Good news, indeed
The world of hip-hop was utterly shaken last Wednesday when the family of deceased rap artist, Mac Miller, announced the upcoming release of a posthumous album entitled Circles. The letter, posted to Miller’s various social media accounts, stated that Miller had been in the midst of producing a complementary project to 2018’s critically acclaimed release, Swimming. Miller’s friend and creative partner on Swimming, Jon Brion, personally headed the production efforts surrounding the completion of Circles after Miller’s death in September of 2018. Along with the support of Miller’s family, friends and team, the album was shaped and structured into the intimate farewell letter that Miller fans desperately needed.
With the release of the albums predominant single “Good News” coming alongside the album’s announcement, Miller fans were treated to a small taste of the highly contemplative, yet much more optimistic energy that Circles ultimately brings to the table. Following this new methodology of hope, the album’s opening track, “Circles,” acts as an ethereal and meditative introduction to Miller’s new role as his listeners’ spiritual guide. Within “Circles” Miller shares his views on the cyclical nature of being, inviting listeners to glance through his perspectives lens as if it were their own. Whereas on Swimming, Miller’s lyrics often depicted his lack of ability to healthily cope with his amassing stress, his verses on Circles show a different, more positive side of Miller’s personal journey toward reconciliation with his true self. Throughout the project, Miller not only comes to openly acknowledge the flaws within our nature—as well as his own—he does so while letting his listeners know that it is okay to be flawed.
Miller’s tone then shifts as the albums second track “Complicated” introduces traditionally percussive hip-hop elements. “Good News,” “Woods” and “Hand Me Downs”—the only track within the album to contain a feature (Australian vocal artist, Baro)—quickly stand out as potential front-runners within the highly eclectic gamut of moods explored within Circles. Tracks such as “Blue World” and “Hands” present the far more established components of Miller’s sound, whereas others, such as “Everyone” and “That’s On Me” go on to emerge as glowing examples of Miller’s extremely versatile musical skillset. In contrast to Swimming, which can feel somewhat frustrated and even resentful at times, the ideas presented by Circles are those of gratitude, self-reflection and, ultimately, understanding.
However, despite the album’s more overall tone of optimism, it remains quite astonishing just how many of Miller’s lyrics seem to speak to his personal struggles surrounding his subsequent death. Though it is difficult not to view any posthumous work in this way, Miller’s continued references to such thematic elements as “heaven” and “the other side” can be emotionally jarring at times. Within the albums final track, “Once a Day,” Miller shares intimate imageries of both encouragement and regret, providing all with a conflicted sense of love and loss.
Despite the album’s more hopeful approach to self-reflection, it feels impossible not to be overwhelmed, at times, by the gut-wrenching honesty in Miller’s lyrics. Yet, internal conflicts aside, Circles never feels gloomy or dismal; it instead presents a foundation of hope. It is as if Miller were consciously intending to reassure his listeners that he has reached peace wherever he may now reside within this crazy universe—driving the point home within the chorus of “Blue World,” proudly proclaiming, “It’ll be ok. We’ll all be fine.”
Like the myth of the Phoenix, Miller rises from the ashes reborn as a new and more powerful artist; his sound evolving to levels no one could have predicted and reaching new heights, not only in regards to posthumous productions but musical artistry as a whole. The sheer expanse of Miller’s catalog only goes to further the notion that musical artists are just that—artists—and that genres can, at times, promote the compartmentalization of creators and consumers, alike. Miller, like an iceberg, kept much of himself hidden beneath dark waters. Yet, in coming to experience Circles, fans old and new may rejoice in sharing a mere glimpse into Miller’s raw brilliance.