Since making a name for himself as a hip-hop up-and-comer in the late 2000s, Mac Miller has remained dedicated to developing and evolving his sound. Playfully challenging Drake’s self-given title of the “best Jew in the rap game,” Miller has kept his nose to the ground to genuinely earn the respect necessary to spit in the same league as the Young Money artist, or really, anyone else for that matter. He first burst onto the scene as a 14-year-old rapper who went by the name “EZ Mac,” at the time, a raw and unpolished talent with loads of potential. Far removed from his days of dropping cringe-worthy catchphrases like “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps!,” Miller has fulfilled his potential, with a sound evolution that is evident throughout his five studio albums.
While there’s no denying the positive career trajectory of the Pittsburgh-bred rapper from his early days in the mainstream and beyond, Miller’s first studio album, Blue Slide Park was an impressive commercial success regardless of where it ranks in his discography. After BSP debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 by selling 144,000 individual copies in the first week of its release, it became clear that Miller deserved his spot as one of 11 rapper’s featured in XXL magazine’s Freshman Class of 2011.
By morphing his aesthetic from that of a frat-boy-backpack-rapper on Blue Slide Park to a more mature, introspective adult (as it were) on Watching Movies with the Sound Off, Miller has made it very clear that he is done with focusing on or chasing down Top 40-charting pop-rap hits. Now confident enough in his own ability to wax lyrical about his recent heartbreak and ill-guided attempts to numb the pain on Swimming, Miller’s varied discography offer’s a clear, timestamped window into the rapper’s life with each subsequent release.
From GO:OD AM to The Divine Feminine, here is our ranking of Miller’s studio albums. Let us know what your ranking looks like in the comment section.
5. Blue Slide Park (2011)
The record-breaking commercial success of Blue Slide Park speaks loudly to Miller’s ability to harness the untapped market of college-aged frat boys. While there’s no denying that the album boasts a number of slick, well-polished beats, lyrically, Miller’s bars are what you might call “basic.” Spitting in a monotone voice about the carnal pleasures of weed, women and unhinged house parties, Miller seemed to be destined to join Asher Roth in creating little more than a lasting soundtrack to bro-culture and backpack rappers. Asher Roth diverted his own path, to be clear, but he still can’t shake his break-out hit– one might say Mac fared better to that effect. While Blue Slide Park was an impactful debut for Mac in the sense that it got his name in mainstream convos, it’s the least evolved when it comes to his discography.
4. The Divine Feminine (2016)
Mac Miller’s put his frat boy-rap days firmly behind him with the surprisingly refreshing jazz-rap fusion concept album The Divine Feminine. Bolstered by the feature of his then-girlfriend Ariana Grande on “My Favorite Part,” Miller’s willingness to break up his bars by flexing his singing voice is surprisingly not grating, despite how nasally of his hooks are. Assists from Miller’s staples like Frank Dukes and Thundercat return to break up the rapper’s tendency to overplay variations of the same beat, alongside necessary additions by space funk king Dâm-Funk. The album exists mostly as an ode to his former girlfriend, but still does a great job at showcasing a more mature sound.
3. Swimming (2018)
If The Divine Feminine was an exploration of romance and physical connection between lovers, then Swimming is its foil. An extrapolation of how to numb the pain after suddenly finding yourself inexplicably and involuntarily alone, Miller’s most recent release is by far his most introspective and vulnerable. From G-Funk to raspy soul, the REMember rapper forays further into jazz fusion with assists from heavyweights like Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Thundercat, and even John Mayer on “Small Worlds.” Far from a straight heartbreak anthem that borrows bits and pieces from past failed relationships, Miller’s wounded bars ebb and flow with remarkable ease. By layering arresting lines like “And sometimes, sometimes I wish I took a simpler route/Instead of havin’ demons that’s as big as my house, mhmm” over evocative piano riffs, it’s impossible to attack Miller for baring his emotions so readily on wax.
2. GO:OD AM (2015)
On Mac Miller’s third studio album GO:OD AM, his former image as a carefree party rapper is firmly put to bed. Challenging his long-standing battle with substance abuse, insomnia, and a borderline-obsessive dedication to his craft on nearly every track, GO:OD AM is as much of a musical exorcism as it an as exploration of boom-bap/jazz fusion (a path, as we’ve just seen in the previous slides, that he would consider further). While Miller undoubtedly serves memorable bars GO:OD AM that successfully paint a visceral picture of his battle with addiction, (“They don’t want me to OD and have to talk to my mother/Telling her they could have done more to help me/And she’ll be crying saying that she’ll do anything to have me back/All the nights I’m losing sleep, it was all a dream/There was a time that I believed that”), the 70-minute run time feels like overkill. If Miller learned to self-edit a bit more when carving out the release’s final track list, there’s no doubt that the album would come off as far less scatterbrained.
1. Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013)
Watching Movies with the Sound Off is Miller’s best work to date. The successor to 2011’s Blue Slide Park, it’s nearly unbelievable that both releases exist back-to-back within the same rapper’s discography. Instead of shying away from the poor critical reception of his debut release, Miller instead faces the issue head on, reflecting and clearly working on his craft in the process. “Think I’m living paradise, what would I have to worry ’bout?/Dealing with these demons, feel the pressure, find the perfect style,” he raps on opener “The Star Room.” WMWTSO was not only an introspective effort, it was inventive and experimental, offering some of his best production choices to date. Lest we forget the features, perfectly picked, in the form of Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt and Action Bronson. The title track and center piece, “Watching Movies,” is a furious, memorable look into Mac’s mind, echoing the sentiment expressed on “The Star Room”: “I’m just tryna make better music.” Better, indeed.