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Mac Miller Really Hit His Stride With The Exceptionally Good The Divine Feminine

camjameson
Written by camjameson
/ 9 mins read

To say I’ve been hip to the charms of deceased rapper Mac Miller before this past year would be a bold-faced lie, but I couldn’t be any happier that now that I’ve actually given his music a chance – Now, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not merely his untimely passing that got me hooked on the Pittsburgh native’s body of work, rather a chance encounter with his music nearly two years ago whilst up late doing some data work for my job. You see, I’d been purposely avoiding his music for years before then, constantly getting him confused with NF, Logic, Macklemore, G-Eazy or any of those other up-n-coming white rappers who were starting to get big around 2013, finding all of their flows to be so incredibly banal & cookie-cutter-ish in comparison to the serious hood hooks I grew up with being raised in the Bay Area; Nothing any of these guys released ever caught me in a way that felt inspiring & I didn’t want to support the media machine who were simply praising them for being Caucasian rather than for the talents when there were so many underground rappers out there absolutely killin’ it, so I shut myself off entirely from what they had to say, ultimately lumping Miller into the same group like a damned fool – Boy, what a mistake that was. I liken it to being a picky eater as a kid who would only eat chicken-strips & fries for pretty much every meal; I was denying myself so many fantastic meals throughout my childhood, not only messing with my internal health but damaging my outward appearance ‘cause I was now known as that idiot who’d go out on a date & order the chicken teriyaki instead of something adventurous like maguro or unagi, proving to the world that I wasn’t mature enough to put aside my preconceived notions & try something new for once. Well, much like I’d eventually open up my palate to everything offered my way, becoming a professional chef who now tries to convince his girlfriend to eat outside her comfort zone, my musical prejudices would eventually lighten up in the last couple of years as well, with Miller’s The Divine Feminine being one of the many overwhelming surprises I experienced once I stopped being such an incredible hater – I’d like to say that the wait made his reveal that much better, but I can’t forgive myself for being such an incredible asshole all this time when he had so many dope rhymes to share with me when he was still around.

A Glimpse Of Bliss Amidst Utter Tragedy

It’s late-2017. I’m scrubbing through Ariana Grande’s wonderful One Love Manchester concert for work, the one she put on in the wake of the suicide bombings not long beforehand, essentially marking down time-codes for all the different performances within so we could upload the entire performance to VIBBIDI in a more enjoyable format. The concert was all fine & dandy on its own, with some pretty heartfelt moments coming from the barely-holding-it-together Grande & some delightful cameo performances strewn about from big acts like Dua Lipa & Sam Smith, but it wasn’t until Mac Miller hit the stage to perform with her that I found myself actually stopping dead in my tracks to listen to the performance itself instead of simply rushing through the work as fast as I could. At first it was just a mild bit of intrigue that caught my attention, wondering if this guy could actually spit in a live performance unlike his hack of a contemporary rapper Macklemore, but then I heard the most delightful bassline start to bounce away in the background that slapped me in the face with the Funk, shocking my classically-trained Jazz-cat self & slapping me in the face with pure grooves I just couldn’t deny, ‘causing me to explore further – That song, of course, is the incredible jam “Dang! (feat. Anderson .Paak),” easily the best mainstream song Miller’s ever released & the single I always go back to on The Divine Feminine whenever I need to defend his honour. This track has everything: Sick bass grooves, an ethereal glow of early-nineties Maxwell-like R&B energy, a Soulquarian narrative thread, slick rhymes from Miller & Anderson .Paak as well as some truly skillful lyrical flow you just weren’t seeing from younger rappers at the time. Of course, this performance wasn’t actually featuring .Paak himself, but somehow Grande’s inclusion actually made it all the more enjoyable as the two fed off each other so brilliantly, clearly infatuated with each other & sharing in the mutual bliss of melody – Naturally, I was hooked, realizing I’d been an absolute prick for too long before this, spending the next couple of weeks thumbing through his discography & picking out my favourite moments for new summer-jam mixes I was making. Honestly, if it weren’t for this song, I’d probably have had no connection to Miller’s music whatsoever, which in-turn would’ve lessened the impact of his death to being just another celebrity I had no idea about.

