“Ain’t saying that I’m sober / I’m just in a better place,” Mac Miller croons over the Tyler the Creator-produced intro to GO:OD AM. The Pittsburgh native’s third full-length LP is the first of a $10 million deal with Warner Bros. Records. It chronicles a very public battle with substances, and is the result of a tireless creative process that produced over nine albums worth of material before arriving at his third album. No longer an independent artist, his drug use under control, and now approaching his mid-20s, the word “reinvention” could define the Mac Miller conversation.
Perhaps most significantly in 2015, Miller now finds himself free of the “frat-rap” tag that tortured him early in his career. Miller was once framed as a contemporary of the likes of Asher Roth, Sammy Adams, and Chris Webby, rather than the 10 other names that Kendrick Lamar named in addition to Mac in his scathing 2013 verse on Big Sean’s “Control.”
In the four years since Blue Slide Park, his critically-lampooned yet wildly successful debut album, the rapper who was once “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps”—as spit by battle rap extraordinaire Loaded Lux on Miller’s last album—has been on a never-ending campaign to shake his stigma and prove his worth to hip-hop. He has completed three projects that increasingly emphasized lyrical dexterity and artistic ambition, gaining more positive responses every step of the way. With GO:OD AM, Miller finally positions for the true takeover that he has often alluded to.
In GO:OD AM, Mac Miller is at his most confident and unapologetic, an aesthetic often absent from his previous work despite his undeniable talent. Lyrically, he continues to be wildly creative, dropping wordplay like “what’s a God without a little OD? / Just a G” on first single and album standout “100 Grandkids.” This time around, though, he raps like he has less to prove. On Miller’s last album Watching Movies with the Sound Off, his bars exuded an almost manic obsession with proving his technical ability. On GO:OD AM he’s just having fun, though dense lyrical content certainly takes center stage at many points, such as in the first verse of album closer “The Festival.”
Longtime Mac Miller collaborators ID Labs handle the bulk of the production, alongside heavyweights like Flying Lotus, Sounwave, and even Sha Money XL on the first half of “100 Grandkids.” Sonically, the album maintains cohesion despite its diversity, from the trap-influenced, 808-ridden “When In Rome” to the piano and saxophone that close out “Brand Name.”
Though he has always had a flirtatious relationship with melody, Mac Miller’s most noticeable growth on GO:OD AM manifests itself in the songs’ melodic content. On tracks like “Break the Law” and the Miguel-assisted “Weekend”—not to mention the tender career highlight “ROS”—he effortlessly injects small doses of melody into what is still an undeniable hip-hop album. Brilliant future single “Jump,” which reunites Miller with “Donald Trump” hit-maker Sap, contains a hugely effective call-and-response section in the pre-chorus, a back-and-forth between swaggering bars and their melodic counterparts.
GO:OD AM does get occasionally bogged down by an oversaturation of misogyny and sexual innuendos. At times, allusions to sexual exploits becomes a crutch for Miller, in which he cannot finish a verse without wordplay about prostitutes, tongues, and vaginas—punchlines that fluctuate between entertaining and distracting. Miller’s still hiding somewhere in there. It is especially frustrating considering one the album’s shining moments: the aforementioned “ROS,” a touching, lovesick song features Miller as thoughtful and vulnerable as he has ever sounded. The introspective “God Speed” is another instance in which the rapper thrives in the absence of goofiness and braggadocio.
Likability has never been an issue for Mac Miller. In fact, it has been his musical anchor at times, especially while weathering the “frat-rap” storm. On GO:OD AM, Miller keeps the charisma or likability of his previous work, yet gains an abundance of vision and focus. Considering his second album, Watching Movies with The Sound Off, and last year’s Faces mixtape, GO:OD AM is by no means Mac Miller’s first great project. It is, however, his first work worthy of the tag “essential hip hop listening.”
Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records