Determining whether or not an artist is having fun while making their music is difficult for a casual listener. By giving fans a look into his day to day life on his third album, GO:OD AM, Mac Miller asks you this question in a very direct way— whether or not it’s true is up to the listener to determine. Debuting in the wake of his $10 million distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records, Miller’s first effort after leaving his independent label Rostrum Records has all the hallmarks of a major label budget. Miller raps over a sampling of interesting beats with some of the most left-field features he could have chosen. This creates an album that pleases long-time fans with a familiar sound, but gives new fans an entry point into his discography with the most polished, cohesive album that he has released to date.
From his early mixtape work of K.I.D.S. and Best Day Ever, the easiest progression that Mac Miller has made is definitely in his lyricism. His in-house producers I.D. Labs still handle much of the beatmaking side of things, giving long-time listeners a sense of continuity in Miller’s discography and allowing Miller’s words to take center stage. Poetic lyricism about the pitfalls of fame and fortune is no new ground in rap music, but Miller has a penchant for painting a picture that sets him apart from other “mainstream” rappers. When he raps lines like “this the music that makes white people mad,” on “In The Bag,” he appears to beg to be taken seriously while not really caring in the long run. The themes typical of Miller are all there, but the delivery and context of the album take center stage instead of allowing played-out tropes to run rampant.
Tyler, The Creator’s instantly recognizable production starts the album softly on the album opener “Doors.” Miller’s half sung, half rapped, vulnerable lyrics include lines like “you know it’s been a minute since I been awake” and “they saying that I’m sober, I’m just in a better place.” The very personal place that listeners see Miller in allows for more intimate knowledge of his hardships than the work of a run-of-the-mill struggle rapper. Miller causes this connection between the rapper and the listener to occur by vividly describing the range of experiences he has had up to this point in his life. All of this comes to a head in the second half of “Perfect Circle/God Speed,” with the first verse serving as the best indicator of Miller’s current mental state and the struggle of his sobriety and fame. Even so, after a short, mumbled discussion, the album jumps right back in on the over-the-top, “everything is fine and I’m having a great time” vibe that seems a bit too calculated to be honest on the bombastic “When In Rome.”
Luckily, Miller is not alone in this ride. When left to his own devices, as seen in his debut album Blue Slide Park, the lack of outside input shows in weak structuring and focus. By being selective and intentional when picking features, Miller often brings the best out of the artists he collaborates with. The only two rap verses not from Miller on the album: the most coherent and clever verse Chief Keef has delivered in quite some time on “Cut The Check” and Ab-Soul’s quick, punchy addition to “Two Matches.” In the hook department, Miller is always solid at condensing his message into a catchy chorus that takes a few listens to really digest. Miguel, Little Dragon, and Juicy J all add to the story at various points in the album, creating appeal to a wider audience while also feeling like genuine contributions. Lil B also makes an untraditional appearance on “Timeflies,” simply monologuing about time. This might seem silly on a surface level, but much like the Based God’s other work, it offers some deeper philosophical content if you sit down and think about it.
Taking time with this album is essential to enjoying it, so start with “Doors” and sit all the way through to “Festival,” taking the full ride with Miller in an attempt to understand him better. Signing a big money deal might have worried some long-time fans, but if Miller didn’t have complete artistic control of this album then perhaps he should have signed a deal a long time ago. This album is on par with the classic that was Watching Movies With The Sound Off, and is actually more focused and cohesive than Miller’s sophomore effort.