More Than Just Some College Dropout

A lot of what made me hesitant about jumping onto the Mac Miller bandwagon before this was the relative predictability of mainstream Rap from 2008 to 2013; Everyone had the same collegiate flow, sporting a faux-conscious songwriting aesthetic with some of the most forced rhymes ever, this sing-song-y speaking cadence that felt like a Poli-Sci major trying to talk down to you, bombastic beats that fed off of EDM sonic techniques & a whole bunch of undeserved bravado which showed how unfathomably young & stupid all of these rappers were. I’m not trying to say any of that aesthetic has gone away, of course, as Trap quickly swooped in around 2014 & fucked things up for an entirely new generation, but in both eras there are of course exceptions to the rule & Miller managed to sneak his way out of the filth to be one of the few heavy-hitters by employing some truly skillful songwriting in The Divine Feminine – For example, check out the introductory track “Congratulations (feat. Bilal).” It’s a fairly simple tune, serving as the tone-piece for Miller to narrate the flow of The Divine Feminine, but it goes so much further than just surface level, illustrating to the listener his deep connection with Hip Hop culture, his love for R&B music, his understanding of Jazz & his desire to be as real as possible in his tracks, a far-cry from the braggadocios attitudes of his nearest competitors. “Congratulations” features a surprisingly well-developed story that’s thoughtful & rhythmically-intriguing, but the best elements are of course the light twinkling of a grand-piano playing bright, dynamic chords & the occasional symphonic string swells which fill out the background in such exquisite detail, reminiscent of the sort of cinematic scale you’d get in the soundtrack for an Indie film set in New York. Something about the way that piano emotes is so very New York; The way Miller tells it like it is is so brash & up-front like a New Yorker too, despite actually being a Pittsburgh guy – To be fair, I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, so that big-city vibe I’m describing could very-well be what his hometown is like, but whatever it is I absolutely love it & it does a fantastic job of showing you just what kind of guy Miller is from tip-to-tie.

A Visionary Flying Under The Radar

Perhaps what really caught my ear on The Divine Feminine is just how malleable Mac Miller is stylistically throughout the entire album. I’d alluded to it before, but there’re so many killer examples of his sonic education across the record, from elements of Psychedelic Neo Soul in the heatwave-inducing “Skin” to a not-so-rigid rendition of Trap aesthetics in the track “Cinderella (feat. Ty Dolla $ign),” even taking a dip into good-ol’ Jazz with “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty (feat. Kendrick Lamar),” really taking you out on a high note as you finish the whole experience; The fluidity with which he traverses each genre is downright impressive & his ability to do so without losing the integrity of his vocal track is a feat in & of itself, especially when put up against heavy hitters like Kendrick Lamar & CeeLo Green - Unlike his Caucasian contemporaries, Mac Miller exudes confidence in every line he shares & a expresses a true understanding of what it’s like to grow up on the streets with this music deep down in your soul rather than trying so desperately to evoke an image of Hip Hop like those he shares the mainstream light with often do. He breathes it; He lives it; It’s all so natural for him & you can absolutely tell by the way he incorporates other genres into his music, always incorporating elements of the road less-traveled into his work to show that he’s a student of the craft & not just some surface-level poseur – This would obviously come to define his next album Swimming even more, as more Funk & Soul elements pervade that album like a dark plague, showing the true extent of his artistry, but I really feel like The Divine Feminine is where this incredible momentum really got started. It’s a shame he’d go on to leave us only a few short months later, as he really was one of the most gifted lyricists of his demographic, but somehow it couldn’t have gone any other way, as the most talented individuals always leave with a bang rather than with a whimper…

