“Hello, my name’s Mac Miller. That’s my introduction.” —Mac Miller
Mac Miller may not have realized it, but his cheeky intro to a forgotten, three-minute interview about his seminal Watching Movies with the Sound Off, carries with it the ethos of the album. Where Macadelic was the start of Mac’s second creative renaissance, bringing with it more matured and experimental content, Watching Movies was Mac at the height of the creative process.
If hip-hop thought Blue Slide Park was their reasoning for ignoring Mac Miller, Watching Movies was their reason to pay attention once again. At the time of its release in 2013, the album was his best body of work to date, with lurid soundscapes that mimic Mac’s own demons slipping out, taking hold, and being beaten back by ballads and beautiful piano motifs. And, of course, a pack of motherfucking raps.
Last year, I wrote about Mac Miller’s pursuit of forms on Watching Movies. Rather than rehash my thoughts on the record, I thought we could have a little fun and traipse through Malcolm’s old interviews on the matter, piecing together a retrospective on the album in Mac’s own words from a collection of under-appreciated interviews given around the release of the album.
If Most Dope is forever, then we can consider this building legacy in real-time. So without further ado, let’s dive in.
The year is 2013, and Mac Miller’s sophomore album has big shoes to fill. Two years prior, in 2011, Blue Slide Park went No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The first album went number one, and I thought for a while that that’s what I have to aim for the second one, but I realized that it doesn’t matter. Each album is its own story,” Mac says.
Watching Movies is not about breaking records or following trends, it's about the pursuit of self and making music from the heart.
“I had a clear idea of just what I needed to do next, which was, just make music, you know?” Mac explains. “And bring it back to that, just for me, you know? Not necessarily for success, but for my own peace of mind.”
For Mac, peace of mind looks like 17 tracks of deranged production and bare lyricism. The music is as of-the-soul as it's ever sounded. Whereas his earlier works were fun and reaching, Watching Movies has a shape and a purpose.
“You don’t make it about good songs and bad songs, you know?” he says. “What you do is, you give every song a purpose. You’re putting a thought, a complete thought out there and every separate song should have its own purpose in the grand scheme of things.”
That pursuit of purpose lends itself to the most focused Mac Miller album to date. The most “him” album in Mac’s catalog.
“It’s the most me,” Mac details. “It’s the most true to who I am as a person, and anyone that’s known me since I was a little kid, known me for a long time, that’s what they’d say. That this project is the most like Malcolm that they could hear. That’s what I aspired to do with this one… I can say that this one, personally, is my favorite for sure.”
Likely, the album is a favorite because it ignores all manner of material success in favor of communicating what is in the recesses of his mind.
“I wanted to be a professional musician, I wanted to make a living off of this,” Mac remembers. “I achieved that. Then I wanted to be successful at something different, which was just pushing myself and trying to get the things in my head into music. I think this album was successful at that.”
And successful it is. Watching Movies finds Mac Miller opening up about his struggles, his loss, and the demons he will battle across his discography. While Macadelic alludes to these demons, Mac steps into the arena with what ailed him on Watching Movies—and comes out on top.
Mostly, Mac's victory derives from making this album under the pretense no one would listen. He gives himself the freedom to be himself. And it works.
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“You gotta pretend that no one listens. You gotta pretend that you’re just making music for yourself, because when you do something for yourself and only for yourself and it translates to everybody else, that’s like what I think true genius takes its form.” —Mac Miller
Another reason Watching Movies is a personal favorite and Mac’s most sprawling work to date: his colleagues are all on it. “It’s interesting to hear music that I made with my friends,” he remarks.
As he says, each album has its own story and the story of Watching Movies is one of mutual creative spirits coming together for the greater good of music.
“There’s a story behind every single song on the album, behind every single feature on the album,” Mac continues. “These are people that have spent nights at my house, passed out on my studio floor. You have ScHoolboy Q, comes to the house, falls asleep, then wakes up at eight in the morning, then leaves.”
Armed with his friends, the leaps he makes from Blue Slide Park to Macadelic, to his alter-ego EPs, to Watching Movies are massive. “I think I’m just in a period of transition as far as what I’m known for,” Mac elaborates. “This album, to me, is just really going out there and it’s unexpected… It’s a risk, and I think to do important things in music, you have to take risks.”
One of those risks was Mac’s singing. He dabbles on Blue Slide Park, but on Watching Movies, we're treated to ballads and the full force of his singing voice. Not the most technically sound singer, Mac’s voice is recognizable and endearing. According to him, that’s all he was aiming for.
“There’s singing on the album. There’s actually two songs on the album that are no rap, straight singing. There’s songs where I sing the hook. I always wanted to sing, but when I was younger, my voice was too awkward. Voice cracked, sounded like a little kid. As you get older and more experienced making music, you get more comfortable with yourself and with your voice, you decide to take it there and trust yourself. This album is a lot of that. I’m excited for that, man. Melody is one of my favorite things in the world… I realized that it’s not about singing it the best, because I may never have a voice that’s as good as Michael Jackson’s voice, or as good as all these other voices, but it’s mine. It’s unique.” —Mac Miller
Really, Mac’s carefree and heartfelt approach to singing encompasses the wellspring of soul on the record. He describes the album as a surrealist expression.
“It’s whatever you want it to be,” he says. “It could be anything. You could look at it in a million different ways, but it’s surrealism. It’s a Salvador Dali painting. It’s, uh, it’s throw a bunch of stuff on a canvas and see what happens.”
DJBooth: Talk to me about making the album.
Mac Miller: A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of locking myself in the studio for weeks at a time. I got bad hygiene, beard was really bad, didn’t see a lot of sunlight, but then I got out like “Ah!” Appreciate the beauties of the world, man. You spend so much time inside of a room and then you finally leave and that fucking grass is the awesomest shit ever, man. Those fucking yellow flowers, and the grass and the wind, is very awesome. You appreciate those things.
Where were you at mentally when making the album?
Maybe this album was made during more bad days than good days, but now I’m having good days. Sun’s shining. I think that this album is different than the last one. The last one was about a playground and that’s what it sounds like… This album just has a different purpose… The purpose of the new album is to just expand your mind. Don’t believe anything you hear and trust in your own vision.
How do you want fans to receive the record?
I want people to take my album, take different movies, play ‘em with the sound off, and then play the music to accompany the movie. Then you see how they compliment each other. This scene might be different now that you’re playing this song, or this song might sound different now that you’re watching that visual. It’s a lot about the information, how things appear to be, and how they are.
If this all sounds revolutionary for Mac Miller, that’s because it is. He looks at Watching Movies and music, in general, as the new religion for his fans, for the youth, and for himself. It is religion; it is rebellion; it is awe-inspiring.
“The revolution is young people doing whatever the fuck they want to do. I think that that’s important, for kids to believe that their vision could be real, and that… We’re a lot of people that are young and we’re changing the way that things happen. For us, it’s the music industry and all different types of things, we’re kinda just creating our own rules. For me, the revolution is inspiring kids to feel that they do have a voice; inspiring kids to feel like they’re important and they can do whatever they want. They don’t have to follow any rules that society has laid out for them.” —Mac Miller
DJBooth: What’s next?
Mac Miller: A lot of people are scared to get old. I think whenever you get old, it’s gonna be awesome. I feel like being an old person is the illest shit ever. I feel like you finally have an understanding of the world around you, and then you could just take your time to just sit there.
“I’ll be putting out music in some form for the rest of my life, man. I don’t care if no one even listens to it. I don’t care if it makes zero money.” —Mac Miller