This is my first review of a rap album in its entirety, and after the artist has passed away. Although I enjoy listening to some rap music, it isn’t my go-to genre compared to metal, pop and country. It’s difficult not to speculate whether the same meaning and feelings associated with the tracks would have been received if the artists’ tragic death had not occurred. Either way I am eager to give the record a listen, and give my honest opinion on the emotional availability and personal interpretation of the lyrical content, instrumental choice and whether the artist’s vocals complement them.
I will be reacting to Mac Miller’s (aka Malcolm McCormick’s) fifth and final studio album, Swimming. Miller co-produced the album alongside J. Cole, Flying Lotus, DJ Dahi to name just a few. The record also features vocal appearances from Snoop Dogg, Syd, Thundercat, J.I.D, Dam-Funk and Dev Hynes promising an eclectic, diverse and collaborative sound for the album.
The album begins with the first track, ‘Come Back to Earth’ in which Miller talks about how he felt as though he was drowning by stating, “I’m just looking for a way out of my head”. As the song progresses, he explains beginning to swim again. The artist eludes to a dark and depressive period in his life which he makes reference to throughout the record and how he is beginning to arise from the black hole he has been in. As I was analysing the album it was difficult not to think of Miller’s previous relationship with Ariana Grande as the backstory and inspiration for his lyrics.
As I progressed through the album each track revealed a clear and concise portrayal of a relationship breakdown through the artist’s eyes. Each song showcased a different phase in Miller’s road to recovery after the breakup with a more optimistic vibe on the third track, ‘What’s The Use’. I respect musicians who are not afraid to be vulnerable and open in their music. It shows that they are human, make mistakes and aren’t afraid to admit it. It also allows talent to connect to their audience more as the content is relatable and this album certainly abides by this. An example of relatable content is on the sixth track, ‘Wings’ where the rapper discusses his trust issues and loneliness after becoming famous as shown on the track, ‘Small Worlds’.
Sonically, Swimming produced an eclectic combination of moody, psychedelic, R’n’B, rap and jazz instrumentals with its spacey beats and wave-like synthesized vocals from Miller.
My favourite track on Swimming was ‘Come Back to Earth’ because of its emotionally charged lyrics, mentioned above. My second favourite track was ‘What’s the Use’ because of its overall uplifting message not to allow others to dictate your happiness. I enjoyed the jazz and R’n’B instrumentals on the song which presented a cross between Bruno Mar’s ‘24K Magic’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ and Justin Timberlake’s ‘The 20/20 Experience’. My third and final noteworthy tune was ‘Ladders’ with its early 2000 R’n’B vibes which reminded me of Kayne West’s ‘Touch the Sky’. I had discovered after listening to the album that Kayne West’s main collaborator Jon Brion had worked with the vocalist on the album.
Overall, I really enjoyed Swimming and I would highly recommend it to any individuals who enjoy rap music, as well as R’n’B and Jazz. As a first-time listener of this artist’s work, it’s difficult not to speculate whether the lyrical content presented throughout the record was not a plea for help, as some of the tracks such as, ‘Come Back to Earth’, ‘Wings’ and ‘Small Worlds’ featured a darker and more depressive undertone. However, many of the songs consisted of a more enjoyable, positive and up-beat vibe which balanced the album perfectly. I would have been interested to listen what the artist had created as a follow up to this record, but I’m content with the catalogue he has left us with.
Words by Matty Besz.