Mac Miller is an American rapper and songwriter based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He’s well known for his relaxed instrumentation, ironic aesthetic, and his seamless blend of sleepy and sharp flows.
He made his name on the mixtape scene, having dropped 12 tapes between 2007 and 2015. He dropped his debut LP, Blue Slide Park in 2011 to a number one chart position and a gold sales certification, the only one of his projects to secure this accolade. He would drop one more album, Watching Movies with the Sound Turned Off, with the Rostrum label before debuting on Warner Bros in 2015 with GO:OD AM. Almost exactly a year later he would release The Devine Feminine, his last release until Swimming about a week ago. Each of his albums perform well critically if struggling a bit commercially, but he’s built quite the loyal fanbase and often tours quite successfully. Swimming is yet another entry to this very impressive young career.
The record is built on several clear inspirations, perhaps the most prominent of which is golden age R&B. Tracks like “What’s the Use,” and the opener, “Come Back to Earth,” feature wonderfully nocturnal, synth-heavy instrumentals are perfect replicas of the pre-Motown wave of R&B and will have listeners dancing no matter where they are.
Unlike early R&B, however, the instrumentation pallet is extremely wide. Tracks like “Ladders,” and “Jet Fuel,” utilize excellent brass sections to grant a sense of jazz swing, while “2009” begins with a sweeping and beautiful passage played by string quartet and piano. “Small Words,” even features John Mayer on guitar!
Mac’s performance on Swimming is likely his best yet, as his vocal fires on all cylinders. His his tone is almost drowsy, he drops latter syllables and rounds off the pronunciation of consonants, and yet his flow is quite sharp. “Hurt Feelings,” is a fantastic example of this.
His rhyme schemes can’t be ignored either. “Wings,” which is possibly my favorite track on the whole album is an example of this, as his simplistic scheme in the first verse fits well with the slightly off-beat snare and the almost childish synth work which opens the track, but his flow tightens up quite a bit in the second half.
Even his singing work is quite impressive, particularly in the layering, but also in his performance. His falsetto work on “Dunno,” for example, infinitely improves that song, and makes it one of the best on the project.
There are certainly a few week spots on the album. “Conversations Pt. 1,” is quite drab and is probably the least creative track on the record. Beyond this, the bass has a bad tendency to drown out the interesting instrumentals, Miller’s lyrical abilities are severely hindered when his verses are too long and uninterrupted, and a few of the vocal melodies are a bit childish.
None of this, however, could take away from this album’s most important highlight: it’s production.
Whether its the excellent and abrupt beat change in “Self Care,” or fantastic outro on “Perfecto,” the production team never ceases to amaze. The bass line on “So it Goes,” perfectly captures the feel of an acoustic, upright bass, and the general chaos of dissonance and irreconcilable beats on “Wings” is captivating. All this without mentioning the vocal layering on “Dunno,” the shimmering buzzing in the background of “Hurt Feelings,” and the simple but effective stereo imaging on “Small Words.” Swimming is, genuinely, one of the best produced albums of the year.
This album isn’t perfect, but its not all that far from it. Mac Miller seems to be on the pulse of a very special sound which is somewhat unique amongst the bulk of modern music, and he achieves this sound by allowing his aesthetic to bleed into every facet of what he’s doing while writing with tremendous honesty.
Swimming was one of the most listenable releases of 2018, and could very well be the best rap album of the year!
HEAR SWIMMING: https://open.spotify.com/album/5wtE5aLX5r7jOosmPhJhhk