Ask any artist their creative process and they will convey a special story. Whether it’s stuffing the studio with yes-men, relocating to Hawaii or making sure they’re high on acid; every practitioner has a unique way of creating art. Mac Miller‘s story involves plenty of muted throwback ’80s films and wildlife documentaries. Quite an interesting process, right? Let me explain.
In the past four years a lot has changed for Mac. Between his own MTV reality show, moving from Pittsburgh to LA and acquiring a bunch of new rap friends, he managed to produce the first independent number one album in 15 years. But if we’re on the subject of change I suppose we better talk about the biggest change of all; Mac Miller’s sophomore record Watching Movies With The Sound Off.
Change is the decisive word in this discussion. After entering the genre with numerous ‘frat’ orientated labels, we now see Mac yearn for more, namely a stable truth as a fixture in Hip-Hop’s future. Watching Movies… is the first step on that bumpy road. This is evident as soon as you hit play with “The Start Room” setting up the eerie, irregular atmosphere that is prominent throughout, an atmosphere that’s a bad DMT trip away from Blue Slide Park.
The record itself follows a fairly unpredictable path, jumping in an out of pockets of what we’ve heard before and what we can expect to hear from now on. With regards to the future, Mac’s producer alter ego Larry Fisherman is sent out for practice frequently and to great effect with tracks like “Watching Movies” & “I’m Not Real,” creating a naive but compelling style of production. Influenced by the ever-present Flying Lotus, production is hazy while charmingly erratic, vaulting from sharp incisions to silky strokes.
While we’re thrown back and forth by the production, lyrically however, Mac seems to hit a dead end. Watching Movies frequently alternates from the frivolous to the austere, with the latter sometimes regrettable absent as large parts of the album fuse into a lot about nothing. You cannot deny Miller’s ability to rap – he ticks that box with a paintbrush – but on more than one occasion, content and depth are met with huge hesitation. There are flickers of fascinating concepts and toes are dipped in the icy water before being sharply retracted with typical brags of notches on the bedposts. We get it that you get it, Mac.
In a way, verses could be chopped and switched with no real consequence, as the lack of direction is evident. However, that doesn’t void the odd track in which Mac seems to gain enthusiasm or just wake up; especially “Red Dot Music,” on which he playfully trades blows with Action Bronson before creatively inviting Loaded Lux to take a few pot shots of his own in an 8-Mile-esque conclusion.
These occasional bursts of passion are often 10 rounds too late though and by the time Mac wakes up from his sluggish delivery, an empty arena and a canvas soaked in ‘what ifs’ awaits. Mainly, what if a guiding hand on the shoulder were there to aid him? What if a label were there to be that sobering, focused hand? The novelty of being independent has worn off and only a lack of focus remains.
Production was fantastic and guest appearances were well conceived. Everyone but Mac seemingly had a job, or at least did it. This is by no means calling Watching Movies a bad record; I couldn’t possibly do that and truthfully neither could anyone else, for Mac Miller’s potential is on show for all to see. Everyone with the exception of one person – and until he decides to go wholeheartedly down one path or another, Malcolm McCormick will forever remain that blessed Hip-Hop enigma.