Ah, 2015: the gift that keeps on giving. The number of fantastic hip-hop releases this year has already become dizzying. Without even attempting to make a comprehensive list, Drake, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Young Thug, Vince Staples, Future and Chief Keef have all dropped outstanding albums in the past nine months. What’s most remarkable, however, is the emergence of artists that basically had no right to be taken seriously. 

Mac Miller entered the rap game as a white, Jewish lacrosse player from the suburbs of Pittsburgh and spent years meddling with frat-rap before becoming a reclusive drug addict. While his more traditional fans were likely turned off by his psilocybin-infused projects like Faces and Delusional Thomas, it seems that Mac’s drug-fueled chamber of reflection has emerged stronger than ever before. GO:OD AM is undoubtedly his best work yet, and he knows it.

Mac Miller
Warner Bros. Records

“When In Rome” sees Mac literally beat his chest and yell, “I’M AT THE TOP OF MY GAME.” At that moment, he hits a peak that he’s never hit before. You get the sense that this is his magnum opus. For the first time in, well, ever, Mac spits with the highest order of conviction. The drug-induced self-doubt and confusion that characterized much of his earlier work has given way to a more pure, clear-headed sense of direction and hunger that aligns with the development of fellow “most improved rappers” like Big Sean and Tyler, The Creator. Mac used Faces to announce that he didn’t care if his next high was his last (word to Amy Winehouse), but on album-opener “Brand Name,” he prays he doesn’t join the infamous 27 Club. This is a changed man.

“Brand Name,” featuring some of the most lush production this year, sets the tone for the rest of the album. Mac’s turned into the type of guy that takes pride in his extreme work ethic, à la Kanye West, and it comes through with lines like “I work harder than anybody you know / I’m done with tricks, don’t need no money to blow.” The aim isn’t making “Forbes 30 Under 30” on his major-label debut; he is focused on his craft.

Mac’s self-awareness on GO:OD AM highlights his constant emphasis on building a personal narrative. “Back when I first made 100 grand … thought I was the shit” on “100 Grandkids” spins some humor into his very serious development from a “teen rapper” to a composed, legitimate artist. He’s been in the game for so long that we tend to forget how young he is: only 23. He was 19 when the video for “Donald Trump” came out and shot him to suburban fame from coast to coast. On the latter half of “100 Grandkids,” a woman’s voice annoyingly weaves between left and right channels, murmuring “Lemme get some money …” and for a moment, we can understand what it feels like to have leeches at our necks for a substantial part of our adolescent and artistic development.

If anything captures Malcom’s newfound wisdom, it’s the Lil B feature on “Time Flies.” BasedGod himself makes a fleeting appearance to drop some delectable based interludes. “Watch as time goes, time moves, time flow. How do we handle these things? I am time, we are time, and we have control.” Again, the four years separating Mac from “Donald Trump” have been an absolute rollercoaster through DatPiff fame, psychedelic reflection and finally a poised adulthood. He’s handled the growing pains of his career rather admirably for a millennial tossed in the deep end, sharpening his creative vision and fending off “white rapper” stigmas along the way. More so than any of his other projects, GO:OD AM is Mac’s strongest claim that maybe we should start taking him seriously.

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