When looking into the evolution of modern (hip-hop) artists throughout their careers, very few stand out as much as Mac Miller. From K.I.D.S. to Circles, we have had the firsthand pleasure of seeing Mac grow before our very eyes, going from that teenage, careless kid to an introspective and refined artist. This maturity shines through his music with each album he’s released. He has proven that he’s not just another rapper with some clever wordplay and punchlines, but rather an artist that can produce a body of work with complex themes and meaning.
Though Mac has shown lots of growth over the years, his maturity is most apparent on Circles. Circles is the sonic culmination of Mac’s genius and artistry. Even today the album stings to hear due to subject matter like depression, feelings of inadequacy, and especially Mac’s use of drugs as a coping mechanism. The record also portrays Mac’s mental growth, too, with positive songs like Blue World where Mac seems to be fighting off his demons: “Don’t trip, we don’t gotta let ‘em in.” Perhaps this is one of the most difficult lines to hear. It seemed like there were clear signs that Mac had gotten past his depression and finally conquered it. Listening to these positive, optimistic moments on a posthumous album can be quite unnerving.
Mac also takes a much more abstract approach to his music on Circles, wondering his purpose, and whether he will ever be capable of finding or serving it. The minimalist approach in production with use of simple drums, piano, and guitar really emphasize Mac’s lyrics and his nonchalant and mellow delivery. It also gives the listener a more 1-on-1 feeling with Mac, as if he’s talking directly to them.
One of the songs that best demonstrates the contrast between Mac’s highs and lows is Hand Me Downs. In particular, his second verse is reflective of this:
“Yeah, well I'm just being honest, my conscience ain't doing bad/Because I try to minus the problems that I attract/And half the, time the wheels that's in the back of my mind/Just keep on turning 'til the tires flat and burn until the fire crack/I do not lie, though facts may seem a little far-fetched/That's only 'cause I may be make-believe and full of darkness/When I'm stuck between a rock and hard place/Walk and drop in change inside your empty guitar case/That's charity, um I move carelessly, that's why I'm always trippin”
Here, Mac acknowledges a conscious effort to surmount his depression and take care of his mental health. However, he still finds himself in situations where he’s “trippin,” or letting his demons inside -- a reference back to Blue World. Mac is able to intertwine his feelings of darkness and optimism so elegantly into a single verse. Further, his use of imagery with flat tires and crackling fire provide such vivid and appropriate descriptions of his thought processes. Perhaps he’s saying that somewhere inside of him, he knows that he can escape his depression, but his mind is always overthinking and leading him to dark places.
The best track on the album is the final song, Once a Day. This is the perfect final song and cherry on top for Mac’s entire discography. Throughout the song he ponders whether anyone really cares for him, and people’s motivations and values. Here is one of the most sobering lines:
“But everybody keep rushing. Why aren’t we taking our time? Every now and again, baby, I get high.”
We are often so worried about such meaningless things. Mac is pointing out that we live with such skewed values and rarely are able to appreciate one another or even ourselves. Maybe this is why he feels unheard, and that no one else understands him. Whatever the case might be, this is such a beautiful and simple closing song that echoes themes explored on the album like coping with life and what comes after it.
Circles is easily one of the best albums of the 2000's. The emotion that I get from listening to this record, especially because its posthumous, makes it one of my favorite projects. Mac Miller’s evolution has been like no other and it is a tragedy that we lost him so young.
September 7th, 2020 marked 2 years since Mac's passing. R.I.P Mac Miller. We miss you.