By Ryan Quindlen
Forget everything you know about Mac Miller. If you don’t know anything about him, even better. Now’s the time to pay attention. The 23-year-old rapper from Pittsburgh, Pa., has come a long way since enthusiastically chanting “there’s a party on fifth ave,” over and over until it was stuck in your head for weeks. The once “frat rap” star has done a lot of growing up in recent years, resulting in his most recent release, “GO:OD AM.”
“GO:OD AM,” his first major label release, departs from the melancholy nature of his past two releases (the addiction-fueled album “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” and the underrated tale of recovery, “Faces”), bringing us a new tale of optimism and ambition.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mac Miller when he performed at the College in April 2013 — right before his album “Watching Movies” showed the world his darker side. It took a little while to understand him through the drug-induced slurring, but I was taken aback by his intelligence, enthusiasm and kind-hearted spirit. Two years later, Miller has decided to share this side of himself with all of us.
“GO:OD AM” showcases Miller’s transition from party-boy to recovering artist in a strikingly honest way. He uses the intro track, “Doors,” as an opportunity to assure listeners that he is “in a better place” now, and continues to support this message throughout the album.
You’ll still find Miller’s signature boyish wordplay (lovable arrogance stuffed with humor, sexual themes and pop culture) on tracks like “Clubhouse” or “Rush Hour,” but be prepared for old school, soulful choruses on songs like “Brand Name” or “Two Matches” (featuring Ab-Soul). Miller also incorporates incredibly refined songwriting on the pop, should-have-been-a-summer-hit, “Weekend.”
“100 Grandkids” was the first single released off this album back in August, and is easily one of the best hip hop singles of the year. It’s the kind of song that just begs to be blasted, windows down, flying down 295. And we certainly can’t talk about driving music without mentioning Miller’s second single, the dreamy “Break the Law” (which features some of the best wordplay on the album) or the fiery banger “In The Bag,” where Miller takes the time to remind any haters that he couldn’t care less what they think — because he thinks his music is awesome. You know what, Mac? So do we.
The seemingly random placement of the more radio-friendly tracks on this album leaves me a bit confused at moments, but the rest of the record is filled with a flavorful mix of the melancholic Miller we’ve grown to love and the newly optimistic Miller we’re just being introduced.
It seems Miller may finally have a leg up on the worst of his mental health and drug issues, even if he is far from sober. To quote Miller directly, “To everyone who sell me drugs, don’t mix it with that bullshit, I’m hopin’ not to join the 27 club.”
The man acknowledges his vices and mistakes and is trying to be better in spite of them, which is something worth taking away from this record. Mac certainly hasn’t reinvented hip hop — with the occasional misogynistic lyrics being the only smudges on an otherwise tasteful album — but he seems to be a lot closer to finding his place in it, and finding happiness. We may not know what exactly brought about this shift in Mac, but the soulful chorus of one of “GO:OD AM’s” final tracks, “Ascension,” may just say it best: “What’s the difference between heaven and hell? A brand new me.”
Maybe you need to travel through hell to release something this heavenly.