Album Review : Mac Miller - Swimming (2018)
Believe it or not, I was completely unaware of who Mac Miller was until last June, when a co-worker tole me he was one of his favorite rappers. This co-worker * has made great hip-hop recommendations in the past such as Playboi Carti and BROCKHAMPTON, so I was genuinely excited about getting acquainted with Miller’s music. But one thing lead to another, September came and he tragically past away before I gave his records a single spin. Feeling silly and not knowing what else to do, I put his fifth (and last) album Swimming in my headphones and pressed PLAY.
And it was pretty great, to be honest. While I’m still unfamiliar the rest of Mac Miller’s discography, I thought Swimming’s melancholic piano beats, quirky G-Funk influences and gorgeous, brooding lyrics took me to an emotional place that hip-hop never really takes me to. To me, it’s what emo rap would sound like if Raymond Carver lived in the twenty-first century and decided to rap instead of writing short stories. Swimming has an emotional sophistication and a brutal honesty that is often absent of a genre that too often indulges in machismo or over-intellectualizing allegories. The result is straightforward and relatable, yet loaded with inherent meaning.
Mac Miller’s greatest talent is for writing efficient melodies and memorable hooks that anybody can relate to. Hurt Feelings’ “I’m always sayin’ I won’t change, but I ain’t the same/Everything’s different, I can’t complain” or Self Care’s “I switched time zones, but what do I know?/Spending nights hitchhikin’, where will I go?” both have this visceral singalong quality that anyone going through a rut can sit at the top of their lungs without necessarily feeling like they’re victimizing themselves. The fun and quirky Ladders, Conversation Pt. 1 and the closer So it Goes all have this fun, melodic, mumble-under-your-breath-on-a-bad-day quality also.
Another aspect of Swimming I liked was the organic nature of its production. It doesn’t rely on sampling too heavily on samples and it really lets instruments shine. It’s a way of making hip-hop we’re not used to in this day and age. Whether it’s the fat G-Funk bassline on What’s the Use? I was earlier referring to, the glockenspiel-like synth on Ladders or the freakin’ string section on 2009, there’s an element of organic warmth on most songs that complement the emotional and immediate nature of Swimming quite well. It’s a great record to listen to when you’re going through some shit on your own. Despite Mac Miller’s ominous fate, it has an odd soothing quality to it, like the soundtrack of somebody genuinely trying to get better.
I really liked Swimming, but perhaps it was a little too long. It could’ve easily been trimmed down from thirteen songs to ten. Tracks like Wings, Dunno or…. (I’m going to catch flack for this) Jet Fuel could’ve been left out of the record and it would’ve have suffered from it. But getting to know the late Mac Miller was mostly an intimate and endearing experience. Swimming is the proof your can write emotional and introspective rap lyrics without sounding like a suicidal headcase and/or a crazy person trying to draw attention to herself. It’s mood music that doesn’t suit every situation, but it’s efficient for what it is and it reflects moods I’ve felt over and over in recent years.
* Hi Hugo.