Some thought Pittsburgh-based rap star Mac Miller was foolish for choosing to release his sophomore album, "Watching Movies With the Sound Off," the same day rap's self-proclaimed god Kanye West dropped his sixth studio album, "Yeezus." The release of J. Cole's "Born Sinner" only added to the pressure. Instead of admitting defeat, Miller relished the opportunity.
"I wanted to run at first, but then I was like, nah, I'm not gonna run, I'm gonna hold my ground and drop this album the same day," Miller said in an interview with Fuse TV earlier this month. "This is an omen, there's a reason that this is happening."
After reaching the top of the charts two years ago with his freshman product "Blue Slide Park," Miller was able to fully unleash his artistic abilities on his latest work, lending to a 19-track album that is as defiant and creative as ever.
Mac Miller: 'Watching Movies With the Sound Off' (Rostrum)
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After just over four minutes of thumping bass and hard-hitting, often vulgar lyrics by Miller and featured artist Action Bronson, the beat to the album's ninth track, "Red Dot Music," fades. Then, an unnamed voice overtakes the crackle of white-noise.
"You was Easy Mac with the cheesy raps," says a disgruntled Loaded Lux. Few would address their far-from-flattering past on their own album; Miller devotes two minutes to his flaws.
Miller's rap career has been haunted by critics who dismiss him as nothing more than a frat rapper -- although he thinks of himself as an artist more akin to '90s rap group De La Soul and its Daisy Age movement. Yet, Miller has always seemed conflicted, bouncing between drug references and introspective thoughts on money, family and fame.
"Can't decide if you like all the fame/Three years ago to now it's just not the same/I'm looking out the window ashing on the pane I wonder if I lost my way," raps Miller on the album's first track, "The Star Room," a mix of augmented, high-pitched lyrics and deep self-reflection over a beat fitting of the song's title.
Whether you've sided with Miller or dismissed his sound as unintelligent, drug-induced party music, his largely documented rise into the national spotlight has created a man grappling with reality. Unlike some, including Mr. West, who is often reclusive aside from the occasional rant on Twitter, Miller has been willing to bare all for us (quite literally on his semi-nude album cover) during his journey: highs and lows included.
While tracks like "I Am Who Am (Killing Time)" allow Miller further time to reflect on his come-up over the type of kicks, snare and high-hat that fans of the genre have come to expect, the tail-end of the track ends with youthful experimentation in the form of the young rapper singing a peaceful background. This is a new aspect that Miller has attempted in "Watching Movies With the Sound Off," further adding to his repertoire as a multi-instrumentalist. Surprisingly, it works.
The fine-tuned version of Miller's "Objects in the Mirror" gives fans a taste of a musician who is starting to refine his skills while simultaneously seeing how much creativity he can get away with before a backlash from his fans, and his critics, reels him back in. So far, Miller's creative liberties have yet to be hampered.
Adding to Miller's latest work is a stacked list of features that includes Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, Vinny Radio and Tyler, the Creator, along with productions by Pharrell Williams, Flying Lotus, Diplo and Pittsburgh beat-makers Big Jerm and ID Labs, making for a tracklist that only solidifies the album's chances of pleasing Miller's fans.
His diehard fans will also note that Larry Fisherman, one of Miller's alter egos, helped produced a few of the album's tracks as well, yet another sign of growth from a rapper who has a long career ahead of him.
This is no "Yeezus" -- it's also no 18-year-old Miller's "K.I.D.S." -- but Miller's sophomore album shows the kind of creativity in both his lyrics and their delivery that we've come to expect from the 21-year-old Pittsburgher. For Miller, it's just another step in the right direction.
First Published June 18, 2013 4:00 AM