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Jumping in to ‘Swimming’

| Monday, February 25, 2019

I was sitting down with some friends at South Dining Hall in September when somebody mentioned that Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller died that day. I would never have called myself a Mac Miller fan and I had only listened to a couple of his songs before. But, after dinner, I opened up Spotify and started listening to his last album, “Swimming,” which had been released a few months before his death. Man, I was blown away.

In my mind, Miller was kind of a goofy version of Eminem — a guy you listen to in high school and then kind of forget about as you grow up. Miller was a symbol of the past for me, and, to be honest, I hadn’t even really thought about him in a couple years. But “Swimming” opened my eyes to what a talented artist I had been missing out on. The album is full of slow-burn, rhythmic rap with fantastic melodies and surprisingly thoughtful lyrics. The songs on the album range from dark and brooding in “Self Care” and “Hurt Feelings,” to the bittersweet but hopeful in “2009,” to a portrait of deep depression in “Come Back to Earth.” Many of the songs paint the picture of a man who was battling with a host of inner demons, and who eventually succumbed to a battle against drug abuse.

The tragedy of Mac Miller’s death imbues the album with an additional layer of meaning. But “Swimming” isn’t the best album to come out of 2018 because of Miller’s death — it stands on its own as an absolute masterpiece in crafting songs that are, in essence, works of art. Miller’s combination of lyrical complexity with musical elements not traditionally seen in rap albums creates a supremely unique body of music which is not only more interesting, but also more thoughtful, than most mainstream rap. There are a multitude of great rap artists today, but I was a bit disappointed to see Cardi B win the Grammy for best rap album of 2018 this year over Miller. A lot of Cardi’s songs were extremely popular and catchy, but I found her music to be, for the most part, loud without much substance (also, it’s a bad sign if the best part of your song is a sample from another song).

Miller’s album, oftentimes slow and deliberate, shows us how versatile rap music can be and represents a maturation and evolution in musical style for the late rapper. The album motivated me to check out Miller’s other albums, and I was surprised to find out that he had always been a lot more than I gave him credit for.

Whether you are listening to the fun and naive early songs from “Kids,” or checking out his aggressive, punchy style in “GO:OOD AM” or listening to one of the best rap love songs created, “ROS,” I hope you found a lot more than you were expecting. I did.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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