Swimming is Mac Miller’s latest record, his fifth studio album, and his best album by far. It’s been a long journey getting here, from Blue Slide Park’s literal record-breaking release in 2011 to his last release in 2016, The Divine Feminine, which came with mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. Swimming is a whole new ball park for Miller, as he focuses less on rap itself and more on the meaning behind it and the production that went into it.
Fresh off of his breakup with long term girlfriend — the über talented and newly engaged Ariana Grande — Miller was clearly in a different headspace when getting this album together. There are dark undertones and a heavier ambiance throughout the entirety of the record, but while his fans still expect that fun-loving, rap obsessed high schooler, critics have been waiting to see this side of Miller. The maturity has finally come to a head, for it was evident in The Divine Feminine that there was a turnabout to be taken, but it hadn’t come just yet. Now, it’s here and going by the name of Swimming.
The introductory track, “Come Back to Earth”, is breathtaking and starts this new vibe of his off right away. It’s the shortest song on the album, but one of the best. It’s smooth and soulful, filled with instrumentation and could almost find a home in the R&B genre with the strings of piano notes and layered vocals. It’s melodic and genre defying, a new step in the direction of maturing artistry for Miller. If you had asked someone in 2011 where they thought this new young rapper would be in five to 10 years, I doubt they would have said that the then-frat rap breakout star would be writing rap infused ballads and pouring his heart out into a soul-baring fifth album.
The vulnerability of Miller stands out on much of the record, which is unfortunately or fortunately pretty ironic as we saw Miller hit quite a low point just a mere three months ago with his arrest for DUI and hit and run. Although released on bail, Miller’s internal demons have yet to shake him and he portrays that through his lyrics this time around. Swimming’s third single, “What’s the Use?” is an heartbreaker that delves into just that — finding feeling for an artificial high more important than feeling for another person. The bass line is laid on thick, which is very Daft Punk-esque and has some Bruno Mars inspired funk to it. The up-tempo, almost spirited rhythm can distract from the lyrical strength of the song, but it is pessimistic and depressing, so maybe the pulsating beat was implemented as a form of distraction from the truth.
Sure, there are a few songs on this record that aren’t as upbeat or memorable as others (“Wings,” is definitely one of them), but you can say that about most records. Regardless, each song plays an integral part in the truly personal story that Miller is telling, which is a deep one, for sure. It’s the most positive downtrodden record I have heard in a long time, but the “Donald Trump” rapper did it so well that you really can’t complain. “Ladders” falls about halfway through the 13-track album and it’s a doozy. It’s sprinkled with bouncy beats that are made specifically for radio airplay and live shows, touches upon harmony and hooks, and is ready to be a fan favorite. The album will be one, too, once the fans get over the change of perspective from their favorite rapper and realize what an evolution he has had as an artist and a person.