Depending on when one discovered Mac Miller during his musical journey, listeners who stuck with him have been handsomely rewarded at almost every turn. The Pittsburgh native and now West Coast resident has undergone several phases in his decade-long career, and with his fifth studio album Swimming, he has arrived at reflecting on his past and releasing himself from its burdens in a beautifully introspective fashion.
The artist born Malcolm James McCormick, now 26, embarked on his dream when he was still a teenager in Pittsburgh and was essentially framed as Wiz Khalifa’s understudy ahead of the pair becoming label mates on Rostrum Records. Moving to Warner Bros. Records and releasing the acclaimed GO:OD AM with the label in 2015, fans probably wondered how the transition of Backpack Mac to Major Label Mac would play out. Now on his third album with Warner and the latest since 2016’s The Divine Feminine, Swimming combines every element in Miller’s repertoire in a delightfully dexterous sonic gumbo.
The album opens with “Come Back To Earth,” produced by Miller and Jon Brion and shows off the rapper’s singing talent that he’s been employing of late. Given the ending of his relationship with Ariana Grande this past spring, it could be assumed this is part of the purging necessary to move on but Miller sounds tentatively prepared to embrace the world. With the J.Cole-produced “Hurt Feelings,” Miller’s confidence returns while displaying a clever balance of humility and celebration of his success as he floats over Cole’s breezy track.
“What’s The Use,” which is the album’s third single, is one of the strongest records on the project and is begging for a sun-drenched video treatment due to its warm funk provided by producer Pomo. Featured on the song is Snoop Dogg, Thundercat, and The Internet lead singer Syd, all playing low-key roles to allow Miller to sound comfortably at home on the two-step roller skate bop.
The previously released “Self Care” reconnects Miller with his Pittsburgh roots with hometown producers ID Labs working alongside Nostxglic and DJ Dahi. Another standout track, “Ladders,” features production from Pomo and the aforementioned Brion, and the album’s first single “Small Worlds” with production from Carter Lang and TDE collaborator Tae Beast has Miller pulling double duty with rhyming and singing once more. On “Conservation Pt. 1,” Miller seemingly criticizes the isolation that the chase for fame over production from Cardo and Yung Exclusive.
Miller took the high road by not mentioning his ex-girlfriend by name but the album drips with the somber tone of post-breakup blues with the eventual breakthrough after careful self-evaluation. Between requisite rap stunting and promoting a worry-free attitude, there is a heavy sense of vulnerability that hums throughout Swimming. This is most evident on “2009,” featuring production from Eric G, where Miller finally come to grips with not only his achievements but what he had to overcome to get where he is currently both financially and mentally. The album closes with “So It Goes” with Miller providing the beat and takes listeners back to his Faces days.
Mac Miller didn’t deliver a record that will be blasting at the hottest summertime turn up but in many ways, that is precisely why the album works. In essence, Swimming shows a young man wrestling with the hardships of fame, a failed celebrity romance, addiction, and what rests on the other side if you just keep, excuse the pun here, swimming against the tide of doubt.
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Photo: Warner Bros. Records