by DREW SORRELLS
It has been a long road for Malcolm McCormick, better known as Mac Miller. He shed his coveted independent status by signing a massive deal with Warner Brothers last fall, a move that caught most by surprise. He is no longer the wide-eyed child from his early mixtapes, rapping about the youthful freedoms of smoking and skipping class. He is no longer the apathetic, self-loathing, drug-fueled shell of himself we have seen on his most recent projects. He comes to us on his newest album GO:OD AM with razor-sharp focus and clarity, a head space that fans have not seen in him yet. Following over a yearlong silence, which is comparable to a decade in the short attention span of the digital age, he gives us a beautifully crafted and carefully planned update on his whereabouts.
It does not take long for him to tell us what he’s been up to. In his lullaby-like introduction “Doors,” he explains to fans
“[I] didn’t mean to cause you pain, I just needed to escape.”
It’s a simple explanation to a complex search for happiness, which he assures fans he has discovered. He raps, “They’re saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place,” using the album’s songs to take listeners on his journey through the process of finding clarity.
He comes out of the gates with “Brand Name,” teaming up with his longtime counterpart and fellow Pittsburgh native ID Labs on the production. He touches on everything from his hometown to the struggles he’s faced with being a white rapper. He raps confidently, coming through with braggadocio lyrics that highlight all he has accomplished. Despite his struggles with all that has come along with accomplishment, he stands by his decision to become a rapper, saying “F**k a 9-5, I’d rather end up dead or in jail.” He lays the foundation for what is to follow on the record, and does so over one of the best beats on the album. The soulful sample and hard-hitting drums transition into a beautiful piano solo at the end, giving the song a closing feeling of raw emotion.
He features fellow rappers Ab-Soul, Chief Keef, and Lil B on various songs. Lil B appears on “Time Flies,” not rapping but simply offering inspirational encouragement on positivity behind Miller’s lyrics. He teams up with Chicago native Chief Keef , in perhaps the oddest pairing of the album, over a beat more likely to be found on Keef’s album than Mac’s. Miller displays versatility by hopping on this beat, and impresses by doing it justice. While this is one of the better verses coming from Chief Keef in recent memory, it is (like most of Keef’s work) nothing to write home about. I had high expectations for the Ab-Soul and Mac Miller duo, and found myself underwhelmed by the averageness of the record. In my opinion, it was one of the more forgettable songs on the album.
A standout from the record is “Weekend,” with a surprise feature: R&B superstar Miguel. The enchanting beat, filled with smooth guitar licks and slow drums, creates a soulful vibe upon the song’s outset. Don’t let the Miguel feature fool you; this is not his version of J. Cole’s “Power Trip,” intended for radio plays and top 40 attention. This one will touch you directly in the soul.
Mac spits brutally honest verses of self-reflection, and does so with skillful wordplay and elevated rhyme patterns that don’t compromise the song’s integrity. His lyrical honesty conveys a feeling of exposure, as he gives listeners an up-close and personal look at his darkest days. He illustrates the dangerous cycle of losing one’s self in a lifestyle consumed by the drugs, alcohol, and partying that accompany his fame, inquiring “What’s the thing that keeps me breathing? Is it money, fame, or neither?” Miguel’s ever-so-soulful voice compliments both the beat and Mac’s verses perfectly. It creates chemistry on the record, almost as if Miguel was present for Mac’s struggles. Mac uses Miguel as a messenger of sorts, accentuating his pain in ways that raps simply can’t do. The end product is nothing short of beautiful.
On “Perfect Circle/ God Speed,” the juxtaposition of the album is made apparent. He raps with little emotion or voice inflection, delving into full detail about his drug use. As the track progresses, it transforms into feelings of despair and helplessness. Listeners see him acknowledge how money has changed him, his stubborn refusal to get sober, and his egotistical nature that has caused him to neglect those he cares about. As the beat transitions into “God Speed,” we are greeted with a high-pitched vocal sample and emotion-filled piano. It is this second half of the song that epitomizes the message behind GO:OD AM. The album’s title symbolizes a newly awakened man, opening his eyes to the truth in his ways and accepting responsibility for his actions. He raps “Opened up my eyes, s**t I’m finally awake. Good morning.” The dawn of the morning mirrors the beginning of a new mentality for Malcolm McCormick.
When listening, it is hard to believe that Mac Miller is just a ripe 23 years old. He displays incredible wisdom when reflecting on life and his decisions. Confidence and accomplishment are interspersed with themes of entrapment. On tracks like “In the Bag,” Mac spits with bravado and charisma. This track in particular is a certified banger. His energetic 16’s slap onto the almost ignorantly aggressive speaker-destroying beat with force. It left me in a permanent “stank face,” despite being located in a Febreze lavender-scented room. However, the misconceptions of chasing immense fame and fortune are depicted throughout the album as well. On reflective songs such as “Ascension,” he opens up about his struggles with fame, saying “I saw a mountain across the horizon, then I got there and realized it was just a pile of rocks,” and offers his advice to the youth about “handling their business.” Often, we are bombarded in the media with the glamorization of self-destructive habits, and Mac combats this through guidance based on personal experience.
With the release of this album, Mac Miller finally appears to be in a place of solace. It is beautifully crafted, with consistent excellent instrumentals and lyrical content. As a long time observer of his work, I am sure it is his best. When conversing with a friend, they told me they were surprised by the realness, asking me “When did Mac Miller become a poet?”
While this album is not poetry, it is affirmation of Miller’s hardships that accompanied fame at a young age. He looks back upon his struggle with nothing but honesty, and it appears that the struggles lead him to his new state of mind. While not every track is top notch, the music behind the message is of high quality. He is no longer Kicking Incredibly Dope S**t like in his days as a teen; he is bringing substance to his music and can no longer be considered a punchline for corny rap jokes. He is awake now, and with his rise he greets us with a good morning.
My rating: 4.4/5