Right now, perhaps more than ever before, Mac Miller is concerned only with being himself. Whatever weird depths of “cool” and “uncool”, socially acceptable and left-field that takes him, he seems happy to ride the waves of his own vibe. With a deliberate lack of fanfare that led the radio host sitting next to us to say “that’s just like Mac“, the star shuffled in front of a smallish movie screen at the West Village’s IFC Center and began to…hum? Mac, more than likely higher than the average human is comfortable being, started the evening off by whisper-singing very close to the mic, before stumbling through a hilariously casual introductory rant. Mac thanked the crowd for attending, light-heartedly mocked a friend or two in attendance, and touched on sharing a release date with Mr. West. “Competition with Kanye is crazy right now,” he sarcastically lamented before adding, more genuinely, “I mean, he’s Yeezus and there ain’t really anything I can do about that.” Shrugging, he continued his ramble, searching for words, admitting that he sucks at doing these kinds of speeches, comically berating himself for the job he was doing with this one, instructing audience members not to speak because “It’s–like–a movie, get it?” and, finally, after the lights were already down, half-standing up from his seat to shout that we should put our phones on silent. With a relaxed and goofy tone set, both Watching Movies With The Sound Off and a film about turtles (more on that later) began to roll.
When listened to in its entirety, WMWTSO shows a Mac Miller who is so far removed from the intentionally relate-able and therefore somewhat bland “Kool-Aid & Frozen Pizza” that he’s barely recognizable as the same rapper. Mac has come a long way from doing his best to show you that he’s “just a motherfuckin’ kid”–this time around he’s out to explore who he is, with you, and because his style and personality are such magnetic blends of the earnest and heartfelt and of the ironic and absurd, Mac should have no problem reaching audiences. The crowd laughed when they were supposed to laugh, and they nodded their heads when they were supposed to nod their heads–the whole time.
The album is noticeably downbeat head-nodder, though, with much of the production featuring spacey synths and keys and big, atmospheric drums, that, around the album’s center, became somewhat repetitive. The other production motif was a strange, creeping organ sound utilized on “Suplexes In Complexes And Duplexes“, which features Jay Electronica, and “SDS“, produced by Flying Lotus. The beats overall are intriguing, stoned, and proved good breeding ground for contemplation. At times, the album felt like Mac was drowning in his own thoughts, and we were watching him from slightly higher up in the endless ocean. The production is rarely exciting in the way “Donald Trump” was; instead, the beats engage on a cerebral level for those who enjoy the less conventional sides of goofy and grand hip-hop.
Mac covers a range of topics and styles in his rhyming and, at the end of the album, singing. Astounding one-liners came in flavors hilarious, biting, and aching. “I’m Kenny Powers, you more of a Debbie Downer”, “Punch a fan if he get a fuckin’ word wrong”, and “Can you please help me find my friend? / I’ll give you anything you need, multiplied by ten” were three of the most memorable. Mac often joked about various sexual escapades or weird activities he enjoys, like walking naked in the garden or hitting your chick in the head with a Nerf ball, but he also sharpened his pen for more serious or scathing subject matter, taking aim at labels and hangers-on to his still-fresh fame.
Mac also often addressed his changing as a person, the fear of losing himself or his way, and the grieving of the friend mentioned in the line above, who is given particular tribute in “REMember”, which incorporates the passed friend’s initials. Mac has developed and honed to his advantage the sleepy, “You just woke me up at 4AM to spit my stellar verse and I’m only half-mad about it” delivery that Earl Sweatshirt (who features on the album) has been using of late. He has also realized the importance of using specifics details and weird references, a sure influence of another WMWTSO collaborator, Action Bronson.
The album was both small, in that it existed entirely within Mac Miller’s increasingly weird consciousness (there are few-to-no comments on any world outside of his own), and gigantic, in the sound of the drums and its sweeping highs and lows, ending on the grand-scale “Euphoria.” To accompany this large-and-small atmosphere, and so those in attendance had something to look at, Mac decided to roll a movie that told the treacherous story of a turtle’s birth, escape of a beach run by crabs, journey through stormy and polluted waters, capture and release by a fisherman, and, ultimately, arrival on new land. Once it was done, Mac stated that he simply played the film because he felt that it fit eerily well with the album, played in its entirety. When we asked Mac for a quick word about the day, he quickly responded, “Fuckin’, weird turtles, bro.”
After the movie ended and the lights rose, the bonus tracks played. Between each leftover cut, Mac rose from his seat to give a bit of background on the song’s origin, and even where the album title and concept came from as a whole. On the topic of bonus track number two, Mac said that when he played WMWTSO for Tyler, The Creator, the OFWGKTA nut-job responded that the album was too sad, and asked if he could make a song that they could laugh on. This resulted in the gross, abrasive, and fun bonus track. (Mac’s verse one line, “I hit it raw while I’m listening to Papoose” got the biggest laugh of a night with quite a few). Most notably, though, Mac told the story of how, on tour with Big Jerm, he began to enjoy watching movies with the sound off, and decided to make an EP of songs that were based on whatever muted flick he was watching at the time. (The only song on the album mentioned to have followed this exact formula is the bonus track, “Goosebumpz” produced by Diplo, which was born during a silent watching of Beetlejuice.) Eventually, the strange concept absorbed more and more ideas, collaborators, inspirations, and became one of 2013’s hip-hop behemoths. Mac seemed, even now, taken aback that his weird little inside joke with Jerm had become what everyone was here for, what everyone else was waiting for.
A particularly telling Mac Miller’s approach these days came when he popped up from his seat after the album had finished, and remarked, astonished, that, hey–we were all still there! As he tells it, at the release party for 2011’s Blue Slide Park, the festivities ended with a drunk Mac congratulating himself to all three of his friends who had remained in the audience. This year, Mac didn’t serve any alcohol: he wanted people to listen. He’s certainly made something worth listening to, something that begs to be focused on. Hopefully he gets the focus he deserves come June 18.
Other miscellaneous highlights:
-A battle rapper that sounded like Loaded Lux performed a hilarious and deceptively brutal Mac Miller diss verse on the intro to “Gees” featuring ScHoolboy Q.
-The Ab-Soul track, “Matches”, is awesome.
–Mac made fun of Statik Selektah, who was in attendance, for being “a celebrity and shit”.
–Action Bronson was also in the audience. He smoked from his G-Pen in the back of the theater, clapped loudly to initiate crowd-wide applause after his guest verse on “Red Dot Music”, and, when the crowd realized it was Bronson that started the clapping, and Bronson noticed their amusement, he said loudly, with self-aware gusto, “Yeah, I’m here.” He also left early.
For your anticipatory enjoyment, here are some snippets of Watching Movies With The Sound Off.
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