Mac Miller’s posthumous release, ‘Circles,’ a haunting reminder of a legacy left behind

Zion Smith, Staff Writer

Malcolm James McCormick, better known by his alias “Mac Miller” is a producer, rapper, composer and director who was found dead of a suspected overdose in early September. In his youth, Mac was known for his charisma and his very polarizing lyricism. However, early on, he was known for his “party music,” and its ability to liven up a room. Up until his death, Mac became more revealing and more vulnerable towards his audience. From the details of his relationship with celebrity Ariana Grande, and the strife within it, or his battling with the same drug addiction that would ultimately take his life, Mac was transcending what he was formerly known for and maturing into someone everyone could relate with. 

His previous album “Swimming” was quite acclaimed, as it previewed the newer style Mac was inventing for himself. The jazz and soul influences on the project oozed the emotions Mac was trying to convey. In the album, Mac showed how mental illness and previous hardships are something you can never truly get rid of. Rather than contemplating previous problems and drowning, he’ll keep swimming ahead like the album implies. 

This theme carries over to his posthumous album, “Circles,” where Mac shows everything that causes him to feel the way he does. From broken relationships that he desperately wants to mend, to the difficulties of having his every move being watched not only by his fans but also the paparazzi, in this album Mac is more open. A recurring theme of the album is repetition, and the feelings that encompass being stuck in a constant emotional loop. This is seen with Mac elaborating with issues he’d brought up on “Swimming.”  

The best classification of the genre of “Circles” is experimental hip-hop, with a heavy inspiration from 1990s neo-soul. The overall sound of the album is soft and somber and the instrumentals are never in-your-face. It subtly helps convey the mindset Mac was in when creating “Circles.” One could liken the sound of this album to being underwater, as the calmness and despondency wash over the listener. Jon Brion, a producer and multi-instrumentalist who helped Mac complete “Swimming,” perfectly captured the feel, or “vibe,” of Mac’s subject matter, in which he discusses abandonment, rejection, addiction, lost romance and reminiscing on the past. Tracks such as “Good News” and “Everybody” are devastating to listen to now, knowing that addiction would take Mac’s life. An example of this would be on Mac’s verse off of “Good News:” “Wake up to the moon, haven’t seen the sun in a while/But I heard that the sky’s still blue, yeah I heard they don’t talk about me too much no more and that’s a problem with a closed door.” Mac was so intimate with his lyrics, and perfectly captured the idea of being able to feel too much. This same lyricism is at its peak on the track “Hand Me Downs,” which is aided by singer Baro Sura. On this track Mac gives arguably one of his best—if not the best—verse he has ever given. Mac details wanting someone to help him cope with his pains, someone who he’d wanted to pass his genes, which is implied in the song title “Hand Me Downs.”

The song “Complicated” is another song where the lyrics are pretty standout. With an accompaniment of a fusion of pop and funk, Mac’s vocals give off a very mellow and somber tone. Anthony Fantano, a prominent music reviewer, likened his vocals to a “shy blues singer, who is afraid to go all out.” In this song Mac details his broken relationships, how they’ve helped him grow and how they’ve made him feel things he didn’t know he could feel. There are many lines throughout this project that got to me because they are frighteningly relatable. “Some people say they want to live forever, that’s way too long I’ll just get through today,” truly showed what Mac was dealing with during this time. 

While Mac has evolved, sonically there are moments on this cut that remind me of the main problems with “Swimming” and why it was a good, but flawed, project. The main issue with this cut is sometimes the production and Mac’s vocal delivery fall flat, not creating sound that was probably intended. The only track I didn’t thoroughly enjoy, and stood out the most as something that showed the most flaws was the track “Blue World.”  As the instrumental was quite repetitious, and sometimes unenjoyable due to the sample chop which was used and became really stale. Mac’s vocals carried this song, however, as they were lively enough for the track to not be completely unenjoyable. 

The theme of Mac’s last two albums was something that his audience never intended for him to create. “The Divine Feminine” was the closest thing to both “Swimming” and “Circles,” and even then, it isn’t close to the artistic freedom expressed in these projects. For something this far out of left field to come from Mac is truly saddening. The topics discussed within both projects cannot be conjured out of thin air. These are issues that could plague a person for years, and it is genuinely scary to know what Mac was going through, because we all know how it ended. This album isn’t for anyone who becomes uncomfortable with mature topics. Mac was the most personal he’s ever been with these two albums since  “Divine Feminine,” which I’d credit as the true turning point for Mac. This project is something that could only be described as a beautiful confusion due to it’s intimacy with the listener, and its ability to invoke feelings you’d normally never voluntarily want to escape. 

“Circles” was an unforgettable experience, though it is also something I am very reluctant to listen to again as it truly scares me. Knowing Mac committed suicide, and now knowing what issues contributed to it, it’s something that anyone who wants a mature, authentic and outright unique experience would enjoy.