In 2011, Mac Miller hit rock bottom. His debut album Blue Slide Park had just been released and unlike the success of his 2010 mixtape K.I.D.S., his first official project was unanimously panned by critics. That also meant receiving a one out of 10 rating from Pitchfork. Years later, Miller is respected by a handful of Hip Hop’s OGs like Nas and De La Soul, lauded for his experimental production under the pseudonym Larry Fisherman and has overcome a battle with addiction.
After relocating from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, then again from L.A. to New York City, Miller has undergone a career transformation, reshaping his sound and taking music more seriously. Last year at just 22-years-old, Miller, one of the most successful independent rappers of all-time, was rewarded for his hard work when he signed a rumored $10 million deal with Warner Brothers, a move many thought may inhibit his creativity. Instead, the release of his third studio album GO:OD AM showcases maturity beyond Miller’s years, the result of which is a cohesive project that is as cohesive as it is profound.
“You know it’s been a minute since I’ve been away / Didn’t mean to cause you pain, I just needed to escape / They saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place / I’m on my way over, I’m just running kind of late,” rhymes Mac Miller on the album’s opening verse. The Tyler, the Creator-produced beat for “Doors” sets the tone for Miller to openly discuss his battles with depression, addiction and fame. His lyrics surrounded by wavy electronic ambiance and string instruments played pizzicato instead of Hip Hop’s staples of snare drum and bass. Miller even takes the opportunity to sing on the track – a tactic he employs again on later tracks “ROS” and “Ascension.” That’s very much like what he did on “Objects In The Mirror” off of his previous album Watching Movies With The Sound Off.
The growth of Miller has been a hot topic over the past few years as the Pittsburgh emcee grew up in the spotlight while offering up a mix of both party friendly and introspective records along the way. GO:OD AM is mostly filled with the latter, presenting listeners with 17 tracks that range from cocky cuts like “100 Grandkids” and “Break The Law” – which samples both P. Diddy, Black Rob and Mark Curry’s “Bad Boy For Life” and Norman Connors’ “Last Tango in Paris” – to “Clubhouse,” and “Brand New,” which stay closer to Hip Hop’s roots. It’s this same versatility that has helped both Hip Hop veterans and fans alike come to appreciate Miller.
“I give a fuck, less and less every day / The more you give a fuck I guess the less you make (money!)” spits Miller on “Rush Hour,” which blends his boisterous side and a smooth beat to create something fitting of both loud car speakers and close listenings. Even the lyrics seem contradictory, as if Miller is still trapped between his past and present, with the chorus stating that “I’m just trying to grow up old and rich, maybe get married to a local bitch / I be, I be, I be, I be over shit, the world don’t give a fuck about your loneliness” as a series of record scratches and electronic pings similar to those used in Outkast’s “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” move the track along.
While Miller’s music continues to move forward, tracks like “Time Flies,” also prove that the talented emcee and beat maker isn’t afraid of his past. The song not only features overlaid trumpet and a neck-snapping bass and hand clap combination, but also has the trippy feeling of songs from Miller’s past two mixtapes, Faces and Macadelic. The beat is too slow to cover up any impure lyrics, putting the focus on the reinvigorated Miller, who shines through before Lil B. cuts him off with his philosophical musings.
Even with far fewer party tracks than his previous albums, one of GO:OD AM’s “Weekend” tracks manages to stand out. The title may conjure up images of kegs and red cups, but “Weekend” is far from Miller’s signature turn up track “Donald Trump.” With a laid back beat fitting of the slower tempo found throughout GO:OD AM, Miller opens up about his private life with lines like, “I been having trouble sleeping, battling these demons / Wondering what’s the thing that keeps me breathing, is it money, fame or neither?” lyrics that are in stark juxtaposition to the song’s chorus, including “But I be good by the weekend” and “We going out tonight.”
Partying may still be on Miller’s mind, but the album’s few weak links – “In The Bag” and “When In Rome,” – feel out of place and more aligned with his rowdy past than his current state. It’s almost as if they’re momentary relapses serving as breaks from the darker tendencies of the album.
If Miller’s sophomore album was a stepping stone that allowed him to climb above his partying past, GO:OD AM serves as a wakeup call for those that think his music is still best suited for frat parties. With a bright future ahead of him, Miller has positioned himself for career longevity, so long as he can keep his demons behind him.