“You just entered into Blue Slide Park / The place where dreams comin' true, that's where you find heart” —Mac Miller, “One Last Thing”
Certain albums you spin back and realize: “Goodness, none of us knew a damn thing.” In every context, that is the ultimate lore of Mac Miller’s studio debut, Blue Slide Park. None of us knew that one young man’s joyous and record-breaking romp through Pittsburgh would take on such a dark tone in the context of his discography. And with such expedience.
Come the release of the hazy and playfully forlorn Macadelic the following year, Miller fans quickly realized that it ain’t 2011 no more. By the look of things, it never will be. But what if it was, just for a moment, 2011 again? What if we let ourselves revel in the brightness of hard-done and misguided youth? Seven years later, that is the ultimate takeaway from Blue Slide Park.
From day one to the aftermath of his passing, the general consensus was that Mac Miller did not want to be famous, per se. He wanted to be a musician. Musicians at his caliber, though, just so happen to be famous. With a stringy voice, forcing out a rasp to sound mature and weather-worn, Miller tells us as much on Blue Slide Park’s opening track, “English Lane”: “Sometimes I just wanna go / Back to Blue Slide Park, the only place I call home / I hope it's never all gone, don't think it's ever all gone.” A sweet and wistful wish, the foreshadowing here is ominous. Not even a minute into his album—into his commercial career—and Mac Miller already wants to turn back time.
A series of debaucherous, inspiring, and close-but-not-quite introspective moments follow “English Lane.” Blue Slide Park does its fair share of party hopping (“Up All Night”) and boasting (“My Team”). The album even tries its hand at getting nasty on “Smile Back,” which is part hustle anthem, part middling life advice, part come-up tale. Call it frat rap, sure, but don’t call it slimy. Beneath the childish and toxic, there is a desire to live forever that never got its due shine. Yet, Miller’s pursuit of Always And Forever colors his discography down to his last singles literally launching him into oblivion. In many ways, Blue Slide Park sets Mac up to be a tragic Peter Pan—someone who would rather live forever than face their fears until their faces rip them away.
The true story of Blue Slide Park is the story of uncovered ground. The album is unexpectedly emotionally spacious, perhaps to the point of being sparse, but not directionless. We see Mac Miller experience a brief loss of identity and paranoia on “PA Nights,” the drug-trap that informs much of his later work makes an appearance on “Of the Soul,” flashes of depression and the plague that is burnout come on “Under the Weather,” and of course we have standard heartbreak on “Missed Calls.” Each of these tracks chooses the moment over the anxiety, the localized happiness over the impending and indiscriminate doom.
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So, Blue Slide Park is emotive; the hot spots are simply fleeting. Of course they are. At 18 and 19, Miller was only gaining the vocabulary and complementary life experiences to break down who he is and what troubles him. At every evocative turn, there’s an immediate cease and repositioning. Even the hard facts of the album make it out to be an in-flux thing. Yes, this album was critically panned. It also broke records as the first indie rap album release to top the Billboard 200 chart this century. Mac leans into the tropes of youth and dives into his big band tastes as a diversion tactic. The worst was yet to come for Mac Miller, and he could feel it.
Blue Slide Park is happy-go-lucky as a point of order. With the game already rotting him at the roots, Miller had to make the conscious choice to be cheerful and frivolous across his debut. These swerves to outsized parties and flashy rapper flexes now sound like necessities more than proof Mac Miller had nothing to say. In the spaces between “My fam's still the only people that really know me for who I am” and “Still sippin' on my 40 when the cops drove by” there is the realization that no one is too good to be happy, and we are all guilty of taking happiness for granted.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though. There is a lot to critique with this record. Unfinished ideas, weak writing, and overwhelming bouts of kiddishness that goes beyond delight are but a few. Yet, Blue Slide Park still manages to whisk us away somewhere. To the park, perhaps, but more so to a place where we feel less shame over enjoying the simple and unacclaimed things in life. The album is an ode to how fleeting joy and childhood can be, and a cautionary tale all the same.
Before long, Mac Miller would be sliding into an ultimately terminal drug addiction. Along the way, he would make some of the most tortured music amongst his peers. His final album, Swimming, ends with a call back to the easier and albeit better days. But “2009” is not a number set in stone. We would just as soon scamper back to “2011,” to those Pennsylvania nights spent plotting on his career and plans to take his homies to the castle at the top. The album takes us back when the past feels otherwise inconceivable. Past becomes home in Blue Slide Park.
Somehow, I’m certain, Mac knew all of this, knew our future needs rushed to meet them. This album—and much of his subsequent music—is spent pining after home and peace of mind, 2009 or '11, or what have you.
So, Blue Slide Park ends as it began, with a yearning prayer for eternity. From “Blue Slide Park, the only place I call home / I hope it's never gone, forever long” to “When they gonna let me back home / I wanna go back home,” the record goes down as a quest for footing in an uncertain industry.
The trite thing to say—the reactionary thing to do—would be to liken Mac Miller’s legacy and impression to the image of Blue Slide Park, the thing we want forever. We’re there, but not quite. Blue Slide Park is a place, but Blue Slide Park was a concept. Mac Miller, too, is far more everlasting and grand than one dot on one map. He will go down as a young man who “got up and took flight” and carried us with him.