Mac Miller continues to grow by leaps-and-bounds on "Faces" mixtape.
Have you ever seen the viral video of Susan Boyle performing for the first time on Britain’s Got Talent? A superficially unattractive older woman walks out onto the stage to perform a song before hundreds of people and four judges. Before she even gets an opportunity to sing, the crowd is halfway out their seats with laughter. Then she opened her mouth and silenced all haters. Mac Miller is rap music’s Susan Boyle. A pale Jewish kid from Pittsburg, the Rostrum Records signee first blew up on the scene in 2010 with his frat-tastic K.I.D.S. mixtape. He sold out shows, sure, but critics and conservative hip-hop heads alike wrote him off as an “I Love College” era Asher Roth knock-off. For the most part: they were right. Miller hadn’t grown into his own person just yet. His debut album, Blue Slide Park, had a few hit singles but mostly it emphasized the shallow nature of his music. Responding to the negative reception, Miller turned to drugs and—definitely not endorsing drug use here—found himself. His sophomore LP and especially his Delusional Thomas mixtape debut showcased an artist who was willing to shed the radio-friendly image his spent so long cultivating and become a success on his own terms. Faces is an accumulation of everything Miller has learned over the past few years of experimentation. As such, it may just be the most compelling work he has ever put out.
“Should have died already,” he opens on “Inside Outside.” “Came in and I was high already.” The intro track is fairly representative of the themes and sound pursued by the album as a whole. Over some of his most extravagant production to date, Miller speaks on celebrity, drug use, depression and, most frequently, how all three intersect. Speaking of the instrumentals, can we talk about how much Miller has grown as a producer? Rhymes aside, these are album-quality beats that every artist in the industry should be jumping on. Like a small-time Kanye West or Big K.R.I.T. (whose “Sookie Now” Miller references on “San Francisco”), Mac could retire his solo career altogether and still be making moves behind the scenes. That’s talent.
All progress aside, Faces isn't without fault, namely: it's too damn long. Clocking in at an hour and thirty minutes, the mixtape has enough material to warrant a double-disc release. While nothing feels like filler, about half of it feels like an afterthought. The narrative structure of the album goes a little something like this: Mac has made it big all on his own ("Here We Go"); Mac uses his newfound wealth to get high which ironically helps him make more relatable music ("Friends"); Mac tries getting back in the studio but is constantly beckoned by his addiction to go out and do more drugs ("Angel Dust"); the drugs pull Mac back in ("Malibu," "What Do You Do?"); fame still has its perks despite his problems ("Therapy," "Polo Jeans"); fame takes a backseat to Mac's addition ("Happy Birthday); a woman enters Mac's life that makes him regret his ways ("Wedding") until she leaves him; alone, Mac is on his final days ("Funeral").
Had "Funeral" closed out the mixtape and "Colors and Shapes" existed as a hidden bonus track, we'd be talking about the potential tape of the year-- a fully fleshed-out concept album that hits every possible thematic note. Everything that follows the tape's first half is great both musically and lyrically but none of it is relevant. If you're the type of listener who puts his iPod on shuffle, this shouldn't bother you and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you're someone who listens to albums from front-to-back, this is a destructive choice. And, don't get me wrong, I love "Insomniak" as much as the next guy plus any Mike Jones (who?) appearance in this day and age is welcome in my book. I just believe those tracks should have existed for a separate tape or album. Everything leading up to "Funeral" hits too hard to precede something like "Thumbalina." Imagine if good kid, m.A.A.d city came with a second disc with 45 additional minutes of material including the remix to Imagine Dragons's "Radioactive" and Spider-Man 2's "It's On Again." Would it still be a classic album?
In the end, I won't fault Mac for over-stuffing the release, especially when it's all quality material, but there's no denying the power of a more concise product. Faces is a must-download. Mac has grown in ways that no one could have possibly predicted back in the "Knock Knock" days. Expect big things from his third studio album.