Mac Miller’s “Faces” Remains Equally Beautiful and Haunting Today
The early-to-mid 2010s were a really interesting and weird time for pop music, featuring an oddly diverse mix of subgenres and artists that, in hindsight, make you wonder why you ever had an LMFAO bumper sticker on your car in high school. We witnessed the rise (and fall) of mainstream dubstep. Adele, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga spent weeks atop the charts. A 16-year-old Lorde released Pure Heroine in 2013, which considerably influenced the sound of contemporary pop today. Robin Thicke existed for a few months.
Among the development and diversity of these genres came Mac Miller, who catapulted himself into fame through his hit single, “Donald Trump”, in 2011. Over a looping sample of Sufjan Stevens’s “Vesuvius”, the 19-year-old raps about blowing up, having more money than one knows what to do with, and the perks of being famous. “Donald Trump” opened up the “frat rap” trend, giving way to (overwhelmingly-white) pop rappers such as Lil Dicky and Huey Mack. But one would have never guessed how Mac Miller’s career would develop from the days of Best Day Ever and Blue Slide Park, as — just three years later — Mac would release his longest, darkest, and most personally-revealing record of his life. Faces was an introspective glare into Mac’s vices and fears; addiction, death, love, and uncertainty are the most notable themes in the 90-minute record. As Mac picks apart with immense detail the flaws and habits that consumed his everyday life, the production and jazz-based instrumentation throughout amplified and covered the solemn mood that engulfed the full length of the tape. Faces was a drug-infused and somber meditation —without it, we perhaps wouldn’t understand Mac nearly as well as we do today.
Faces begins with “Inside Outside”, a 2-minute jazz-infused introduction produced by Thundercat. Mac begins with a haunting line that would encapsulate the theme of the album mere seconds in: “I should’ve died already / Came in, I was high already / Everybody trippin’ that my mind ain’t steady / For my sin should’ve been crucified already.” Miller’s lazy flows on many of the jazzier songs on the tape often resemble the slurred speech of a half-dazed stoner, perfectly contrasting with the complex and abstract wordplay Mac employs during stories of meeting Kevin Hart at Amar’e Stoudamire’s birthday party or naming himself a “bad apple, like an unemployed Macintosh.”
While Mac often recounts regretful memories of drug-induced mistakes, or recalls the damage his lifestyle does externally, he often does so in a lighthearted sense, amidst comedic moments that make you wonder how seriously he takes himself. In “Friends,” Mac goes from talking of cocaine use and loneliness to a story of his mother taking him to a barbershop to get braids like Latrell Sprewell’s. Even amongst the goofy stories and punchlines, Mac is fervently unfiltered of his vices — he’s aware of the damage he’s doing to himself, and is unafraid to speak on it. “A drug habit like Philip Hoffman will probably put me in a coffin,” he says on “What Do You Do,” one of the more poignant bars to hear in hindsight.
Then again, Mac’s drug abuse won’t stop him from keeping at it. The painful truth in Faces is Mac Miller’s transparency with his vices — including the stirring admittances that they will likely kill him — but that he continues to move on with them rather than stay away. Later in Mac’s first verse on “What Do You Do,” Mac calls himself “The drug absorbent endorphin addict / The evil follow me, I got a devil magnet.” He bared all in an incredibly expressive, open, and clear-cut project through Faces. There are moments of discomfort stemming from hindsight, of course — but that is the beauty in Faces. It’s incredibly raw and visceral; Mac lived and breathed the ups and downs of the project. This project confirmed Mac’s placement among contemporary hip-hop legends, in case Watching Movies with the Sound Off hadn’t beforehand. The incredible poignancy behind Mac’s unfiltered lines is comparable to, in a way, Charles Bukowski’s transgressive poetry, or Spiritualized’s psychedelic and depressing Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.
Mac Miller was easy to be a fan of. We were able to see him grow up from his early frat-rap days and turn into a more serious artist with a distinct sound. He was incredibly open and pulled no punches through his discography — Faces being his most powerful project, in that regard. Through it all, Mac gave us the feeling that, at the end of the day, we’ll be alright: “Let us have a grand finale / The world will be just fine without me / The clown got a smile on his face / Slow it down, we going out with a bang.”