Mac Miller’s ‘Circles’ is the answer to the questions in ‘Swimming’

We all have those songs. Those songs that we feel are us; sonic letters addressed to us personally with lyrics  that capture the reality of our situations perfectly. For me, those songs belong to Mac Miller.

“ROS” from 2015’s GO:OD AM, spoke to a prior relationship. “You should probably take your heels off / ‘Cause you’ve been running through my mind / Oh baby, they say we’re no good for each other / And I can’t really tell, what is this spell you put me under / Your love’s not too kind to me.” I would listen to it and my heart would wrench. Then there was, “Dunno” from 2018’s Swimming released shortly before his death. This song, embodies that same relationship. “She do whatever she like / And that just don’t seem right / Yeah, make people so mad…” The chorus rings in my mind as I hear him say solemnly, “Wouldn’t you rather get along?” Finally, thanks to his music, I did get along. As the months went by Mac became a constant companion, always in my ears or in a nearby pocket. I listened to him so often that I began to view him as a prophet.

Mac Miller is not just music, he’s not just some “rich white kid”, he’s more than a druggie that ODd on a bad batch of fentanyl. He was like most of us- pained by the heavy burden of existence. Yet he remained a teacher throughout his life; even in death, with the release of the posthumous album Circles.  The project, was meant as a companion to 2018’s Swimming, in effect he played with the idea of Swimming in Circles. The project was Mac’s way of bringing the works full circle. Circles is the answer to all of the questions that he was grappling with in Swimming.

Rap began for Mac at the age of 14, first under the moniker EZ Mac with which he became a prominent feature on the Pittsburgh freestyle scene before recreating himself as Mac Miller. Miller’s early works were juvenile. The young artist’s Blue Side Park hit great commercial success although it was easy to be dismissed by critics, who neatly boxed him in with other white rappers confining him within the space of a “frat rapper”. Mac made use of this wave of negativity the only way he knew how, he used it as fuel to propel his creativity further and to do better. For Mac, it was always about doing better; even after reaching the height of his career. Music was his soul food and his mode of escape, he was once quoted as saying, “I make music like a crack addict”. After moving to L.A., he soon began experimenting with new sounds and producing his own music. This resulted in 2012’s Macadelic and 2013’s Watching Movies With the Sound Off. Drug use became more and more prominent in his life which was in-turn mirrored in his lyrics. “White lines be numbing them dark times/Them pills that I’m popping, I need to man up/Admit it’s a problem/I need a wake-up/Before one morning I don’t wake up,” he raps in “God Speed” from the major-label debut, GO:OD AM.

Mac saw music as a way to connect to others, to himself and to sound itself. Looking into his body of work the signs of constant change are evident as he moved away from party rap to avant-garde experimentation, this too would change with 2016’s Divine Feminine. Funky grooves and instrumentation abounds in this album and is oftentimes read as his most optimistic offering. For me; it would still be Circles; funnily enough this opinion might be wildly contested when listening to some of the songs yet those were his final words to himself–the words that made his last days alright. It is said that he was in the best mental state he had been in in years prior to his death and I believe it too, the sounds, the sensations and the lyrics tell me that he was at peace at the time. The Divine Feminine marks an interesting shift for the artist as he begins elaborating on his vocal abilities, singing more so than ever before. Swimming, in the breath of the Devine Feminine, shows a progress in Mac; mentally and musically. It is as though he has dropped all pretence and let all the walls down to create an honest, raw offering, not for consumption and hype but for himself. The lyrics are painfully morose. Some of the most emotional that he had ever written. Ambition became a space of comfort for him as he created a clear cut offering that was focused; melded with orchestral swells and campy keyboards.

Circles released on the 17 January, has made it easier for me to accept the loss of such a great musical talent. Swimming was never enough, it left the works incomplete and reflected mostly sadness, regret and uncertainty. I’ve had quite some time to live with Circles now, and honestly I’m not sure how I survived without it. Circles is in my personal survival kit. I was having a bad spell of anxiety when I put on “Good News” and it centred me. It became the soothing music I would listen to in any anxiety attack. Somehow the line “When it ain’t that bad / It could always be worse,” became something to hold on to. “Complicated” I would listen to when I was having a hard day or anticipating that something unpleasant was about to happen. I earnestly sit and rap along with Mac, “Some people say they want to live forever / That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today / Without any complications / Does it always gotta, does it always gotta / Gotta be so complicated?” I had sex to “Surf” and the mood of the song made me reach climax. “There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow.” Circles is to me, Mac’s most mature, down to earth, simple and beatific offer. It was him finding his peace.

I’ve learnt so much from his work over the time that I have been avidly listening to it, not about music but about life from someone who lived a life, someone that struggled with addiction, that dreamt and that loved. In Dazed and Confused’s Quoted they made a tribute to him. And he’s quoted as saying, “I think a lot of times, people just want to be cool, and to be in love is not cool. But I think it’s the coolest. I think love is the coolest thing that there is.” Mac showed us nothing but love that seeps through his later offerings, guidance and true emotion.

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