The snapback kid that used to sing about Nikes on his feet and frozen pizza is grown up and full of complexity on ‘Circles.’
You can feel the optimism in this posthumous studio album that serves as the final piece of work from one of hip-hop’s most multifaceted artists. A career that began with teenage-themed frat rap has transformed into something brilliant over the course of Mac Miller’s young life. Mac’s music has always mirrored the events that have shaped him from his early life in Pittsburgh to his later years in the spotlight. It seems that no piece of work portrays this more than the record duo of ‘Swimming’ and ‘Circles’ or as the combo was intended, ‘Swimming in Circles.’ Mac delivers sorrow, life lessons, mental hurdles and a wide range of emotions throughout the record.
In September of 2018, Mac Miller overdosed at just 26 years old. Before his death, he released the critically acclaimed album titled ‘Swimming’ which ushered in a side of him we were just getting used to seeing. We would later find out that he was working on a companion album titled, ‘Circles.’ His unfortunate passing led us to believe that we would never see a finished counterpart to ‘Swimming’, but Jon Brion, who also produced Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde,’ helped finish what Mac had left behind. Brion helped release the album just two days before what would have been Mac’s birthday and gave the world the final gift from an artist that was just starting to bloom.
It is hard to listen to any piece of work after an artist’s passing and even harder to listen to a posthumous album that follows a record like ‘Swimming.’ However, it is safe to say that ‘Circles’ is not a traditional Mac album in any sense. It is not a rap album, but rather storytelling through a combination of raw singing and simplified beats.
‘Circles’ is a tranquil and soothing album, but listened to with the context of the events that unfolded months before its release, it begins to mean something deeper. The songs feel like a goodbye message to someone we have seen evolve over the years. Mac displays confidence with choruses we hear him sing rather than sung by some feature artist. He gently travels from hook to hook and brings listeners along on a journey that feels intimate and vulnerable at the same time. ‘Hand Me Downs’ and ‘That’s On Me’ songs that are placed next to one another on the album stick out to me for two reasons. One is that they reflect Mac’s ability to smoothly sail over deep lyrics with his nontraditional voice and the other is that these two songs are simple in the way they deliver a message of self-accountability.
The record cumulates with the song ‘Once A Day,’ a slow moving song that feels like his closing statement to life itself. It is the perfect end to an album like ‘Circles’ that takes risks but delivers those risks with such fluidity that it comes across as only the natural progression of Mac’s music career. Something about ‘Circles’ brings me peace and months after hearing heartbreaking news. It almost feels like the final chapter has finally been written for a man we never really knew.
RIP Mac Miller
January 19, 1992 – September 7, 2018