Mac Miller - Watching Movies With the Sound Off

Posted June 21, 2013
Tags: Mac Miller,

Two years ago, Pittsburgh rhymesayer Mac Miller took the hip-hop world by storm with Blue Slide Park, an indie debut full-length which debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 and went on to achieve Platinum certification. Now, the rap wunderkind has unleashed the much-anticipated follow-up, Watching Movies With the Sound Off. Miller's sophomore full-length comprises 19 tracks' worth of original material, including Booth-featured cuts "S.D.S.," "Goosebumpz," "Watching Movies" and "Suplexes Inside of Complexes & Duplexes."

In addition to the artist's own production (as Larry Fisherman), the project boasts beats by Diplo, Flying Lotus, J. Hill, Pharrell WIlliams, SAP and more. Guests include Ab-Soul, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Jay Electronica, ScHoolboy Q and Tyler, The Creator.

Watching Movies With The Sound Off Album Review

When you attend a concert, you can always get a good idea of the performing artist by looking at their fan base. When you see Polos, skinny jeans, and a crowd ready to party, you are probably in for a high-energy hip-pop/frat rap show; the vibe is likely completely different when going to a more underground show. If you see a blend of both, however, then you might have wandered into a Mac Miller show. Most of what I know about the Steel City emcee comes from what I have heard from a variety of sources, but that doesn’t help me know who he is; the only thing his polarized fan base has in common is that they are very passionate about his music. Some who favor a boom-bap/underground sound found on cuts like Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza, were largely disappointed in his 2011 debut album Blue Slide Park; the very same album which earned him the top spot on Billboard's chart thanks to a passionate mainstream following, leaving Miller in between a rock and hard place. No matter what he did next, one segment of his fan base would be disappointed. So in addition to competing with two of the bigger names in hip-hop on June 18, Miller was also bound to the task of pleasing both sides of his supportive fan base; a lot to handle for even established, hardened emcees.

To start, I think the comparisons with Born Sinner and Yeezus are pretty unfair. Cole and Kanye are older and have much more experience. Cole is 28 and Kanye, at 36, is 15 years older than the 21-year-old Miller; they are all at very different places in their career. Miller, just cracking his 20s, is seven years ahead of Kanye who had two albums at the age of 28, but just because he is ahead of schedule doesn't mean he is an established veteran with a trademark sound. It seems like eager listeners and an image conscious industry has forced Miller to a crossroads where he must announce who he is as an emcee before he is ready to do so. Watching Movies With The Sound On won’t appease those who want to know which path Miller has chosen - mainstream or underground - but those who enjoy watching an emcee experiment and grow into their sound will find substantial value in Watching Movies With The Sound Off.

WMWTSO is both Miller’s attempt to expand his sound and reclaim his roots, a balance that begins with his excellent beat selections. The album has a consistently hazy, shrouded theme, which is thanks to the experimental, late-night-smoking-session production chops of Clams Casino (Bird Call and Youforia), Pharrell (Objects In The Mirror), Chuck Inglish (Gees) and Flying Lotus (S.D.S.). Even Miller gets behind the boards, harnessing his alias, Larry Fisherman, to cook up a few beats, including the R&B rooted REMember and Aquarium, hosting a dusty, dripping beat full of subtle intricacies. The production is vastly different from his bubbly side a la 2011’s Donald Trump, but that doesn't mean the newer material is rooted in a vintage, boom-bap style either; WMWTSO has a feel all its own. While it is certainly far removed from anything he has done before, it is not always successful. The biggest flaw in WMWTSO is that in Miller’s attempt at getting back to his pre-Billboard roots, he has sacrificed some of the charisma and energy that won over fans eager for a fun-loving, relatable emcee. Miller hasn't quite mastered the balancing act.

None of tracks on the LP are disappointing, but at the same time there isn't that one, awe-inspiring, goosebump-inducing cut; in the words of businessman Stringer Bell, WTMSO can be considered a 40 degree day (although its more like a 48 degree day, going by Stringer’s scale). Take I Am Who Am (Killin' Time), for example. Miller's lyrical performance is commendable, but his flow is stifled and a tad bit drowned out by the slow, yet booming beat from AdoTheGod; with a more commanding, energetic flow, the song could have been elevated to a memorable effort, but as is, it can only be considered a slightly above average cut. Miller’s 40-degree performance can also be heard in his reserved style, compared with one of his many illustrious guests. Conspirators like Ab-Soul, on Matches, and the illusive Jay Electronica on Suplexes Inside of Complexes & Duplexes, show that Miller’s blunted style leaves just a little to be desired. Miller isn’t underwhelming or outshined on his own cuts, but the more imposing, energetic flows by his guests show that with a little more energy, Miller could have really created something special.

Still, there is much to like and the positives of Watching Movies With The Sound Off show Miller is well on his way. Mac is someone you find yourself rooting for as he gives off a very personable, humanistic vibe. His lyrical performances are diverse, he is able to balance being a fun-loving 21-year-old rap star with someone wrestling with more metaphysical and philosophical ideas. Aquarium, one of the better cuts off the album, is the perfect example. Over his own production, Mac keeps it light with lines like, “The morning rises and I'm fast asleep/Somewhere off in the master suite/Having dreams of Latin queens and nasty freaks.” While the materialistic, larger than life subject has been a rapper-friendly topic for years, Mac only uses it as a jumping off point into something far more substantial and relatable. He goes from dreaming about women to thinking about the origins of humanity and where he fits in to the grand scheme of something much bigger than music. “I'll always wonder what happened 3000 years ago/ I like to toy with the idea that we really know Is what I do important in the grand scheme of things?” Miller presents a topic all too relatable for those in their early 20’s (like myself), who too are wrestling with finding their way in the “real world.” Not very many emcees can blend their fun, lavish side with true introspective lyricism, but Miller does it and does it well.

While I've spend a good amount of time on where WMWTSO falls short and the daunting pressures Miller has faced, I don’t want to give the impression that this album is a step backward or something that you shouldn't support. Quite the contrary. For a sophomore release from someone who could be a sophomore in college, Watching Movies With The Sound Off is quite impressive and shows that Miller is maturing as an emcee. His style is unique and the experimental sound he displays proves he isn't scared to take risks. His lyrical content is at best heartfelt, pensive, and relatable and at worst is somewhat generic but not over-indulgent or gaudy. Considering he has only been able to legally drink for just over six months, it is unfair to talk about Miller as though he is a hardened veteran. While not all the way there yet, he shows progress, depth and proves he has all the tools necessary to become a great emcee. It will be exciting to she how he builds on an already bright future; instead of worrying about the destination, let’s just enjoy the ride.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted June 21, 2013
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