The Kid Can Rap

One day they’ll say, “Mac Miller’s all grown up!” But it’s not today. For every moment of honest introspection and unusual production on Mac’s new album Watching Movies With The Sound Off, there’s a host of pointless pop culture references and yawn-inducing misogyny.

Here’s a question: how seriously can you take an emotional track when the last track’s hook was, “Bitch, suck my dick before I slap you wit’ it”? The answer will probably have a lot to do with your ability to sit through the album, at least without being monstrously stoned.

Mac came up through the stoner crowds, after all, with mix-tapes and YouTube videos circulated by glassy-eyed teenagers and 20-somethings throughout North America. That’s not to undercut his legitimate place in rap — he was in Rhyme Calisthenics’ final four in ’09 at Shadow Lounge, was signed by Rostrum Records at age 18, and put endless work into several mix-tapes, featuring rappers like Talib Kweli and producers like Chuck Inglish. But he definitely banks with the weed-baffled demographic.

Mac can rap. He’s got a distinct style, clean lines, and a willingness to be honest and open about himself and his life that’s imperative for any artist. And if half his life is hoes and weed, that’s fine, but the other half is probably the interesting one. Unfortunately, they come in equal parts at best.

The producing on Watching Movies is relatively minimalistic, putting the lyrics front and centre on pretty much every track and not leaving much in between. At times, this leaves the album as a whole feeling more like a mix-tape than a studio effort; there’s cohesion in Mac’s sound and that of the guest rappers, but the album doesn’t really come off like a progressing piece of work with a satisfying conclusion. This lends the whole affair a certain off-the-cuff feel, as though we’re listening to a bunch of our friends’ tracks in someone’s basement while giggly kids in hoodies light joints behind us and try to convince the host to let them Hawaiian Hotbox the bathroom.

Of course, that’s in some ways one of the album’s major strengths. It feels genuine. Mac is sincere enough, and the production is consistent enough, that we really do feel like we’re experiencing another human being.

Is that good? I dunno. Is it ideal that high school kids are nodding their heads to lyrics like “Bitch, why you so damn snobby? […] I bought you dinner now it’s time to pay me back with some head”? Probably not. But in somewhat equal parts, Mac bares his soul with sincerity, especially in his track “REMember”, a eulogy to a deceased friend. In the end, Mac’s good at being honest, but he’s still so young that half of what he’s honest about is the ignorance and dumb brute misogyny of a guy only a couple years out of high school. And he’s being rewarded for it, which in some ways is a shame.

The album’s obvious improvement over Mac’s first studio effort Blue Slide Park bodes well for the future, though. If Mac can tone down the goofy hoes’n’drugs stuff a little, he’s got everything necessary to put out a great and original rap album.