Mac Miller Finds His Center on ‘GO:OD AM’

Photos by Brick Stowell

There is a lot of talk about drugs and Donald Trump surrounding Malcolm McCormick, bka Mac Miller. His Twitter beef with the real estate mogul turnt presidential candidate immortalized on Mac’s biggest hit to date, “Donald Trump,” tends to be the lead question in his promo interviews. His openness about past drug use is usually the followup. Such convos have overshadowed discussions of his new album, GO:OD AM, which dropped round midnight today, to the point where the album was almost becoming an afterthought. But Mac has logged too many hours in the studio for the music to be overlooked. “Unless we talk about me doing drugs with Donald Trump, which would be dope,” he says with a laugh.“I just don’t want the questions anymore. GO:OD AM is a win, one that Mac has worked hard to claim. It would be a shame to conflate it with bullshit.

Hip hop fans are accustomed to hearing rappers begin their ascension to popularity as a lyricist only to turn into pop-ified shadows of who they once were. Mac Miller has done the opposite.

As a Jewish kid from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, he takes his place in a long line of white rappers who have faded into irrelevance, from Asher Roth to Machine Gun Kelly (and hopefully one day, Macklemore). This is not to lend credence to the woes of the white rapper, but the game is not exactly begging for one. Yet for Mac it’s unclear exactly when or if that moment will ever come. He’s escaped the fate of others by displaying notable progression at his craft without lapsing into mediocrity or dumbing down his work.

A cursory glance at Miller reveals an artist who has come full circle. He was once, infamously, “EZ Mac with the cheesy raps,” as battle rapper extraordinaire Loaded Lux put it on a guest verse from Miller’s 2013 album Watching Movies With The Sound Off. EZ Mac was so successful that his official debut album, 2011’s Blue Slide Park, became the first independently distributed album to reach No. 1 on Billboard‘s albums chart since Tha Dogg Pound’s Dogg Food achieved the same feat in 1995. Though it was a commercial victory of historic proportions, critics dismissed Miller as a “frat rapper,” the latest in a procession of Internet artists appealing to college kids with vapid, hedonistic lyrics.

The follow-up, Watching Movies, sold about 90,000 fewer copies, but broke new creative ground as a total sonic and lyrical departure. After Mac inked a deal with Warner Bros last year, it would have been all too easy to predict a return to the pop-friendly hits as the artist succumbed to major label pressures. But no—he is more balancing a seesaw than completing a circle.

Miller admits that the criticism of Blue Slide Park knocked the wind out of his sails. Indeed, he turned to drugs as a means of coping. “It made realize I wasn’t invincible, that I wasn’t done mastering the craft,” he says. “I had never taken a loss or had to deal with it. I was 19 and I looked at it like I was fucking killing it.” The “frat rap” label stung even more because his moves proved it right. His “Blue Slide Park” tour frequented college campuses, and his Twitter following (then hovering around a million) seemed more invested in his curated social media persona than his music. The trend continued when he signed on with MTV for the first season of Mac Miller and the Most Dope Family in 2012.

Though he didn’t necessarily feel he had something to prove on his sophomore effort, Watching Movies, Miller found solace in the studio. “It was a very secluded and insular thing,” he says. “But I think I got the drive to start really honing in on how to make a whole project a success as opposed to just songs.” Relocating from Pittsburgh to L.A. meant collabing with darker, gloomier producers and artists like Flying Lotus, Earl Sweatshirt, and Vince Staples, the better to express his dystopian view of the success wrought by his debut.

“I didn’t know how to handle just living,” he explains. “I didn’t like going out knowing that people were looking at me. It was a weird transition, and that showed up on the album.” Though he was shooting for MTV at the same time, Miller would often sneak away from parties to work on a beat or find a quiet place to thumb a verse on his phone. Such studiousness doesn’t make for very good television, so it can be gleaned that these studio scenes happened pretty often for them to have appeared in the final aired episodes as often as they did.

All that work in the “bubble” (as Miller calls it) paid off. For all its party talk Blue Slide Park now sounds damn-near straight-edge. By contrast his 2014 mixtape Faces is like a hit of pure crystal meth, with each tape and album preceding it as a gateway drug. Over the course of two albums, two EPs, and eleven mixtapes, Mac Miller has not only proven that he can sell, he can also rap and produce—well.

GO:OD AM proves he can do all of the above at the same damn time. If less than a quarter of his 5 million Twitter followers cop GO:OD AM it will go platinum. With the radio-friendly album out of the way and the fuck-it-Imma-do-me album out of his system, Miller has found his happy medium with the strength of a major label behind him (however strong that is these days).

The insecurities are gone this time around. No longer does he need a self-approved roast session from Loaded Lux to point out his flaws before others can. He is poised, confident and ready for whatever success or criticism the new album will bring. The balancing act that is “100 Grandkids” reflects on his come-up, yet he realizes that he hasn’t really done shit yet. “Clubhouse” is his request for entry into the league of rappers to actually take seriously. He confronts the effects his drug use had on his loved ones on “Perfect Circle/God Speed.” The flows range from variations of Future’s popular triplet cadence to punchline god flows. The sounds capitalize off of popular trap and drill elements, but they get dopely weird in spots too with electro shit that Little Dragon rocks over and some freeform jazz.

His mind is right where he thinks it needs to be. ”I knew this album wasn’t going to be a super depressing album, but I don’t look at the album as necessarily happy,” said Miller. “It’s a medium. There are dark moments on it, but this album is confident. There are definitive answers on it.” That mindframe is all over the album, riding the broken line between the popular and underground lanes, while swerving into both.

GO:OD AM is not the album of the year. It most likely won’t debut at #1 with Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon on the prowl for chart space next week as well. But it’s definitely not a let-down after the numerous ill releases that have made 2015 feel special. Mac Miller may not be the most influential rapper of his generation, but his evolution up to this point feels special—and Mac knows it.

That big yawn on the cover speaks volumes. He isn’t smacking his alarm clock with scorn after a drug-binge night. This time around he stops the clock before it goes off, rested and ready to seize his moment.


GO:OD AM. is out now on Warner Bros.

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