I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Malcolm James “Mac Miller” McCormick passed away.
I was sitting on a RIPTA bus on my way home from the University of Rhode Island for the weekend. I was scrolling through Facebook, and saw a friend shared a link that said “Mac Miller Dead at 26” with their response — “Is this real?” I remember immediately telling a friend sitting next to me what was up.
There was no way it was real.
The link didn’t look credible and, on Facebook, people are always spreading misinformation. After searching the internet for legitimate sources, I found that it was actually true. Mind you, Mac Miller was one of the first rappers I ever seriously got into because I never really listened to rap as a young, raging teenager. I was heartbroken.
When I was 14 years old when I first heard “Senior Skip Day,” and I was immediately hooked. I remember listening to his album Swimming when it released and a little more than a month later, he was dead. I loved, loved “Small Worlds” featuring John Mayer — easily my favorite track on that record. It was very sad to hear another great artist go, but when I went back to listen to Swimming again. It hit me in a different way. Listening to “Self Care” felt like a flare gun was shot into the sky. Another artist lost with a strong message in their music prior to their death, but could not be saved.
Now, more than a year later, we have Circles. The album released on January 17, two days before my birthday, and it was one of the most heartbreaking birthday presents I could ask for. When this album came out, I heard very mixed reviews. Some reviews said it was amazing and others said it wasn’t their favorite. It’s definitely a hard one to critique because it was released posthumously. Unreleased work by an artist who isn’t alive can be nervewracking because you know the artist was not there to say what direction they would want it to go in.
My initial reaction to Circles was similar to that of others. I couldn’t help but feel sad when “Good News” was released as the lead single before the full album. The song easily becomes an eye-opener when he says, “Why does everybody need me to stay,” and “good news, good news, that’s all they wanna hear.” It’s a very haunting line to hear. His voice is so calm and distressed, and once again tells the story of how fame affects artists and the stresses they are put under. I can’t help but think this is how he felt about his fans. No shade to his fan base, but wow, that one hurts even more.
Circles in its entirety is not very sad — it’s more personal than anything. I believe the project shows Mac Miller’s most vulnerable side. Although this album makes us sad that he’s no longer here, I can still vibe and do a little dance to it. I could feel my head bumping and dancing to songs such as “Blue World” and “Complicated.” Most of the beats and instrumentals are mellow and melancholic, but still groovy. Aside from all of the sad things from this album, I think it’s beautifully and carefully put together.
Songs like “Everybody” is elegantly arranged. I recall a friend I spoke to said it sounds like a Billy Joel song. The intro on Circles has a slow piano and deep, soulful vocals from Mac, almost sounding like a ballad. It quickly switches tempo, but still remains with that Billy Joel-esque tone. I always appreciated that Mac wasn’t just a rapper, but showed us his real talent as a singer as well. Songs like “Everybody,” “My Favorite Part” and live vocals from “Objects in the Mirror” featuring The Internet gives us his best vocals.
“Hand Me Downs” is my favorite track of the album, but at the same time, it’s also bittersweet to me. The song’s use of the guitar and bass is so nifty, chill and relaxed. On it, we get the best of both worlds and hear Mac Miller’s deep expressive tone, but hear the rap we are familiar with.
If you don’t love this album, I can understand why, but I think it shows us more of Mac than we have ever seen.