Enjoy Swimming, An Album From A Life Long Musician Who Had A Life Cut Too Short

taylor
Written by taylor
/ 4 mins read

Rapper Mac Miller was a multi-instrumentalist by age 6, and setting his sights on Hip Hop, he devoured the genre while developing his skills and style. 5 albums later, his legacy seems intact as an underground meets mainstream rapper, who was also weed promoting, sonically diverse, and a jack of all trades. The album Swimming shows Miller as a lover of old school funk instrumentals, a far cry from the sounds of his mixtapes a decade ago. The content therein also delves into a healing process, with personal demons explored in a damning yet therapeutically positive way - finishing on an ambiguous note as to whether he will overcome it all. As we know by now, only a month later, he would be dead, succumbing to those demons of addiction - a killer concoction of alcohol, fentanyl, and cocaine.

The ‘soul man’ at the heart of this rapper shines because of his evolved technique

Mac Miller was determined to keep singing R&B on his rap albums - seemingly for his sheer admiration for Soul, undeterred by his shakey delivery which was hard not to notice on the critically divisive Ariana Grande duet “The Way.” What amounted then to a sort of fake-it-till-you-make-it Chance the Rapper wannabe croon has exponentially evolved into a much more confident, easy to listen smoothness on album opener “Come Back to Earth.” I detect that the soft Rhodes keyboard is the key to this warm fusion, as an echo filtered Miller becomes perfectly lost somewhere amidst the layers of jazzy seventies soul. Stevie Wonder’s exploratory ballad “Seems So Long” is instantly recognizable as a major melodic and technical influence here.

With some modern nods, most tracks are closer to a funky Cali styled Anderson Paak vibration

“Selfcare” is the only standout trap-inspired beat on the whole album, which is a wink at the a current state of Hip Hop - absolutely saturated with the street sound, though the rapper circumvents much of the trap convention by waxing poetically on introspective, embrace-the-void thoughts rather than typical boasts and threats; “I got all the time in the world / so for now I'm just chillin' / plus, I know it's a, it's a beautiful feelin' / in oblivion, yeah, yeah.” This is not the only prophetic song on the album - as each track has some sort of odd happy nihilism combo hidden in the subtext. There is a modern wavy meets A Tribe Called Quest style on “Hurt Feelings.” A semi modern cut is the languid mumble voiced jam “2009” - but even that has a classic dusty vibe, the same nod to the past which Anderson Paak employs on his music. Such funky joints are “What’s the Use?”, “Small Worlds”, and the uptempo “Ladders”, much of its production owing to a to funk god producer Thundercat.

Mac Miller checks out from this world as an enigmatic risk taker whose risks pay off

“Dunno” is a hip melancholic downtempo joint which mixes very accented, purposely naive deliveries containing G Funk inspired loose falsetto harmonies - the whole package sounding out of place today but right in line with the almost 20 year old Andre 3000 joints on OutKast’s “The Love Below.” Kooky heady tracks subvert the mainstream on “Perfecto” and “Wings.” They take risks with the mainstream audience’s expectations on the way a beat should be delivered - here the tempos are warped and stretched and the flow is relaxed, indeed. The cosmic funeral dirge of “So It Goes” is a befitting, and emotional send off for both an last album and a life. It is spooky and mesmerizing, how it seems to predict Miller’s departure - and thankfully, it is more transcendental than overly melancholic.

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12. Artist Info

About

Malcolm James McCormick (January 19, 1992 – September 7, 2018), known professionally as Mac Miller, was an American rapper, songwriter, and record producer. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Miller began his career in the city's hip hop scene in 2007, at the age of fifteen. In 2010, he signed a record deal with Pittsburgh-based independent label Rostrum Records, with whom he had his breakthrough with the mixtapes K.I.D.S. (2010) and Best Day Ever (2011).
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Born

    1992-01-19

Active

    2007–2018

Label

  • Rostrum
  • REMember
  • Warner Bros.