• Steven Mainzer

Mac Miller's 'Circles' Displays His Limitless Boundaries

Warner 2020

Mac Miller was one of the most well-evolved artists of our generation. From frat rap star (circa KIDS his famous 2010 mixtape that put him on the map) to seasoned producer who created jazz records with Thundercat, the Pittsburgh emcee matured more than your average hip-hop/pop star. If you look through Mac's catalogue, every full length piece of work showed a different type of idea or talent that Miller was able to display. On KIDS he showed his ear for classic boom-bap style rap and quick rhymes and on Watching Movies with the Sound Off he took the listener on a psychedelic journey. GO:OD AM showcased some of Miller's sharper bars and more confident verses, while The Divine Feminine was arguably his most complete project to date delving into classic romantic ideas such as love and affection.


Swimming is part 1 of a trilogy that Miller planned to create but sadly never ended up finishing. According to Miller's producer Jon Brion who produced several songs off Swimming and finished the companion album Circles, part 1 was suppose to be a hybrid of hip-hop and pure song form. Circles is song based and the third record would have been pure hip-hop.

On one of the album's highlights "Good News", Miller opens up "I spent the whole day in my head, do a little spring cleaning, always too busy dreaming." Mac is always overthinking, but this time around he is much more comfortable in his own skin. "One of these day's we'll all get by", he insists over the echoing synths on track 3, "Blue World." The record gives an upbeat tone as you cruise through the album and his deep thoughts, "I think I lost my mind, reality so hard to find, when the devil trying to call your line, s**t I always shine even when the light dim, no I'm not God but I'm feeling just like him." Many elements of the Jon Brion produced live instrumentation including guitar, percussion and strong bass/synth support create an element of space surrounding Mac's music. Even in Miller's most experimental of moments between strong melody coupled with vulnerability, he still sounds at home.

On "Everybody" he displays his singing voice coupled with Brion's smooth live percussion making for a satisfying, progressive sound. He honestly spends more time singing than doing any rapping at all on the record. The little bit of rapping he does do is on "Hands" where you get a reminder of his lyrical prowess, "No reason to be that upset, I'm busy tripping about some s**t that still ain't even happen yet, I keep it as honest as honesty gets // don't know why I'm always talkin' if I'm not makin' sense, I spend my life living with a lot of regrets, you throw me off my high horse I'll probably fall to my death." On Swimming, Miller sang in a variety of records, and on Circles he sings on almost every track, completing the loop that represents the balance of the two album ideas.

It's funny that Mac's last album envelopes such a laid back, relaxing tone considering all the upbeat hip-hop projects he has made that influenced his peers (such as ScHoolboy Q, Vince Staples, Chance the Rapper, Earl Sweatshirt). It almost seems at the completion of his tragically shortened career he could have experimented with any song form, considering Circles is a mixture of indie folk combined with live beat instrumentation. The full length LP supplies more closure into Mac's final thoughts, sometimes drifting through depression and uncertainty, but more times than not bouncing back to finding a comfortable sense of reality. He lets the listener into his own perspective and leads with rational dialogue and guidance, while one can travel through his mind with the album's progression.

It's a shame that Mac couldn't complete the third installment to the trilogy that would have highlighted his pure hip-hop form, as that was when the Pittsburgh rapper showed his most sincere signs of strength. However, the evolution of his sound is what may be so profound; not many go from being labeled with early career Asher Roth comparisons to producing full length indie folk and jazz records with critically acclaimed award-winning producers (Jon Brion, Thundercat). Mac showed that his talents had no boundaries, and that is what is the saddest part of his passing, he was on his way to doing so much more.

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