When Faces came out in 2014, the ethereal levels Mac Miller imposes on himself has given the title a more direct meaning — opposed to forcing his hand with what works, though it’s been somewhat similar since Macadellic. Watching Movies saw Mac Miller juxtaposing his aspirations with themes that embrace the broken humanity inside, despite coming off brash a few times. Unlike Watching Movies, Mac incorporates lines from Bill Murray, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, and others as a means to personify his different faces. Unfortunately, these samples won’t see the light of day on the DSP releases since clearing them could get expensive in the long run. But as I’ve spent the last week and a half revisiting the project, a few things ran through my mind — most importantly, how Faces is in some ways a personification of the many facets of Mac Miller’s artistry.
Faces is unlike a lot of Mac Miller projects — it diverges from a tight focus to having loose cohesion with slightly varying production styles. On Faces, you hear Mac Miller, along with co-producers like Thundercat and randomblackdude (Earl Sweatshirt), delivering an array of dreamy, bombastic, jazzy, and psychedelic overtones. And from the percussion-heavy “Malibu” to the smooth cadence of “55,” an interlude orchestrated by Mac and Thundercat, the mixtape would, indirectly, foreshadow the different directions Mac took. “Insomniak” left an impression upon revisiting as it mirrors the flows and production of GO:OD AM, while songs like “Grand Finale” and “Colors and Shapes” feel more aligned with his last two albums.
Like the projects that follow, features and producers are an embodiment of the style Mac Miller approached. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller delivers smooth, witty, and matured raps over percussion-heavy productions — sans the Lil B interlude. Faces gave fans feature artists feeling loose like most mixtapes and their raw aesthetics. GO:OD AM is tighter by having a cohesive direction in sound. From Frank Dukes to DJ Dahi, the producers have a keen sense of style for percussion — whether it is a solo production or work amongst a few, it takes you through the wringer as Mac Miller flexes. We’ve heard him in pieces, open up about his childhood and adolescence, sometimes bordering on drug abuse and mental health issues, like on “I Know Who I Am (Killin’ Time).” And it continued on Faces.
Before the release of GO:OD AM, I was one of many that questioned a lot from listening to Faces. Most of which came from Mac Miller’s inherent drug use and the jaw-dropping moment in “Grand Finale,” where Mac mentions how his habits have worsened, that he’s surprised to be alive. In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller took a different sense of direction, focusing on his successes, family, and future as the music takes a closer look at the immediate world around him as he went from 0-100 real quick in notoriety. GO:OD AM focuses on Mac’s next move, predominately on his and his families well being — it becomes tongue-in-cheek with concepts and titles that speak more than words suggest. With songs like “Brand Name” and “100 Grand Kids,” Mac plays around with his future, knowing he has secured a promising start to the bag. “Insomniak” and “Diablo” mirror what would be the production of this follow-up the year after. “Diablo” has these dark piano keys that subtly control the perceived percussion levels as Mac smoothly raps over it — the production on “Weekend” delivers nuances to the piano keys on “Diablo.”
It would allow him to change face again as he’d release The Divine Feminine.
The Divine Feminine isn’t grounded in typical Mac Miller fashion, with the most non-esoteric song being “Dang!” It sees Mac Miller embracing a form of hip-hop that is hard to create — the concept album. The Divine Feminine embraces a different style where Mac breaks down his walls again, giving fans a conscious understanding of his idea of love as he battles the trials and tribulations of the past. Like GO:OD AM, it continues to show the many faces of Mac Miller — this time incorporating different producers, prevalent to weaving soul and jazz samples on productions to add an extra level of oomph to the music. You hear Mac playing around with these soundscapes on Faces, whether it’s from finding the right way to incorporate “55” and “Angel Dust” within the big picture.
I go more in-depth with The Divine Feminine in my retrospective review, which you can read here.
Swimming and Circles closes a sudden chapter in Mac Miller’s life. It’s a duality between an artist giving a-semi-last go at rap before swimming to a world/genre he once thought about pursuing — singer/songwriter, as he was a homegrown multi-instrumentalist. It wasn’t until The Divine Feminine that we heard Mac Miller singing and pouring his soul out, and it would continue on Swimming, where the melancholy shrouded any sense of realized light in his eye. Mac Miller takes the production and subverts expectations by delivering a blend of genuine hip-hop and other nuances, like the spacey-funk-inspired “Self Care” and the subtle flows of “Small Worlds.” And it comes full-circle on Circles, a sudden 180 from hip-hop as he sings and performs with sadness and despair. Circles saw Mac collaborating with multi-instrumentalist and film-scorer Jon Brion as he weaved together this masterful piece of music. The relative nuances in some of the songs of Faces mirror where we are with Circles — “Grand Finale” and “Good News” in particular, reflect how we feel as fans today, as it expresses two moods: denial and acceptance.
As we’ve turned the corner at another year without Mac Miller, the family and the world embrace the music, and each other, as we collectively remember the legacy he left. Faces make sure of that — especially Rick Ross on “Insomniak,” who lets Mac know about their kinship as artists. If you haven’t listened to Faces, I implore you to do so as it contains some of Mac’s best work as a rapper.