrically depressing song with a heartfelt message (a favorite musical genre of mine). “Self Care” although not being what I anticipated (some upbeat elements), still was a close second favorite . The opening has a fantastic switch up of beat, emerging with a satisfactory vibe but then pausing and continuing with an absolute head banger and combines with the hook.
A large part of the track is dedicated to Millers constant on-the-road lifestyle, causing him to feel as if he’s drifting through the world without grounding. Miller prevents the track from being entirely downtrodden by inserting a bridge (featuring J.I.D.), “Self care, I’m treatin’ me right, yeah, hell yeah, we gonna be alright,” (my favorite bar on the album so far ) telling his fans that he’s focusing on his own mental health. After listening to the song, it has a rather ironic element, as he unintentionally foreshadows his own death, “Swear the height be too tall so like September I fall” (Miller died on September 7, 2018).
Track Six: “Wings” Rating 4/5
Another slow track on the album, “Wings” uses a faint jazz accent in the background (trumpets playing softly well as an overall electronic swing vibe). “Wings” is, by far, the most optimistic track on the album and portrays Miller seeing hope of recovery over the horizon: “The sun is shinin’, I can look at the horizon, the walls keep gettin’ wider, I just hope I never find ‘em”. A prevailing theme throughout the track is that things will happen that no one can control, so the best thing to do is keep persevering. For me, the optimism in this song was a pleasant change of pace and left me with a residual feeling of positivity.
Track Seven: “Ladders” Rate 2.8/5
Swimming’s seventh track is another in-depth look into Miller’s emotional experience, describing a somewhat bipolar mindset, Mac feels on top of the world one moment and then the next extremely low. Using a mix of guitar and an electric beat, Mac is able to switch between soft choruses and up-tempo hooks with ease. This song would be a great selection for a concert lineup, as it is easy to dance to and provides a break between hype tracks however, a fairly middle-of-the-road selection for me, as it blended in with the other songs somewhat, without any real striking lyrics or hooks.
For more information, videos, and access to the album you can visit http://www.macmillerswebsite.com/