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Mac Miller's ‘Swimming’: A Conversation Between Friends

In celebration of its first birthday, Donna and Yoh discuss Mac Miller's 'Swimming.'

When Mac Miller died, one of the first people I spoke to—who I could speak to—was Yoh. More than DJBooth's Senior Writer, Yoh is my partner-in-scribe and my brother in arms, and my brother in general. The night Mac passed, we let our feelings out and agreed to get matching Mac Miller tattoos. 

For this week's Year of Mac, in the spirit of the brotherhood that Mac inspired in us, and in fans the world over, I thought there would be no better way to honor Swimming on its first birthday than by discussing the album in full with my dear friend.

Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

yoh [11:02 AM]

Happy Friday, Donna. Not our usual day for conversations, right?

donnacwrites [11:04 AM]

Good morning, Yohsipher. No, this is a special edition of our conversation. The anniversary of Swimming is coming up, and I was thinking about how I could honor the album, and the best way I would imagine was by talking to you about it. Not exactly matching tattoos, but close, aye?

yoh [11:07 AM]

We will get there, lol. But yes, we share a passion for Swimming. Initially, when Mac released the album on August 3, 2018, you did the review for DJBooth. Do you remember your first reaction to it? Before putting a word down, the instinctive feeling that flows over you when you're playing a brand new album for the first time.

donnacwrites [11:09 AM]

I got the masters on a Saturday, and I remember being so excited. Advances are special to me, but you can imagine where I was at when I got Swimming. I had a long drive ahead of me to get home for a family function. I saved the album until the drive, somehow. I remember pressing play and just hearing Mac sing about regret. I was overcome with emotion. I knew this record was going to be special from the first note. He just sounded so sincere. I loved the direction. Not straight raps, not straight singing, but a beautiful concoction of everything that makes Mac a polymath of an artist. It was beautiful. The drive flew by.

yoh [11:18 AM]

The very first note says so much. Swimming has this rhythm that's consistent throughout the entire work. It feels like being washed over by waves and waves of sincerity. I didn't receive the advance, but I remember how excited your review made me. By the end of my first listen, I just felt this deep connection to the album's theme. How Mac raps and sings about regret, overcoming, and coming-of-age as a man is so honest and transparent. What was the standout for you on first listen? I was always partial to "2009" but "Wings" and "Jet Fuel" really jumped out, as well.

donnacwrites [11:22 AM]

"2009" moved me deeply. The first time I heard it, and many times afterward, I cried. The honesty of the record. It was cutting. I struggle so much with thinking about the past as the best time of my life. Mac captured so much with the arrangement, too. Eric G outdid himself with the production. "Dunno" also struck a chord in me, especially the line "She do whatever she like," because I am always brokenhearted. I loved "Self Care" coming into the record, too.

I have to admit I didn't go crazy for "Wings" upon first listen, but it's grown to be one of my favorite songs on the album. As I wrote for Year of Mac, the song is so crucial to how I view happiness and being able to enjoy the little things that sum up into the greater joys that make life worth living.

yoh [11:36 AM]

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So many of us connect to "2009" for those very reasons. That is the year I graduated from high school, so there's an overload of nostalgia connected with that time. And Mac was in a completely different zone throughout his three verses. It's filled with timeless quotables.

The arrangement and production are crafted beautifully. If rap were architecture, Swimming would be the blueprint for a sleek, modern mansion. It's so impressive. I can get lost in the keys, the strings, and the basslines. Nothing on the album is heavy. It's the perfect space for the gravity of his words to exist. The way he talks about life is like a guru sharing secrets. You have to soak it in. I love at the end of "Dunno" when he comes in singing, "I think we might be all right, thank god. I think we're gonna be all right" and the affirmation is like receiving a hug.

In honor of Swimming, and all the gems Mac has given us, what kind of life lessons do you believe Mac gave on this album that should exist in the distant, distant future? Also, I thought about how Swimming is the first Mac album where humor doesn't live. There are no skits or little jokes. Do you think that was intentional? To not mask what he's saying behind his personality?

donnacwrites [11:45 AM]

To your second point, you're right, there is no humor on Swimming. Mac wanted to be his authentic self on this record, and he moved with so much intention, there was no time to deflect. Mac sounds ready to be his true self and give us everything he has in him, with as much heart as possible.

To your first point, the most crucial lesson of Swimming is "You gotta jump in to swim." As in, you have to try and make yourself happy. You have to dive headfirst into the arduous process of finding out who you are, and how you can thrill yourself. We live and die by ourselves. Yes, people join us on our journeys, but we only have the self to rely on at all times. To me, the motif of swimming is all about continually working at yourself to finally get ashore, to finally be happy. You'll never find happiness without working for it, but the work can be so beautiful. 

yoh [11:51 AM]

Swimming is what maturity sounds like. And you're right, wonderfully said. Mac not having the chance to grow old saddens me. Just imagine Mac Miller in his 30s, 40s, and 50s. Swimming has this energy of walking outside into the sun, ready to face the world. He was ready to face us. The Swimming tour would've been so special. I was ready to show up and leave my heart at the venue.

donnacwrites [11:55 AM]

I was more than ready for the emotional communion that would have taken place on that tour. In his later years, Mac would have been such a wizened and giving soul. I'm sure of it. His life music would have evolved, and we would have grown with him until the final notes. I might never shake how unfair his passing feels, but at least we have each other.

yoh [12:01 PM]

Yes, we do, and together we celebrate him. Do you have any favorite moments from the album? I love how after "Self Care" there's the beautiful "Wings" that begins with, "I got a bone to pick like roses (Roses), I ain't feelin' broken no more." It tells me if I take care of self, then I can feel so big and put together. I love all the additional vocals on "What's the Use?". I need Snoop Dogg to do an entire album over basslines as groovy the one Dâm-Funk and Pomo gave Mac. And then there's "Perfecto" about things not being perfect.

donnacwrites [12:03 PM]

My favorite moment on the album, and this is a trick, is when he hits the pocket on "Conversations" and raps "Take over my city, yeah, that's really home invasions." That's such a brief reprieve from the intensity and the emotion of the album, a moment where Mac shows us that he's still a rapper and he still knows how to enjoy himself on wax. It's impeccable how much range Mac subtly tucks into Swimming.

yoh [12:15 PM]

I love that line. So good. Yes, Mac made sure to place magic in every corner of his canvas. Swimming is his most important album. As a man, as a rapper, as an artist. Mac's tools are so refined and sharp. So much to say about his growth over the years. You've written endlessly about him, so you know, but when I play Swimming, it's just a refreshing display of growth and maturity. We all should aim to be so versatile and age so gracefully. Any final thoughts on Swimming?

donnacwrites [12:25 PM]

I'm just so happy that we got this album. I'm so happy Mac Miller trusted his fans and listeners with himself in the way that he did. I'm so happy I got to know this person through his music and got to know myself as a result. I'm so happy there are more than 15 Mac projects for me to listen to whenever I feel any type of way. My heart is full and wherever Mac is, I am sure he knows his impact.



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