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Tribute to Mac Miller - Swimming in Circles

On the 9th of January 2020, there was announcement by his family that a new Mac Miller album by would be released on The 17th of January 2020. The posthumous album would be titled, "Circles". The following day, on January 10th, the lead-single of the album, "Good News" also dropped. All of these announcements took the whole world by storm and shock. It had been roughly a year and a half since the unfortunate and untimely death of Malcolm James McCormick.

Nobody really expected to hear any new solo material from him. So with the announcement of what might likely be his last album, it was a beautiful sight to see from the hip-hop and music community at large. It ultimately gave us an opportunity to listen to new Mac, one last time.

Typically, posthumous albums are scrutinized and met with negative feedback. One differentiating factor towards the positive and well-received reception was the manner which the family had taken to let the world aware of it.

"Circles" was originally created around the same time as his 2018 album, "Swimming". It was meant to be the sequel to the prior, which would join the two concepts together as "Swimming in Circles".

The underlying fact that the album had already been in the process and was near completion also separates it from other posthumous releases. Posthumous releases have occurred throughout the history of music. They aren’t restrained to genres. From well-renowned Romantic composer, Frédéric Chopin, to jazz legends, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday. This list further extends to rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury, Kurt Cobain and Elvis Presley. The list is endless – Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Eazy-E, Tupac, Fela Kuti, Big L, Notorious B.I.G, Big Pun, Aaliyah, Rick James, J Dilla, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Avicii and XXXtentacion.

The recent trend in music sees music labels (who typically own the masters and publishing of the deceased) use the deceased’s incomplete and unfinished skins of thought, rather than fully realised pieces of work. Along with doing this, they add trendy featured artists as a way to create more traction and further sales. This is done despite the fact that the deceased artists did not formerly work with these people. Cash grabs without any sincerity. Capitalizing on the deceased artists’ grieving fans. However, the manner which “Circles” was created and announced, it was natural. It was entirely Mac's ideas which were near completion. With the help of a prior collaborator (who was also heavily involved in Swimming), Jon Brion filled in what Mac unfortunately could by using input and feedback Mac had given him.

Furthermore, the timing of the release also helps. The prolonged nature whereby the family waited before releasing the product indicates how the release was a thought-out decision, rather than an instinctive one. There are no ulterior motives, unlike other posthumous releases.

Even the lead single track of the album, "Good News", brought together this whole idea well. Take a look at the subject matter of the track, especially in relation to Mac's death.  It served as the introduction into what the album would be. In a way, the song provides  a sense of closure but equally, it’s almost an eerie listen because of the content. Regardless, it was also welcomed by many. From fans to critics. For example, Anthony Fantano, who has always had mixed feelings regarding Mac Miller, had a moment of reflection where he cried whilst playing the song. It was also genuine tears. Simply because of how different it feels to listen to someone, who's now passed away, talking about an issue which has plagued them – death.

This was like a preparation for the album. The memorial before the funeral. And the funeral would be "Circles". The album was eventually released on the 17th of January 2020. And while listening to it, I felt a flurry of different thoughts and emotions. Of course I had thoughts about the music but I was more concerned about character of Mac Miller as a person. The album portrays him well. It reinforces the feeling of closure but it’s as a study of Mac's psyche.

Consider the concept. The idea of "Swimming In Circles”. Mac finds himself in a similar position as he's previously been before, regarding thoughts of his passing and other positions of mental health. Ultimately, making it feel like someone who's stuck in a loop. Stuck in the same circle. However, the beauty of “Circles” lies in how it’s not displayed as self-wallowing or pity. It’s about self-reflection, self-realisation and acceptance. The curation of the tracklist reflects this.

Mac displays his maturity throughout. Not solely from a song-writing perspective but also his ability to mature his sound musically as he experimented with genres, melodies and sonic styles. Varying from his usual Hip-Hop influences on many of the tracks (such as "Complicated", "Blue World" and "Hands" etc.) to the use of a ballad with the beautiful grand piano on "Everybody" (as he discusses the melancholic reality of inevitable death) to the infusion of folk on “That’s on Me”.

My favourite part about it: Sonically, the album is mainly minimalistic yet the quality is not sacrificed regardless. Although it may feel unfinished at times, this speaks to me as a metaphor. Considering that Mac could not finish the album himself, but even that –  life usually ends unfinished. Incomplete. We don't choose when we die, and so when we do pass, we may be at a point where we're not yet the finished product (especially since humans are ever-growing and evolving into more). We never really have enough time. It’s shown by Mac not fulfilling his desire of children on "Hand Me Downs”. The same promise which he gave his mother on “100 Grandkids” years ago. Yet the fact remains, "Hand Me Downs” is a beautiful song which tells us about his personal goals and speaks to how his legacy will forever despite not having children of his own.

There's a lot of metaphors on here in fact. They display Mac's personality so well. What I love about a track like "Complicated" is that it shows how he wanted life to feel simple. Trying not to worry about "living forever" but simply, "Getting through the day without complications".

Or on what's probably my favourite track, "I Can See". How Mac interprets the link between life and death, and how it can sometimes feel surreal. Much like a dream. He finds himself wanting to find something he can see/feel, that feels real. Possibly referring to his use of substances but also his search for something more than what reality is. It also speaks to how the reality of life can also kick in and leave you in shock. The addition of uncredited Ariana Grande background vocals, as she harmonizes with him on the chorus. While this record wasn’t recent as Jon explained how it was given by his family and part of his vast unreleased catalogue. Jon felt the record completed “Circles” and added a few touches to make it sonically cohesive. In itself, that’s a beautiful touch. Especially considering how much he loved her and their relationship.

Throughout the album, we get various looks of Mac Miller as a person here. It’s what makes the album feel like it all, once again, comes full circle. It’s the closure and send off which he and his fans deserved. There’s nothing left unsaid nor wanting more. Especially after the final track, "Once a Day". A song which Mac once previewed which we finally got to hear. A closing off for an incredible person and musician.

Just go to his YouTube videos. It’s filled with fans expressing how they love and miss him while wishing him peace in the afterlife. That’s an indication of how impactful his music and character was. He comforted many people through many things whilst they were facing their own demons. Mac Miller will always be remembered in the music industry with love and admiration for the beautiful person that he was. For the contribution which he had on the culture and the lives of many.

 

Rest easy, Malcolm.


We love you.

Written by: Ipeleng Thobejane | Twitter @insightthobe
Edited by: Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @Dithekgom

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