Once dismissed as a lightweight “frat rapper,” Mac Miller has spent the last several years trying to prove that his early success wasn’t a fluke. His first attempt, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, was an important (if imperfect) step in the right direction. But on GO:OD AM (his major-label debut after departing longtime home Rostrum Records for Warner Bros. Records), it feels as if he’s finally emerged as the artist he was always meant to be.
For all the talk of Mac’s growth, it’s the album’s understated but richly layered production that immediately stands out. Whether it’s the sparse piano of “ROS” or the soulful sample on “Brand Name,” every beat feels purposeful, and each song flows comfortably into the next. The album has a number of producers, from Tyler, the Creator to Christian Rich, but the majority is handled by Miller’s longtime collaborators at ID Labs. It’s evident from the album’s sense of ease that the two have grown comfortable with one another after working together for so many years. The pairing lends the album a sense of naturalness that makes it an enjoyable and fun listen.
Mac Miller has always had great beats though—the difference on GO:OD AM is that he’s finally using them to their full potential. The lyrical and emotional maturity he shows throughout the album is well beyond what’s he’s managed to achieve in his career thus far, and it’s this maturity that ultimately makes the project truly memorable. “I’ve been having trouble sleeping/Battling these demons/Wondering what’s the thing that keeps me breathing/Is it money, fame, or neither?” he asks on the Miguel-assisted “Weekend,” feeling more self-aware than ever. Even on the harder-hitting tracks, where in the past Mac could verge toward corny, he finds more to say than run-of-the-mill puerile “suck my dick” rhymes. Songs like “In the Bag” and “When in Rome” manage to elevate past what would otherwise be typical frat boy party anthems.
The guests are also smartly chosen, from Mac and Ab-Soul’s back-and-forth on “Two Matches” to the surprisingly adept Chief Keef verse on “Cut the Check.” The standout guest spot, by far, is Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, whose ethereal vocals on album-closer “The Festival” fade the project out in sublime, dreamy fashion. Beyond this limited group of features, however, the Pittsburgh rapper is left to do most of the heavy lifting himself, a task at which he largely succeeds. He weighs the notion of settling down versus making money on “100 Grandkids,” and contemplates happiness in the face of materialism on “Brand Name.” Perhaps his greatest success is on the nearly 8-minute “Perfect Circle/God Speed,” a trippy, introspective track that finds him worrying about his drug use, maturity, and hurting his loved ones. It’s yet another sign that the kid who made K.I.D.S. has grown up.
While it’s been easy for his detractors to dismiss his work thus far, they’re going to have a much harder time continuing to do so in the face of GO:OD AM. For longtime fans, the project will be a gratifying, full-circle moment when their early love and hope for him is finally matched with a musical product that approaches his full potential. It can also serve as an entry point for those who have long viewed Mac with some combination of skepticism, annoyance, or derision. Regardless of one’s feelings on his past music, it’s tough to deny that his major-label debut just works. Perhaps he says it best himself on “Time Files”: “You can expect the unexpected/My dreams are manifested from my head into reality/They seem a bit excessive, but I don’t stress it/Two hands to count my blessings.” If GO:OD AM is a sign of things to come, then Mac Miller isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.