Released in 2012, Miller’s Macadelic mixtape may be the missing link for those astonished by the contrast between the whimsical Blue Slide Park and the depth of his latest work. “I think everyone hears this crazy change, but they’re really just going from album to album,” he says. “Anyone that’s seen me making music this whole time knows that this is where it was headed. I would hope that I got better. I wouldn’t wanna stay the same.” In addition to verses about sipping lean (promethazine mixed with codeine) to escape reality, a habit he’s recently kicked, Macadelic’s lyrics delve into the plight of a young man struggling to find his identity amidst a world of excess and the inescapable glare of the spotlight. Sometimes I wonder who the fuck I am / So I’ve been looking in the mirror and it still don’t make no sense, he broods on “The Question.” On “Clarity,” he toys with the notion of being caught in a purgatory of sorts — a concept he returns to on Watching Movies with the Sound Off’s soul-searching opener, “The Star Room”: Still trapped inside my head / I kinda feel like it’s a purgatory. “If you think about everything, just the world around you, for too long and try to get to a conclusion, you kind of realize there’s no conclusion,” he says. “Spending all this time in your mind, [it’s] just kind of a standstill, but it’s good. You have your good days, you have your bad days, you’re just kind of centered. I like the idea of tossing around purgatory.” Perhaps because he’s having a very good day, it’s a much less bleak vision than his lyrics imply.
Before “The Star Room” concludes, Miller declares that if there’s a party in heaven, he’s gonna leave wasted. The track is a nice summation of the album altogether: sometimes he’s still the life of the party, but the 21-year-old rapper is also growing up. His personal evolution includes a new-found interest in spirituality. “I’m not like a born-again religious weirdo,” he clarifies when I bring it up. “I just feel like it’s such a big thing in the world.” Though he could likely give a seminar on the workings of the music industry, this statement shines a light on his youthful naiveté. “Religion is so powerful. I just wanna learn about it. I wanna take a voyage [and] go to all the religious meccas and feel the energy.” On the album’s penultimate, meditative jam, “Aquarium,” he contemplates this quest for a more meaningful existence: I know you hear me out there / Give me a sign though.
The record’s more vulnerable moments arrive when Miller addresses a certain female on the slow-burning, Clams Casino-produced “Youfouria” and the delicately sultry “Someone Like You.” “I think on ‘Someone Like You,’ the verses are about issues in my own head and the hook is about [how] when you’re with your girl, nothing matters, which is tight,” he says. “But then there’s a whole bunch of issues that come with that.” He grows a little distant when I ask about his recent split from the girl he dated for the majority of his musical career: “It’s still not really resolved. It’s still whatever.”
It’s hard to reconcile this side of Miller with the wild antics flaunted on his MTV reality show Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family. “What people don’t know is I’ve been a pretty mature individual for a while,” he remarks. “I have this thing where when I’m uncomfortable, like on the [TV] show — people don’t get it — they think that’s really me, but it’s kind of a defense mechanism. I’m being filmed all the time, so it’s easier to be a weirdo than to be myself.” A lascivious, braggadocio-spewing caricature of Miller plays a supporting role on Watching Movies with the Sound Off, perhaps most prominently on his bonkers track with Q, “Gees,” when he commands, “Suck my dick before I slap you with it.”
Between the album’s lecherous edges and soft spots, Miller shines as an intelligent and dexterous emcee. His game-changing lead single, “S.D.S.,” converted haters to fans, and he casually trades head-spinning verses with the elusive Jay Electronica on the hypnotic “Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes.” “I like to say that he sent me on a scavenger hunt to get the verse,” he says of the coveted guest spot. “I always say that he sent me an e-mail with 30 clues, and on the 30th clue I found the key to open the secret door. The Jay Electronica verse is the next Dan Brown book.”
When we pause for lunch, Miller slips back into goofball mode as he and Q commence one of their favorite pastimes: exchanging six-second video jabs on Vine. Q snaps one labeling Mac Vanilla Ice and Mac responds by comparing a shirtless Q to the far portlier Bizarre from D12. Later, I ask the pair to think up their dream collaborations for each other. “Mac and somebody else? Mac and Macklemore,” jokes Q. “Mac and Macklemore going in on a motherfuckin’ Mac attack. No hook, no nothing, just a Mac attack. Bars — 60 bars each.” Miller fires back: “Kendrick [and Q]. That’s all you need, baby.”